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Safely exotic
Sanaa focuses on the Indian Ocean side of the Dark Continent

‘Eighty percent of everything you see here is authentic,” says Charlie, our greeter for the evening at Sanaa, the newest dining option at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

“Sanaa” is the Swahili word for “work of art.” The comfortable, earth-toned restaurant, sited in the Kidani Village, is patterned after an African spice market. Charlie, according to his name badge, is from Johannesburg, South Africa. So far, so authentic. The cloth draping the walls and ceilings? Authentic. Most of the artwork and knickknacks? Authentic.

Naturally, Charlie’s scripted claim led me to wonder what around here wasn’t African in origin, but he handed us off to our server before I could get a journalistically satisfying answer. As in all things Disney, it’s often best to just go with the flow. Thankfully, that’s not hard to do. Disney has food service down to a science, and it would take one far more curmudgeonly than I to let that mystery 20 percent spoil dinner.

Sanaa is billed as “the art of African cooking with Indian flavors,” and while I’m no expert on African cuisine, I do know Indian flavors when they across my plate. And that is largely what will cross your plate at Sanaa. The appetizer sampler plate ($14.99) featured potato and pea samosas, pulled duck with red curry sauce and a few pieces of roasted cauliflower. With the exception of the duck, indistinguishable from pulled pork, it was all Indian-light; nothing too spicy or challenging here.

Our server, whose name tag indicated that she hailed from the exotic land of the University of Central Florida, painstakingly explained the workings of the on-site tandoor oven, after which it would have been almost rude not to order something from it, which we did. And it was a wise decision. The tandoori chicken ($17.99) featured moist, perfectly cooked chunks of yardbird, a small bowl of rich, tangy, yogurt-tinged dipping sauce in which to dunk them, and a bed of basmati rice. It proved satisfying, if a bit small for the price.

From that same oven came “Indian-style bread service” ($8.99), a sampler of naan, paratha and paneer paratha accompanied by your choice of three dipping sauces. I’ve had lighter, tastier Indian breads at any number of I-Drive establishments, and the sauces – mango chutney, tamarind chutney and cucumber raita – were flavorful if just a little too sweet, likely a concession to the American palate.

We also ordered a dish called, plainly enough, “slow cooked in gravy” ($18.99), again a sampler of two out of three options: beef short ribs in red gravy, chicken with red curry sauce or shrimp in green curry. I chose the beef -– falling-apart tender, but the gravy was too close to barbecue sauce for my comfort -– and the shrimp – large and succulent in a mild green curry sauce that left me wanting more – and along with a generous portion of basmati, it was more than I could eat.

Dessert was a float-off-your-spoon–light chai cream mousse ($5.49) and a pot of robust, pressed Kenya AA coffee ($6.29), one of the strongest and most distinct flavors of the whole meal.

Sanaa’s limited menu options, somewhat muted flavors and detailed atmosphere make for a safely exotic experience. It is, as my dining partner put it so aptly, starter Indian food. If you like it, don’t let your culinary adventure begin and end there.

dining@orlandoweekly.com
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