Growing up Italian, Christmas Eve dinner was always some modified version of the traditional “seven fishes.” Modified in the sense that none of us could really agree that 100% of the “traditional” items were something we liked!
This year, that traditional Italian meal was replaced with something right out of the wild! My husband and I decided to have our Christmas Eve dinner at Jiko – The Cooking Place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at where else, Disney World in Orlando.
For those who have visited Animal Kingdom, you know it’s a jungle out there! Strolling through the park you can move from Asia to Africa in an instant then head over into the prehistoric era in DinoLand.
One of the highlights of a visit to Animal Kingdom is the safari, where you board trucks that take you on a sightseeing tour of the savannah where animals from all over the world call home. Elephants, giraffes, tigers, you name it.
Food is also an important part of Animal Kingdom as well. From the various restaurants, carts and quick service spots in the park itself to the signature dining spots inside Animal Kingdom Lodge, the culinary journey is almost as fun as exploring the park itself.
Jiko – The Cooking Place is no different.
We had a 9:30pm reservation and arrived a bit early to have a cocktail at Victoria Falls Lounge near the lobby of the sprawling Lodge that is a spectacle in itself. The smell of a wood burning fireplace, the warmth of dark woods and dim lighting make for a cozy atmosphere that almost feels like it should be snowing outside and we all should be cuddling by the fire!
After a few Martini’s, we headed downstairs to Jiko where we were welcomed into the restaurant and taken to our table. In addition to the dining room, Jiko has a small bar area that looks onto the two wood-burning ovens that chefs use to prepare some of the dishes featured on the menu.
The menu itself features African, Indian and Mediterranean dishes and changes seasonally. The menu is exotic and features interesting menu items, which made this adventure somewhat fun! Jiko is also home to the largest collection of South African wines in the country, so if you’re a wine aficionado, the wine list is something you’re going to want to check out.
Our server took our drink order and told us about her favorite items on the menu. All of which we ended up ordering.
We started off with the Grilled Wild Boar Tenderloin (Mealie Pap, Chakalaka, Truffle Oil, Micro Cilantro – $19). Having never had wild boar before, we were both surprised at how flavorful and tender it was. If I had to compare it to something, I would say it was along the lines of a pork tenderloin. Having it cooked in the wood burning oven gave it a nice flavor.
Another appetizer we tried was something that is no longer on the menu, but an easy way to describe it is to call them little purses filled with spicy ground wild game and topped with a spicy sauce. I used spicy twice in that description for a reason!
We both enjoyed our starters and anxiously awaited our next adventure which was our main entrees.
I went with the Grilled Buffalo Ribeye (Rainbow Swiss Chard with Sweet Peppers and Smoked Bacon, Jiko Slap Chips, and Port Wine Emulsion- $55). Since I never had buffalo before, I asked our server to have the chef prepare it to his recommended temperature, which was medium. The steak itself had a bold flavor to it, although it was not overpowering. It was a bit on the fatty side, even though our server said it was a lean cut. Being that it was a ribeye, I would expect some fat, but this particular piece had more than a traditional beef rib eye steak. Overall it was a good choice, but the next entree stole the show.
My husband chose the pick of the evening, the Botswana-style Seswaa Beef Short Rib (Cassava-Potato Purée, Sambal, and Mushrooms – $48). Simply amazing and it was our server’s top recommendation. From the presentation right down to the final bite, there was nothing wrong with this dish at all. The beef simply fell off the bone, was so tender and delicious, I’m not embarrassed to say I was jealous that I didn’t order this as well.
Unfortunately, we did not save room for dessert.
Overall we were both impressed with our culinary safari to Africa. The restaurant itself, like many of Disney’s eateries, was well themed with beautiful décor and comfortable furnishings. The restaurant was busy, with no empty tables during our dinner, but service was spot-on with our server attentive to our every need.
Pretty sure this won’t be our only time visiting Jiko – The Cooking Place, as there are a few other dishes that have piqued our curiosity that we want to try.