Be Our Guest: Chefs of Wine Country Trattoria

Recent holiday travel brought me to Disneyland in Anaheim, California where I went with friends to relax. On the way to the resort, I heard nearly fantastic tales of a particular chef who made dining at the Wine Country Trattoria a magnificent adventure. The friends with whom I traveled have extensive lists of allergies which occasionally prohibit them from eating many foods that are not always allergies for other people. There are also more-common allergies, but akin to second tier technical support, their food issues usually go beyond the go-to solutions typical for allergies. As mentioned in an earlier post, I follow a diet sans coffee, alcohol, tea, and even cola products although I do not share their allergies and sensitivities.

According to the friends, Disneyland has a policy with dining that when describing allergies and similar issues, diners talk directly with the chefs. Considering the chefs run the lines, keep up with orders, keep charge of food purchases, handle schedules for timing kitchens for prepping courses for reservations and walk-in’s when the dining room gets slammed, (and front house defers to them and follows orders with military precision), this is a big deal. I have no personal experience with internal workings of professional kitchens, but one of the friends of our trio worked with back and front house for sixteen years. A Food Network junkie, I learned a little from watching the different line-kitchen shows, reading Michael Ruhlman books (The Making of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef, and The Reach of a Chef), and watching Ratatouillie. My experience comes from four generations of fantastic cooks and bakers who sold pies to department stores and sold candy across the East Coast, growing up cooking at home and with Church functions, and trying food from LA, NY, DC, and Chicago learning what is good, what to expect, and what works.


“Yes, Chef!”

Chef Frances Vogt (permission granted to use her name), Assistant Chef at Golden Vine Winery (Wine Country Trattoria) is a magician. She is Mickey from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice if the apprentice got it right the first time. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu-Paris, across Europe and the United States, Chef Frances is creative, spunky, warm, and extremely intelligent. She readily accepted the challenges of my friends and exceeded expectations thoroughly. Newer to the Trattoria, she also works with Chef David, a chef with a great smile whose eyes lit up and twinkled when hearing of a customer’s love of seafood.

Never over-done, Chef Frances is a natural legend in her time. A writer-friend from Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn once taught me that a person eats with their eyes before they eat with their mouths. She is right. Although one friend contemplated the Quattro Pomodoro this first night, Chef Frances chose an off-menu item for him. “Yes, Chef!” The normal lunch or dinner menu and World of Color Menus are solid and regular substitutions typically satisfy needs. Instead of Quattro Pomodoro, one friend ate a stroganoff of divine contemplative origin from Chef this night. The other friend had a beautiful chicken and vegetable menu dish, perfectly complimentary to the mushroom-tomato-Parmesan bruschetta appetizer, and the Fritto Misto from paradise. Calamari done right (not chewy but tender and delicate), mussels without a metallic aftertaste (with a tiny touch of sand, but I think that depended on the mussel), and yummy bites of beans and artichoke that left one not in food coma, but in trance of bliss. For the two seafood lovers at the table, sheer heaven.

My entrée was technically on the World of Color menu, but went perfectly for my mood. I did not know what to expect when opening up the menu to whatever the chefs felt like knowing my seafood obsession and personal preference against broccoli, but had a grand time. The scallops were perfect. Larger scallops (silver dollar size) are less chewy, lighter in flavor, and pack a less-intensive punch than their smaller cousins. Ocean scallop fibers are more like poultry if cut cross-grain while still retaining impeccable tenderness with fresh flavor. The balanced combinations between the seafood and tomato acid, combined with solid good spaghetti made me happy. Having eaten the World of Color menu item before, but not seeing it on the regular menu, it was coming home after a long day to a good meal with a perfect breeze on the patio, complete with soft Spanish music and soft (nearly sweet) water with lime. For this evening, the balsamic vinegar/oil and variety of glutenous and gluten-free breads were sweet and heady.

My dessert was the perfect chocolate chip cookie accent to vanilla ice cream. Reading Hannah Swenson books concerning the perfect chocolate chip cookie (buttery, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside), I wondered if such a thing existed, especially for friends with gluten and other sensitivities. All of the desserts brought out were edible by anyone at the table. Upon consuming the cookie at the end of my dreamland meal, the cookie tasted like the book’s description: I could taste the butter, and the crumb of the cookie was perfect for the texture of the ice cream. This was not just a cookie and ice cream. It had depth of ingredients and followed the meal beautifully.

Chef Frances asked our party to show her pictures from our night of “Glowing with the Show,” the current World of Color promotion. “Yes, Chef!” We took her request seriously, and back we came again the next day for lunch complete with pictures on smart phone. This time, Chef Frances made a guest a true pomodoro for the previous night’s stroganoff, then another guest the delectable arugula, fennel, goat cheese, and fig salad, and then my Tuscan Salad with grilled shrimp where Chef Frances used a light vinaigrette and portioned each of our entrees for diners who hadn’t had time for breakfast but still needed park time and walking ability.

Between us, we agree that Chef Frances deserves knighthood. Chef David increased in our mutual respect and admiration, and overall the experiences were magical. Going above and beyond is the mark for this restaurant, and we hope to patronize it for many years to come.


Disney Pin Trading App?

While in LA this weekend, I saw how friends adore Disney pins. I almost never wear pins, period. These are not a fashion thing whatsoever. It’s a collection thing. In this case,  merchandise and inventory attach themselves to a positive thought process. Nothing wrong with that. My version of Disneyland is going to any given cemetery and turns toward recording who is there and the information presented upon and around headstones. Leave the dead alone, but let them be known. Part of why I consider the historic repositories app mentioned in previous blogs intensely necessary.

Keeping track of Disney pins is a cumbersome exercise involving printout’s of pictures and SKU numbers for correlation. Pin collectors and traders need binders to keep track of said information. In a day when there is an app for nearly anything (or at least that is the theory) why is there not an app for this?

Walking around Disneyland with friends, I see people with lanyards and pins. Most stores carry either clothes, crystal/glass, figurines, food, pictures, kitchen ware, toys, music, and/or pins. There are tales of pins ranging through and between the different parks. Evolving between Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, Orlando, California, and/or including other elements such as Disney Vacation Club, limited edition pins, D23, Annual Passholder, and mystery pins. There’s a pin style, size, or anything for the preference of the person purchasing. There are also buttons. Pin trading varies in levels and layers of complexity.

Since my friends are such fans of most things Disney, I came along for holiday, and they handed me a lanyard with extra pins for trading. Inclusion in the past time was nice and enjoyable, though I do not see myself getting into it with their passion. While I do not admit to organizing myself well, helping solve unfulfilled needs is a hobby, and app production is my latest craze. At least, aspects of development where I take notes and either figure out how to do it later, or see if anyone decides to read this blog and then attempt it. I dream things up and with one degree may make it happen. Understanding the inherent fire behind the pin trading is not necessary for my work. My friends communicate well what they want. I work by asking for pointers in what the needs are for their daily use.

On first look, this appears as a simple correlation between Excel spreadsheets and pictures. Like setting up a basic carousel or Internet store effect, or something akin to electronic binders with unlimited expansion potential. Options that I could see being necessary are the abilities of the app to:

  • Add specialty pins (expansion of scale with specialty products that are not necessarily available for everyone)
  • Add historic (older) sets (dependent upon years)
  • Download the newest collection pictures as-needed or as early as released for organizing purchases, orders, etc. (refresh rates)
  • Keep track of pins sets according to any range of parameters including what friends or family members own, styles preferred, and potential to limit pins based upon preferences (if choosing not to complete a set versus automatic updates or reminders of pins needed)
  • Wish lists for pins
  • Ability to trade lists between pin holders.

My friends explained that there are hundreds of thousands of pins. Quantity is not my worry. Time spent is one thing. If there is a way of using what already exists on Disney websites and Ebay and moving it into the database, then it’s mainly data mining mixed with correlating and linking pictures with unique serial numbers. Crunching quantities of data is the purpose of computers. If opened up like a Wiki, let the people who care the most upload information and populate the data for themselves with options of sharing with the rest of the world and helping the public with something that people need.

I’m actually a little surprised that Disney does not use QR codes to keep track of it all already. Regular scanned bar codes are easy to use with portable red scanners. QR codes would automatically scan via smart phone and keep things organized without massive time necessary. And the QR codes would make shopping simpler. Scan the code for something purchased, a wish list item, or similar, and the data is there. Personal information regarding the collection is not necessary. Just a username and password for keeping track of whose pins are whose.

Pin traders are serious, and they invest in these items. This is not short-term investing or a day-trading concept. People specifically buy premium passes to the parks for access to said pins on the days that they come out. It’s a little mind-boggling, and not to detract, but it feels like a Costco run. You get what you need and then you get out and do your best to avoid sample distractions. Some people need to ride rides (I prefer rides, but that’s me). In this analogy, some people need to look at everything as in checking out everything from steak to tuna to dairy to frozen food, batteries, Christmas lights, and car tires. Serious pin traders know where to go, do their thing, and have time to run errands on the way home. It’s incredibly impressive, and I hope that these concepts help someone create the needed app to make pin trading even more effective and fun for good friends of the Mouse.