The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter buffeteria-style restaurant is now open sporadically at Universal Studios Hollywood during "technical rehearsals" in the highly anticipated themed land.
I attended a media preview Wednesday night of the Three Broomsticks restaurant and Hog's Head pub where Universal showed off the new Potter-inspired food and beverage offerings.
The vaulted ceiling interior of the Three Broomsticks looked like the ribs of a ship's hull. Suitcases and steamer trunks sat outside doors in the rafters leading to the lodging rooms of the wizard's inn. A broomstick rack lined the wall at the foot of a staircase.
Next door, the tighter confines of the low-ceilinged Hog's Head created a more intimate atmosphere where nonalcoholic Butterbeer and other more substantial spirits flowed freely. Behind the bar, an animatronic hog's head periodically snarled at customers.
Most of the menu items fall in the $13 to $22 price range with sides available for under $6 and desserts for less than $7. The Great Feast Platter - with enough chicken, ribs, corn on the cob and potatoes for four - will set you back $55.
Naturally, the Three Broomsticks menu featured a number of Americanized versions of English dishes that you'd expect to find in a theme park land inspired by J.K. Rowling's books and the subsequent films. The beer-battered fish and chips made with North Atlantic cod were a flaky delight with just the perfect amount of greasy goodness. I'm a shepherds pie fanatic, but I found the ground beef in the Three Broomsticks version to have the consistency of a sloppy joe mix. The bangers and mash was probably the best of the entrees on the menu, with the juicy sausage delivering a good snap and pairing perfectly with the potatoes.
The English-style soups were the surprise of the night. My favorite was the potato and leek soup, which I could have eaten all day. And the beef, lamb and Guinness stew warmed my insides on Wednesday's cool and rainy night.
Of course, there were plenty of veto items on the menu for stomachs unaccustomed or opposed to British fare. The roasted chicken, prime rib and sparerib platters fit that bill with vegetables on the side. The massive smoked turkey leg will make you look more like Fred Flintstone than Harry Potter. The standard issue mixed greens salad paled in comparison to the rest of the hearty offerings.
If I could, I would have started my meal with the delicious desserts. The OMG moment of the night was my first spoonful of Butterbeer Potted Cream served in cute glass jars with hinged lids. The decadent dessert put me in a food coma that I did not want to end.
No visit to Wizarding World would be complete without a frosty mug of Butterbeer. The addictive shortbread-cookie-and-butterscotch-flavored beverage will be available in standard, frozen and hot formats. The other signature drink - Pumpkin Juice - tasted like I was drinking pumpkin pie through a straw.
The Wizard's Brew stout was the best of the otherwise uninteresting lot. The Dragon Scale lager had about as much character as a Coors Light. The only thing that saved the Hog's Head Brew was combining the ale with Strongbow cider, turning it into the Potter equivalent of a Snakebite.
The Wizarding World liquor of choice will almost certainly be Blishen's Fire Whisky, which was featured in the Potter books. The less intense version of the familiar Fireball cinnamon-flavored whisky serves as the base for a number of Potterific cocktails at Hog's Head pub.
Wizarding World technical rehearsals are expected to continue for the next few weeks. The unannounced preview periods can begin and end at any time -- and might not happen at all on certain days. Depending on the luck of the draw, the new Potter land might open for two, four or six hours at a stretch on any given day. A "soft opening" with longer operating hours is expected to begin in early March before the April 7 grand opening.
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