Island Delights at the Disneyland Hotelby Britt Winslow, contributing writer
Anyone who has visited the Disneyland Resort in the last few years has to have noticed a construction wall. You know, those 8-foot-tall plywood barriers that block most of your view of the seemingly endless construction at the Anaheim branch of Disney's theme park division.
Last week, Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam's made their official debut at the Disneyland Hotel, allowing guests visiting the Disneyland Hotel to see behind the construction walls for the first time in almost a year.
Yes, "behind the construction walls" is correct, because there are still hundreds of linear feet of blue plywood throughout the hotel complex, with the Disneyland Hotel still in the middle of its remodeling project,expected to last through most of 2011.
Guests visiting Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam's on opening weekend had the challenge of navigating the maze of construction walls to reach the new restaurant complex in the center of the resort. To get there if you are walking from the Downtown Disney area, simply hang a left at the giant sorcerer's hat in front of the Dream Tower (the tower facing Downtown Disney) and walk to the other end of the building to find the pathway to Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam's.
Unfamiliar with all of the changes taking place at the Disneyland Hotel? Basically, the entire hotel is being re-themed to reflect the classic mid-century style when Disneyland first opened. Part of the change is the re-theming of the three hotel towers, with the Dream, Wonder, and Magic towers eventually becoming the Adventure, Frontier, and Fantasy towers, respectively.
Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam's are closest to the Dream Tower, which when it morphs into the Adventure Tower, will mesh with the Polynesian theme of the new restaurant and lounge, and continue the Adventureland theme into the pool complex.
This leads me to my only disappointment: The name of the restaurant. Readers who have visited Disney's Polynesian Resort in Walt Disney World—particularly those who visited the resort in the 1970s and 1980s—might recognize the name "Tangaroa Terrace."
Opened in 1978, Tangaroa Terrace was added to the popular Walt Disney World resort as part of the hotel's first major expansion. Disney foodies like me will also remember that Tangaroa Terrace was the original home of Tonga Toast, the delightful banana-stuffed French toast that is arguably the most sinfully delicious dish ever created by Disney chefs.
So why do I have a problem with the name? In 1962, Disneyland opened the Tahitian Terrace in Adventureland. This dinner-show restaurant featured Polynesian food and entertainment until 1993, when it was replaced by Aladdin's Oasis Dinner Show. Naming the new restaurant Tahitian Terrace would have not only carried the theme of the correct era (1950s and 1960s), but also of the correct park (Disneyland, rather than Walt Disney World), thus evoking the correct nostalgia for Disneyland fans like myself.
But enough with the history lessons already—let's talk about food and drink. The Disneyland Hotel was desperately in need of a quick and casual dining option for its guests. The character dining at Goofy's Kitchen is wonderful but it takes time and doesn't fit into every budget. Steakhouse 55 covers the more formal end of the dining spectrum. Even Coffee House, served little more than coffee and a few pastries. Tangaroa Terrace fills the void by offering both grab-and-go options as well as a more relaxed meal where you can eat made-to-order dishes served on real plates and eaten with real silverware.
Upon entering Tangaroa Terrace, you realize it is very different from Hook's Point, its predecessor. Instead of being greeted by a host or hostess, you find yourself standing in front of one of three temperature-controlled food cases and a trio of touchscreen order kiosks to the right. If you want something already packaged you can grab it, walk to the cashier, and be on your way immediately.
Ordering at the kiosk is actually kind of fun. When you initially touch the screen, you are given a choice to order in English or Spanish. Menu-wise, you can pick from Burgers, Sandwiches & More, Salads and Flatbreads Pizzas, and Kids Meals. In the mornings there is a Breakfast Menu button.
My only real criticism of the kiosk system is that the customization of each order is somewhat limited. For example, you can order the cheeseburger without cheese or a salad with dressing on the side, but you don't have the luxury of asking for a specific item to be held or adjusted. However, the customization options at the kiosk are something that can certainly be added as the restaurant finds its groove.
A one-third pound Hawaiian cheeseburger the eatery's signature burger. A ground Angus beef patty is topped with teriyaki sauce, fresh grilled pineapple, Havarti cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato, served on a multigrain bun.
Many consider grilled pineapple a treat on just about anything, and it goes exceptionally well with a bacon cheeseburger—especially one with teriyaki sauce. Although I wish they would change the use of leaf lettuce to shredded lettuce on the burger, it is still a good burger that is unique to the restaurant and that definitely gains points with me.
The less adventurous burger lover can order a burger with American cheese instead of Havarti, and the pineapple, bacon and teriyaki sauce will not leave the kitchen.
The barbecue chicken sandwich uses a panko-crusted chicken breast with a tamarind barbecue sauce and green papaya slaw served together on a multigrain bun. Note that unlike the regular burger, the slaw is actually part of the sandwich here.
All burgers and sandwiches come with the choice of sweet potato fries or green papaya slaw. The sweet potato fries are the same ones being served at the revamped Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country, and if you read my review of their new menu last March you will know I am a huge fan of this side option. As of right, the slaw is the only substitute for sweet potato fries.
Unlike the sweet and ripened version, green papaya is crispy and crunchy, and is a common staple in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island, eaten the same way we might serve a lettuce-based salad or cabbage cole slaw. This refreshing side dish consists of finely shredded green papaya, julienned bell peppers, and celery tossed in a tangy vinaigrette. The dish is definitely lightens up the meal.
Seafood lovers will enjoy the panko-crusted mahi mahi served with a lime tartar sauce and sweet potato fries. The fish is light and flavorful and not the least bit greasy. The lime tartar sauce is thinner than a more traditional mayonnaise-based tartar sauce some might expect with fish and chips. Malt vinegar is also available for fish & chip purists.
A lighter, though not less tasty, option is the Asian Chicken Salad. This dish is true to the name and those familiar with traditional Chinese chicken salad will not be disappointed. Diced chicken breast is served on a blend of fresh lettuces, and the tossed with cabbage, carrots, red & gold bell peppers cashews, cucumbers, enoki mushrooms and rice noodles in a sesame vinaigrette. This salad has enough protein to be filling and plenty of fresh healthy vegetables to keep you going through a day in the parks.
The kalua pork flatbread is a great dish for sharing but also works well as an entree. Pulled pork is mixed with barbecue sauce, red onions, cilantro and mozzarella cheese on top of a crispy flatbread crust. Most people probably would not identify the taste of this dish as being particularly Hawaiian, but the reference to "kalua pork" has to do with the way the meat is cooked. Traditional kalua pork was made in an imu—an underground oven—for several hours, until the meat is soft enough to fall off the bone (it is, however, doubtful that they use an authentic imu to make the kalua pork for this dish).
If you were to add this dish to the menu at Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue it would fit right in as a barbecued pork pizza. I also thought the barbecue sauce was a little too sweet and would have like to try the dish with the tamarind sauce served with the chicken sandwich—that would have created a nice fusion between traditional (kalua pork) and contemporary (tamarind) Hawaiian cuisine.
The dessert options at Tangaroa Terrace are not that great. There were three options when opening weekend; a dessert flight, sweet potato cake, and a sweet memories cake. Particiularly disappoint is that all three three desserts come prepackaged in one of the refrigerated cases, and lack even the basic presentation.
The dessert flight was a real letdown. Moving left to right through the plastic takeout container was a tropical fruit parfait, a chocolate cappuccino brownie, and a tiny pineapple upside-down cake.
The parfait was a blend of tropical flavors, mango, pineapple, maybe a little coconut. But none of the flavors stood out nor were the textures particularly appealing. The mango sauce on top of our parfait was congealed like a gelatin. As you broke through that layer there was a runny syrupy blob of diced fruit at the bottom. Not a great start to the flight.
The brownie we sampled was dry and a little hard, like cake that had been sitting in the refrigerator a little too long. Even the Mickey-ears shape couldn't save this portion of the flight.
Then came the third and final piece of the dessert flight, the pineapple upside-down cake. Pineapple upside-down cake is one of my all-time favorite desserts and I had high hopes that this final taste would make up for the other two. Sadly, the cake was dry and hard and like the brownie, didn't seem fresh. I do not recommend any portion of the dessert flight.
The sweet memories cake and the sweet potato cake were both average. The sweet memories cake is your basic chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Nothing fancy, just a typical sheet pan cake and frosting.
The sweet potato cake was probably the best of the three desserts but it was still very average. It was covered with a pink cream cheese frosting and I think in a blind taste test that most people would swear it was carrot cake. I am not a fan of carrot cake but did enjoy it more that the other two dessert option.
Though it wasn't an option on the opening weekend, cast members informed us that nightly dinner specials would be added to the kiosk in the coming weeks, and change regularly. Some of the items mentioned were a miso-glazed salmon and a rib eye steak.
Hot breakfast items like scrambled eggs and grilled cinnamon-spiced oatmeal cakes are also served at Tangaroa Terrace until 11:00 a.m. There is even a French toast option but sadly, it's not the Tonga Toast I was hoping for. A complete menu for Tangaroa Terrace is available.
What do I think of Tangaroa Terrace? I like the restaurant but I don't love it. The food is good but not great. If I were in Disneyland and wanted a burger, would I skip the signature burgers at Hungry Bear or Village Haus to eat at Tangaroa Terrace? No. If I were in Downtown Disney with people who didn't have an annual pass and was craving a burger, however, I would strongly consider getting a Hawaiian cheeseburger with sweet potato fries.
In my opinion, the biggest selling points for Tangaroa Terrace are location and atmosphere. The outdoor seating area is beautiful and relaxing; sitting outside on a nice day and people-watching while having a meal is always a good time in my book. None of the Disneyland Resort Hotels really had that option until now, and I am certainly happy they added it.
Sharing the building with Tangaroa Terrace is Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar. Trader Sam's can be summed up in one word: Cool. I don't know what it is about tiki bars, but they are always fun, and they seem to have the magical ability to make you forget about all of your troubles.
Jungle Cruise fans know Trader Sam as the head salesman of the jungle who is always willing to trade two of his heads for one of yours. According to a letter posted inside the Disneyland Hotel's newest watering hole, Trader Sam's expertise in head-shrinking potions grew into an interest in mixology, and soon, Sam was bitten by the bartending bug. So naturally, Sam opened an awesome tiki bar in the Disneyland Hotel—and this is pure speculation on my part, but I am pretty sure Sam would have preferred the name "Tahitian Terrace" for the restaurant next door.
The only real knock on Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar is that it is tiny on the inside. So much so that there was a line to get inside the well-themed establishment on a Saturday afternoon. Luckily, Trader Sam's shares an elevated patio with the neighboring Tangaroa Terrace, so you can lounge around and people watch while you are enjoying an adult beverage and some finger food.
Just down the stairs from Trader Sam's is a really cool lounge area with an outdoor fireplace. This cozy little corner of the Disneyland Hotel is sure to be an evening favorite with many guests.
Keeping with the Jungle Cruise and tiki theme, the drink menu features cocktails named Krakatoa Punch and HippopotoMai Tai. There is even a non-alcoholic blend of soda and tropical juices called Schweitzer Falls, named, of course, after the famous explorer Dr. Albert Falls. Many of the cocktails are served in special tiki glasses that might remind some Disney aficionados of the now closed Adventurer's Club at Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island in Florida.
Hungry guests can snack on an assortment of appetizers at Trader Sam's; sweet 'n spicy Asian wings and ahi poke served on crispy wonton chips are just two of the dishes to tempt your taste buds.
All together, Trader Sam's is a great little bar with a lot to offer. It can rival the Cove Bar in Paradise Pier for people-watching and relaxing outdoor fun and Hearthstone Lounge in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa for a cozy after-fireworks hangout. There really isn't a bad time to visit Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, so be sure to check it out.