Disney Dining Review: Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village
Tucked away like a hidden jewel, Sanaa Restaurant, located on the ground floor of Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village provides a change in dining culture, especially when one considers Walt Disney World food. For me, decided to dine at Sanaa brought me out of my comfort zone because, I admit, I’m not a very adventurous eater. While I wouldn’t say I’m picky, let’s just say, my palate wouldn’t be considered an eager world traveler. In other words, my experience with “cultural cuisine” was limited to Italian, Chinese and Mexican.
We had an 8:15 p.m. dinner reservation and arrived about 15 minutes early. The hostess, dressed in stunning, traditional African attire greeted us warmly with a “Jambo” (which means hello) and signed us in. She told us it would be a little bit before we were seated, so we decided to walk down the hall to see some of the African art on display (coincidentally Sanaa actually means “work of art” in Swahili!) Less than 10 minutes later, our buzzer went off and we were being seated!
The restaurant is colorful and the decor is a combination of natural elements and African/Indian culture. Up on the ceiling, it looked like tree roots were weaving their way around the restaurant. Artistic pots, masks and other items adorned the walls. The highlight of the restaurant is its wall of windows, which looks out on the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Savannah. During daylight hours (especially near sunset, I hear) many of the property’s animals, including giraffes, zebras and gazelles stroll by for the guests to see. Unfortunately, it was already dark during our meal time, so we weren’t able to enjoy the natural scenery.
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Sanaa specializes in “the Art of African Cooking with Indian Flavors.” I discovered this meant a lot of slow cooking of meats as well as using tandoori ovens. these are clay ovens that can reach extremely high temperatures. For a food newbie, like myself, I was grateful the menu had what I like to call a “food dictionary” so I didn’t have to ask our waiter about each and every dish on the menu. On this list, various cooking styles and dishes are described to make it easier to decide on what to have. Even with the menu, I had a few questions and our server was more than happy to answer every single one. I also had concerns because I have a variety of allergies, including all nut products and shellfish. Our server assured us the chef would be out shortly to review the menu with me to make sure I would have a safe and enjoyable meal.
When the chef arrived, he handed me a separate menu based on my allergy concerns. I was surprised to find it varied very little from the regular menu. Our chef explained that this type of cooking used very little when it came to nuts and relied heavily on basic meats, rice and lots of spices. I knew Indian food was known for being quite hot and spicy, but, again, our chef eased my fears by showing me which dishes would be good introductions to someone branching out like this for the first time.
We started our meal with a naan bread course, which consisted of 3 flavors of the warm, flat bread. My husband and I chose the traditional. spiced and garlic-ginger seasonings. I’ve heard many people rave about naan bread and I now understand why! I couldn’t keep my hands off of it. The bread was fresh out of the oven and seasoned perfectly. The spiced version had some heat that built as you ate it, but it was so delicious. A variety of sauces (or accompaniments) are provided and three are included with the regular bread service. We “upgraded” to the full nine sauce sampler which included rec chile sambal, cucumber raita, coriander chutney, mango chutney, coconut chutney, garlic pickle, spicy jalapeňo-lime pickle, roasted red bell pepper hummus and tamarind chutney. Yes, it was a little expensive for a bread course, but it was worth every penny. My favorite was the roasted red bell pepper hummus. I’ve never tasted hummus like this before and I wanted to scrape the bowl clean, but we ran out of the bread. I honestly think I could have made an entire meal out of the bread, but I had to share with my husband.
For our main course, each of us chose from the slow cooked menu, which offered us each two separate dishes. I had the butter chicken and beef short ribs and my husband had the spicy durban chicken and butter chicken. Each of these dishes came with basmati rice, but there is a rice pilaf option, as well. Of my two dishes, I preferred the chicken. It was seasoned well, was indeed buttery and sort of melted in my mouth. The beef short ribs were good, but the sauce was almost too rich for me. I did not try my husband’s spicy chicken, but he cleaned his plate and said it was delicious. He also enjoyed the butter chicken, but I think it was a little too bland for him. Like I said, he’s more adventurous than me.
We somehow managed to leave room for dessert. My husband chose the banana pudding with vanilla sauce. I wasn’t able to sample any of his dessert because there was a crumble layer on top which contained nuts. My choice was the orange kulfi sundae. Kulfi is essentially Indian ice cream and it is not served as a scoop, but in a square. It tasted like an orange creamsicle, but not as sweet. It was beautifully presented with crystallized sugar and a blood orange sauce. It was a nice, light way to end the meal.
I am happy I decided to keep our reservations at Sanaa. I was indecisive about trying something new and wondered if I would enjoy the meal, especially since it is one of the more expensive meals we ate during our trip. If you are looking to try something a little different, then I would definitely recommend Sanna as a good first option. There’s enough familiar things on the menu to put worried minds at ease, but plenty of flavorful surprises, too!
Food: The food was well-prepared, tasty and beautifully presented. What I found most interesting was the variety of flavors within each dish–not just between the dishes. The bread course alone had three different breads and nine different sauces to sample! Each of our main dishes each had meat that was fork tender and sauces that blended many flavors together nicely. Even though the food was different to my more traditional tastes, it wasn’t “out there” enough to totally scare me away. I consider it a “baby step” toward possibly trying more adventurous meals for our next trip!
Atmosphere: We thought the restaurant was beautiful, even at night. The bold colors of the art pieces, the woodwork and the lighting gave the room a more romantic feel than other table service restaurants we’ve been to on other trips. However, it was relaxed and comfortable at the same time. I imagine the atmosphere is even better during the daytime when the animals can be seen roaming the savannah. We’ve talked about returning to Sanaa during lunchtime to sample the slightly different menu and the scenery!
Service: This made a significant difference in my experience. As hesitant as I was to try something so different for me, the staff (from our hostess and waiter all the way to the chef) were gracious, helpful and more than patient in answering my questions and concerns. As with any Walt Disney World Table Service Restaurant, they catered to my food allergies without issues or making me feel like I was putting them out of their way. Both our waiter and our chef asked me what sort of dishes I enjoyed and made a point to recommend menu items that catered to those tastes. None of them steered me wrong!
Tips: If you want to see the animals, then get a lunch reservation and request a window seat. We were told there is no guarantee you’ll get your seating request, but they do try their best. As far as booking a reservation, we were able to secure ours about 30 days out from our trip, but our trip was during a non-peak season. I would recommend booking your reservation as early as possible, especially if you want lunch. Also, the Tables in Wonderland discount card is accepted at Sanaa, which made what would have been an expensive meal a good value compared to other table service meals we’ve had over the years.