(Disney Dining Week) Restaurant Review: Sanaa
June 12, 2013
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
I'm so excited to share my experiences at Disney's Sanaa restaurant with you because it means I'm able to relive--and enjoy!--them again.
Last year, when I began to plan the Disney trip to celebrate my mom's retirement, one restaurant really grabbed me: Sanaa. Disney's website describes the food as “African cooking with Indian flavors.” Although they don't say which African country inspires the food, I wanted to try it because, honestly, I'm not really familiar with African cuisine. So I booked a table. Our reservation was for a few hours after my mom and I were to arrive in Orlando. This meant Sanaa would be our first meal of the trip. Big pressure for Sanna!
We arrived in Orlando early. (Thank you Southwest!) And thanks to online check-in, it took less than ten minutes to check-in to our hotel. We explored our room, which overwhelmed us with “teh cuteh.” I mean, really. Take a look at this:
"Under the sea! Under the sea!"
Oh, Price Eric!
Not the shower. It's a private changing area that leads sothe the bathroom.
After about twenty minutes, we sat down, looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “I'm hungry.” Our reservation, however, wasn't for another two hours. I called Disney dining and asked if Sanaa could accommodate us sooner. They could! Happy dance!
We hopped in the car and headed over to Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge-- Kidani Village. It took about ten minutes to drive from our hotel, the Art of Animation, to the restaurant. If you plan to use Disney's transportation, plan on a much longer commute. As I write this, Disney suggests allowing approximately 90 minutes for travel to a restaurant. While some folks LOVE Disney's transportation, I don't. (with the exception of the monoral. That I love. Because, dude, it's the monorail. Iconic Disney. How could I not love it?) Greg and I attempted to use Disney transportation when we stayed at the Beach Club. During that weekend, I presented at EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival. We didn't rent a car and we attempted to take a bus to the Magic Kingdom. The buses were packed. After waiting over an hour, we decided to head to the pool. Which, actually, amazed us. The Beach Club's pool has a sand bottom.
Where was I? Oh. Right. Sanaa. My mom and I headed over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Now, I'd visited this hotel on a previous trip. In fact, the chef at the Mara, the hotel's quick service restaurant, introduced me to Disney's handling of gluten-free foods. If it wasn't for that chance encounter, I don't think I would have attempted to dine at Disney.
What I didn't realize on that trip is that two hotels make up the Animal Kingdom. There's the main hotel: The Animal Kingdom Lodge. And then, down the road, you find another hotel. This one is “Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village.” And that's where Sanaa resides. So, if you are driving, be sure to ask at the gate for directions to Sanaa. Or you might (ahem), you know, go to the wrong hotel and wander around for fifteen minutes looking for it. Not that we did that. No siree. (whistles)
The hotel lobby stunned us. You walk into what appears from the outside to be a small lobby. And then this greets you:
Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village--Lobby
It's warm, cozy, and, I must say, really peaceful. After gaping at the lobby for a few minutes, we headed downstairs to Sanaa. The hostess greeted us and asked which of us needed the gluten-free menu. Answer: both! She then handed us a pager and told us the wait was about ten minutes. Then she said something interesting: “The pager works out on the savannah.” She pointed down a walkway and smiled.
Since it's not everyday that someone tells you "The pager works out on the savannah", we headed outside to check it out.
Giraffes! Zebras! Ankole cattle! We stood and watched the animals for less than ten minutes before our pager went off. Although we were both hungry, we were a little disappointed to head inside.
As the hostess promised, there were gluten-free menus for us at the table. Our server welcomed us to the restaurant and promised to get the Chef. Within minutes, a Chef arrived at our table and went over our gluten-free options.
And, oh my, there were LOTS of options. From a gluten-free bread service (appetizer) to various tandoori options, everything tempted us. (Did I mention we were hungry from traveling?) And then? We ended up ordering the same thing. Ha! We both settled on two selections from the “slow cooked in gravy” portion of the menu: butter chicken and slow cooked beef short ribs. Since the multigrain rice isn't gluten-free, we ordered basmati rice with our meal.
Just a few minutes later, our meals arrived. While the service happened quickly, we did not feel rushed.
From left to right: Braised short ribs, basmati rice, butter chicken.
I took a bite of the butter chicken and...oh my goodness. I'm glad I didn't inadvertently reenact the diner scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” Only I would not have been faking. Yes. It was that good.
The chicken was tender but not dry or stringy. The “butter” sauce, a thick tomato-based gravy that seemed to include ginger, garam masala, ginger, garlic paste, cumin, turmeric and chili among other things, was flavorful but not overpowering. The spices nicely balanced the richness of the sauce which, I think, came from heavy cream and not butter. Although, now that I think about it, butter probably appeared somewhere too.
The bottom of my bowl of butter chicken appeared way too quickly. As I ate, my mom raved about the braised short ribs. When I tasted it, I understood why. If you love braised meat like I do, you know that good braised short ribs are tender and infused with flavor. In texture, these ribs were like braised beef ribs I'd enjoyed before. But the flavor? Totally different. There were notes of celery and onion but dancing alongside those flavors were ginger, cardamom, and coriander. Something else hit my palate and, honestly, I couldn't place it. So I asked the server. Turned out, cinnamon was the “something else” but this familiar spice tasted totally unfamiliar to me in a savory presentation.
Since we were on the Dining Plan, dessert was included with our meal. After eating every last bit of butter chicken and braised short ribs, we ordered dessert. In addition to being gluten-free, I also need to avoid tree nuts. So I was disappointed when I noticed the “Bamboo Rice Pudding” came with a pistachio tuile. Feeling brave, I asked if the tuile could be omitted from the dessert. It could be! My mom, who isn't allergic to nuts, ordered the “Banana Kulfi Sundae” complete with the cashew sauce.
She adored this dessert. I mean, look at it.
Sorry the photo is blurry!
Blurry but pretty, right? Ice cold and really creamy, she said the ice cream was “just enough” after a rich meal.
My rice pudding, however, wasn't really pudding.
Bamboo rice pudding
Rice pudding with sweet cream poured over the top.
It tasted like rice that had been cooked in a sweet milk. Over the top of this rice, you pour a sweet custard-like sauce. The dish tasted good. But after enjoying rice with my main course, the taste and texture of this dessert didn't really do it for me. I expected a creamy pudding, not a rice dish that you poured a little custard over. However, after all the tasty goodness of the butter chicken and beef ribs, I didn't mind a mild dud of a dessert.
We left the restaurant happy and full.
May 2013 Update
You'd think after about 1,200 words, there would be nothing left to say about Sanaa. Ha! Months after dining there, I still thought about that meal. So when I attended the recent Food Blog Forum conference at Walt Disney World, I knew I needed to dine at Sanaa. And I did. Twice!
Retracing the steps of the trip with my mom, Greg and I ate at Sanaa shortly after arriving at Disney.
Not on the dining plan, we decided to split the salad sampler. You can select up to three little salads. And these aren't traditional salads. Oh no! At the time, Chickpeas with Cucumber and Tomato; Watermelon, Cucumber and Fennel; Kachumbari; and Mango were the choices. We ordered two bowls of watermelon, cucumber and fennel and one bowl of “kachumbari.”
The watermelon and feta tasted a little different than I expected. For some reason, I thought the fennel would play a supporting role. Instead, it took prominence along with black cumin seeds. After a few bites, I really loved it. The kachumbari turned out to be a tomato salad that reminded me of a really fresh, chunky salsa.
For my main course, I again ordered the butter chicken and was sad to see that braised short ribs no longer graced the menu. Bison Masala replaced it and our server enthusiastically recommended it. So I ordered it.
Again the butter chicken tasted fabulous and the Bison Masala, as our server promised, was really tasty. Like the braised short ribs, the meat fell apart under my fork but wasn't too soft. Unlike the short ribs, this dish brought a wonderful heat with it. I love spicy food; so the warmth in the gravy really pleased me.
Greg, who isn't gluten-free, ordered gluten-free menu options so that we could share. Like me, he ordered the butter chicken and with it, he selected the spicy durban chicken. Such great choices! The durban chicken--a “new to me” dish--contained lots of spices, like coriander, turmeric, and cumin. The spicy heat of the dish seemed to come from black pepper. I could be wrong about this, of course. But it didn't seem to come from chili peppers. We were so caught up talking to each other that I forgot to ask the server.
We skipped dessert but I noticed the same desserts my mom and I ordered were on the menu.
The night before we left, we were supposed to eat at Cat Cora's restaurant. However, the weather was hot. Really hot. And neither of us felt like dealing with the crowds on Disney's Boardwalk. So on a whim, we called Sanna and asked for a 7:00 pm table. “I don't have anything at seven. Would 7:05 pm be ok?” That worked for us!
We again enjoyed a lovely meal. Sanna during dusk remains just as beautiful as it is during the afternoon.
As we left, Greg turned to me and said, “I can't wait to come back.”
I totally agree.