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Restaurant Review: Aboard the Disney Wonder—If Eating at Palo is Wrong I Don’t Ever Want to be Right

Perhaps you are wondering why you would pay extra for more food, when happy people cheerfully stuff you daily with enough food to choke a horse for free? Perhaps you are like my brother, who constantly says “taste is irrelevant. Food is just fuel.” Unless it’s asparagus, in which case he says “that’s not fuel, that’s just disgusting.”

All I can say is that I found the food at Palo to be head and shoulders above the quality of food elsewhere on the ship. It’s not that the food in the standard restaurants isn’t good—it is—but the food at Palo has an almost artisan-like quality that the more mass-produced food in the larger dining rooms simply cannot match. The worst thing about it is its rightfully deserved popularity, which causes all the reservations to book up early on. If you are me, and make your vacation decisions about a month in advance, you could expect to find all the online reservations long since taken by people who plan further in advance. Only moderate despair is indicated, however, as about half of the available tables are reserved for booking on the ship. This does mean however, you must make a mad dash over to the reservation area as soon as you board. Then you can expect to wait in line for what seems like an eternity while two guys sitting at a small table take people’s reservations using the high-tech method of filling in empty time slots on pieces of paper by hand. Fortunately, my experience with the Disney Amish was all positive, as I got the reservations I wanted for both dinner and brunch on the days I wanted.

Palo is an adult-only restaurant, so the atmosphere is a little different than at the other dining areas. It’s a quiet, low-lit restaurant that is immediately reminiscent of the California Grill at the Contemporary. This is in no small part because they both share a designer, Marty Dorf. Dorf also designed the Flying Fish and Coral Reef, but California Grill and Palo are like fraternal twins in their swooping long counters, open views of the kitchen, and odd use of random color elements on the plates and server outfits.

To start off our meal, our waiter brought us a dish of antipasto, consisting of such items as prosciutto, olives, melon, and sun dried tomatoes. It was a little salty for our tastes, but a nice variety of flavors and textures.

We then went on to the appetizers. Mine was a warm shrimp salad with asparagus, white beans, and more prosciutto. It was woooonderful. The shrimp were cooked to perfection, the asparagus was tender, and all the flavors melded together to form a happy party in the mouth. If the dinner had ended here, it would have been entirely satisfactory for me, as this was one of the best shrimp dishes I’ve had in a long time.

My Mother had the fried calamari, which was good, but not as good as the shrimp. The calamari was fried well, but, perhaps for aesthetic’s sake, they omitted the tiny tentacles which are her favorite part.

So by this time, we’re getting a little full, but wait! Now the entrees arrive!

I had the Seafood Risotto which had a lovely creamy texture but which was incredibly rich. The seafood, made up of clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, and scallops, was all done very well, but the whole dish was very heavy and even for our capacious appetites, would have been a bit much at half the size.

Our other entrée was the halibut, which was the special for the evening, topped with a scallop that my Mother declared “the best scallop ever.” It all tasted impeccably fresh and cooked just right.

So at that point, you would have thought that we would have been too full for dessert. How little you know us.

I had their signature dessert, the chocolate soufflé. Was it the best chocolate soufflé I had ever had? Yes, it was. Admittedly, I’ve had a limited sample size, but I am working to correct that all the time. I have no idea how they get it to stay puffed up even after ripping apart the top and pouring in more chocolate, but there it stays, tall, dark, and handsome.

My Mother opted for the Vanilla Panna Cotta with Berries. I think the presentation was supposed to be that of a sunset. It was excellent as well, with none of the jello-like consistency that some, lesser panna cottas have. Very creamy and not cloyingly sweet. I also think she enjoyed the fact that it was lighter than the soufflé, as she was fairly full by that time.

Now, you might have thought that we would never have been able to eat again, after all that amazingly good food. Again, how you underestimate us. Not only did we eat again, but we went back for the brunch which was by far the best brunch I have ever attended.

The brunch is only held on sea days, so it’s a reasonably hot commodity. We ended up getting the earliest time, and were actually the first people in. They gave us the same waiter as we had had for dinner, which was probably not a favor to him.

The first thing they do is give you a tour of the buffet. The main table features crab legs, salads, fruit, cheese, caviar…mmm, caviar…I’m sorry, what was I saying?

Then, there are side buffets with more fruit, cereals, and pastries. Everything was fresh and tasted all in season, even though it was December.

As if that were all not enough, there is another station where you can order conventional breakfast foods, such as eggs.

My Mother has the Eggs Benedict, and I have the Eggs Julia, which is like Benedict, but with smoked salmon. It is all delicious, but something is missing…

Well, more food of course! There is yet another menu which has the main dish choices you may order from your server. By this time, it has become a science experiment to see exactly how much food a human can consume and still survive, but we forge on. We split a beef tenderloin that was head and shoulders better than any beef tenderloin I have ever had on Disney property—cooked exactly the way we like with not a speck of toughness or gristle. They also had chicken and fish options that we would have loved to try—if you go and feel like skipping the entrees because you eat too much of the rest of the buffet: Don’t.

So now you figure we must surely have skipped dessert. Nonsense. And don’t call me Shirley.

The desserts are many and varied, and although we don’t get to all of them, we eat a respectable amount. If they are not quite as good as the individual desserts we had at dinner, we don’t hold it against them, for they are lovely.

By the end of the brunch, it seemed as though we had been eating for hours, and my Mother speculated the waiter was off sobbing “oh when will it end!” Nevertheless, end it did, and we rolled off across the ship to drop off into a post-prandial coma.

Ultimately, if I could only do one, I would do the brunch. The dinner was fantastic, but the brunch was so much better than the other lunch offerings that we felt it was clearly the best meal of the trip. I would not try to do brunch and dinner there the same day, as we were still pretty full from the brunch even at dinnertime. Go for something though, or you’ll miss out on some amazing food.

Rating: **** for the food, **** for the presentation
Location: Disney Wonder
Ambience: Adult-only: No one under 18 admitted. Dress code required: No jeans allowed at dinner; dress shirt/jacket for men, dress/pantsuit for women.
Service: Wonderfully solicitous. There is a $10 mandatory gratuity charge per person, but most people tip additional.
Best dishes: Warm shrimp salad for dinner; caviar at brunch
Best Tables: By the windows, for a perfect view of the sea.

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