Looking back, we have previously reviewed a series of upcharge culinary events like the Haunt VIP meals and Tower Tastings, as well as a few special event menus such as Spring Bloom’s internationally-inspired food faire. More recently, we have embarked on a quest to review everything on offer at each of Kings Dominion’s updated and renovated eateries. Despite all of these examples, KDFans has never attempted anything approaching the scale of BGWFans’ annual, comprehensive, Food & Wine photo review.
Given how good the park’s food has become since the arrival of Chef Denis Callinan, we decided to interrupt our series of restaurant reviews (there are actually two articles sitting in draft waiting for a final edit and some photos) and produce a BGWFans F&WF-style assessment of every dish at Kings Dominion’s 2022 Grand Carnivale. We also used our standard 10-point scale:
0: Legitimately Unsafe to Eat
3: Disappointing & Not Recommended
5: Unremarkable & Probably a Bit Boring
8: Great, But Not Perfect
10: Pure Ecstasy
Before getting to the food, itself, we have a few thoughts on the event. Our initial impression was that we really appreciated Kings Dominion having clustered all of the food booths under the Eiffel Tower. In addition to being one of the most charming locations in the park, it made sampling dishes from multiple kiosks very easy.
The mini-themed areas surrounding each booth were lovely. Each highly decorated stall had unique seating and other artistic touches. There were also roaming, costumed actors for each represented nation, who participated in the parade at the end of the night.
Kings Dominion is selling two tasting cards: six dishes (no drinks) for $39.99 and ten for $59.99. Although the prices for individual items are actually very reasonable, these lanyards can save you money, especially the ten item card. All of the dishes at the event cost more than $6, the per unit price on the $59.99 option. 13 of 24 options are listed above $6.66, the cost of one dish with the $39.99 card.
For those of you who are used to the portions at other theme park culinary events, you may be surprised by the size of the dishes at Grand Carnivale. Many of the items we tried would be reasonable entrees on their own. Even splitting each item among the three of us, we struggled to finish all of the food, because of the sheer volume.
It is worth mentioning that we conducted our review during the soft open. Given the event’s limited run and our own schedules, the first Friday ended up being the only feasible day for all three of us.
Despite some obvious issues as the staff learned how to use the systems and developed a comfort level with their products, the food, itself, largely lived up to the quality we have been seeing across the park for the past few years. The vegetables were fresh, the dishes were flavorful, and the presentation was clever. Overall, Kings Dominion continues to impress us as a destination for excellent food.
With all of that said, it is time for the real point behind this article: the reviews. Not knowing what to expect from this effort, we opted for a slightly scaled down approach. You will not find the Best In or the Taster’s Choice awards, but we have provided the average scores for each dish, as well as photos and our thoughts.
The food at the Chinese booth literally comes in Chinese restaurant takeout boxes. While they aren’t the dinner sized containers, two people could easily split one dish. The presentation across the event was lovely, but the “Chinese takeout” was charming and clever.
Average Dish Score
Asian-Style Banana Fritters
Served with Caramel Sauce & Sesame Seeds
The (clearly fresh) bananas were startlingly warm and creamy and served with a delicious caramel sauce. We actually wished there had been more of this not-too-sweet topping on our fritters.
Char Siu Pork Belly
Teriyaki Glazed Pork on Steamed Buns with Green Onions
The flavors in these generously-sized and sauced Asian sandwiches were on point. We found the meat tender and tasty. We were disappointed in the bao buns, however. Rather than the expected moistness of steamed bread, we found them dry throughout and crunchy on the bottom.
Kung Pao Cauliflower
Rice Flour Battered & Tossed in Kung Pao Sauce
The texture of this dish surprised all of us. The cauliflower was smooth and had an interesting, almost nutty flavor. Although we thought this was a nice, light summer entrée, it may have been a bit too mild and would have benefitted from a bit more spice.
Spicy Shrimp Udon
Tossed with Snow Peas, Bok Choy, and Red Pepper
The spice socks you in the mouth. It burns. And it is delicious. The snow peas are sweet and crunchy, a perfect contrast to the well-cooked noodles and shrimp. This dish impressed us so much that it was awarded the highest score at the booth.
A warning to everyone eyeing the French booth, which admittedly looks delicious. We would not recommend getting more than one entrée at this kiosk. The three options seem to be variations on the same theme: bread, cheese, and greens. They were all fairly good, but we wouldn’t want to eat more than one of them at once. The raclette and croissant are probably big enough on their own, regardless.
Average Dish Score
Fresh Peaches Baked in a Flaky Dough
This pastry was a fantastic, flakey, joy to eat. The fruit filling was smooth and creamy, and the glaze was bright and sweet. We agreed that a dessert this good deserved real whipped cream, however.
Pear & Brie Croissant
Brie Cheese, Baby Arugula, Pecans and Pear Chutney
This dish has almost everything I want in a sandwich—at least in theory. To be clear, it was the highest scoring savory item at the booth, it just didn’t quite hit the culinary bullseye. It was a cool and light dish, perfect for a warm afternoon, and the sweetness of the pear chutney was not cloying or overwhelming. Many of the components were expertly prepared from the crunchy pecans to sweet raisins to the fresh arugula. The croissant, however, was not flakey, and while we enjoyed the flavors together (what isn’t improved by brie?), I felt it needed some kind of meat to balance the cheese and fruit.
Classic Melty French Cheese Served with Arugula on a Garlic Buttered Baguette
Surprisingly, this sandwich was very controversial. While Zachary and Renee enjoyed it, I didn’t think the flavors worked together at all. I am honestly struggling to identify what precisely I disliked about this specific combination of butter, cheese, and garlic, but it all seemed to be at war in my mouth. We did all agree, however, that the baguette was fresher than the bread at the Spanish booth.
Spinach, Garlic, and Goat Cheese Stuffed Crêpe
This dish, while not the most interesting thing we sampled, was executed well. The goat cheese was a tangy compliment to the slightly bitter spinach, and the crepes were light and tender. We thought an additional component would have improved it, but we still enjoyed our sample.
Overall, this was our least favorite booth. While two of the dishes were really quite good, as a whole the German kiosk just wasn’t on the same level as the other locations.
Average Dish Score
Traditional Apple Custard Cake Topped with Powdered Sugar
We really enjoyed the apple cake. It was moist and soft and had a lovely tangy flavor, coupled with tons of cinnamon. We were surprised by the sweetness of the apples, as we were expecting something a bit tarter. Regardless, this was easily our favorite dish at the booth.
Fried Bratwurst Cut Into Pieces & Simmered in a Tomato Curry Sauce
The currywurst was our favorite savory item at this booth. Both the flavors and the textures were good. We could taste the curry in the sauce, and the flavorful sausage had excellent textures and a nice snap.
Crispy Potato Cakes Served with Apple Chutney & Sour Cream
We were confused by the mound of greasy potato that bore little resemblance to pancakes. They had an odd, stringy texture that reminded us of burned hash browns, seemed oily, and were visually unappealing. We also expected some onion, but only tasted potato. We found the chutney to be too sweet and didn’t enjoy it with the pancakes and sour cream.
Fried & Served with Bock Beer Cheese
The cheese sauce was the highlight of this dish, but not good enough to save the poorly made pretzel bites. The dipping sauce was served warm and boasted a pleasant, creamy texture. Moreover, the cheese and beer were very well balanced. Unfortunately, the pretzels were too bready and unevenly salted.
Our highest scoring booth, this South Asian location boasted interesting and flavorful dishes and our favorite dessert. In fact, the rice kheer was our highest rated item across the entire event. The theming was also incredibly colorful and inviting.
Average Dish Score
Chicken Tikka Masala
Roasted, Marinated Chicken Slow Cooked in a Spicy Tomato Curry Sauce & Served with Basmati Rice
Even setting aside my unabashed love of South Asian food, I thought this was one of the strongest entrees at the event. It was also our highest scoring savory at the booth. The rice was well prepared, the chicken was tender, and the spices were spot-on. We might have wanted a bit more creaminess in the sauce and perhaps a hint of sweetness, but overall it was a great dish.
Cheese Battered in Chickpea Flour, Clantro Chutney, and Spicy Tamatar Ki Chutney
Yes, the cheese in this snack is supposed to be mild, but we felt it was overwhelmed by the sauce, which tasted more like a spicy marinara than anything else. We also found the breading to be a bit greasy. Overall we found this dish somewhat puzzling.
Classic Indian Rice Pudding Made with Sugar, Milk, Cardamom and Nuts Topped with Local Berries
The cardamom bias is real. Not only was this our favorite dessert at the event, it was also the highest scoring dish overall, beating out all of the savory items, as well. We thought the flavors in this warm and creamy sweet were perfect. If we had any complaints at all, it was that the rice was slightly crunchy in spots.
A Deep Fried Potato Dumpling Served Inside a Potato Bun Topped with Sweet Tamarind Chutney & Cilantro Sauce
The filling in this little slider was the perfect balance of heat and sweet. The chutney contrasted with the spice in the potato dumpling, but didn’t overwhelm it. While the potato roll is a classic component of this dish, ours were a bit dry. If you like samosas, we recommend you give this—its cousin—a try.
While this booth didn’t particularly stand out for us, the tortellini is a reason to visit and the bruschetta provides a nice accompaniment. There are, however, much better desserts elsewhere.
Average Dish Score
Brown Butter Sage Tortellini
Cheese Stuffed Pasta Sautéed with Pancetta & Peas with Classic Sage & Brown Butter Sauce and Finished with Lemon Ricotta
This entrée was the highest scoring savory offering at the event. It was prepared fresh, when I ordered our food, and it absolutely was worth the wait. The pasta was perfectly cooked and coated in a lovely, savory, buttery sauce. All of the components came together to create a complex (and delicious) dish.
Olive Oil, Vine Ripe Tomatoes, Basil, Garlic, and Shaved Parmesan
We thought this classic bread dish would be nice during a Summer afternoon, with its fresh and cool tomatoes. We would have preferred that the parmesan have a bit more bite, but overall we thought this simple snack was well executed.
Crostoli di Carnevale
Triangles of Fried Dough Dusted with Icing Sugar
This dessert was perfectly fine fried dough. We might have liked it to be slightly fluffier, but it didn’t have an oily aftertaste, making it a nice, if boring, option.
Tender Pasta & Herbed Ricotta Cheese, Breaded, Lightly Fried, and
Served with House-Made Marinara
While this was an interesting idea, we did not enjoy our fried and stuffed pasta. While the outer shell was nearly too hard to cut, the lasagna noodles inside were mushy, giving the whole dish a gluey consistency. We expected herbs, but instead found ourselves eating an oddly lemony and sweet cheese filling. The universally low scores reflected these views.
This highly rated booth offers a well-rounded selection of dishes, including lighter snacks, hearty entrees, and a delicious dessert. We also found the staff to be incredibly friendly and helpful, making our experience that much better.
Average Dish Score
Calamari de Ajo
Fried & Tossed in Garlic Oil & Sliced Peppadews
This dish may have had the most startling presentation of anything we tried at the event. The peppadews provided a great pop of color against the breading on the calamari, but that wasn’t what caught everyone’s attention. In addition to the rings of breaded squid, there were lightly-coated, clusters of purplish tentacles. They looked almost sinister. The sauce provided most of the flavor and we really enjoyed the sweet and sour with a hint of heat.
Lemon Olive Oil Cake
House-Made, Super Moist Cake Served with Fresh Strawberries
All three of us loved this dense and flavorful cake. It had a delicate lemon taste and was adorned with delicious little candied almond slivers. It also paired perfectly with the fresh strawberry. We were forced to mark it down a notch, however, because it was slightly dry.
Slow Cooked in a Traditional Paella Pan with Saffron Rice, Bell Peppers, Tomatoes, and Onions
This satisfying dish was the highest scoring savory item at the booth. The rice was well cooked and the peas were not mushy. The light flavors all complimented each other, creating a tasty entrée.
Spanish Olive Medley
Crusty Breads with Manchego Cheese & Pancetta
We were served a nice variety of olives with distinct flavors. We would, however, have liked more Manchego cheese and pancetta. The small amounts we were served paired perfectly with the olives, cutting the vegetable’s strong flavor. Our main complaint was the bread, which was unbearably chewy. It improved marginally, however, when we dipped it in the leftover oil at the bottom of the olive bowl.
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