Theme Park Food Goes Gourmet. The International Café at Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal City, CA.

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Now Starring Good Food!

Theme parks are not known for good food, unless you're one of those people that counts churros as good food. Okay, sometimes a good churro is a thing of beauty, but most of us can agree that (unless you're Homer Simpson) a churro does not a meal make.

Although theme parks like Universal Studios Hollywood are destinations in and of themselves, the eateries found within the parks usually aren't. Universal Studios Hollywood is trying to change that popular perception by presenting a new menu at one of their restaurants called The International Café.

Back in October, The International Café even won the prestigious Santé Award, the only peer-judged national restaurant and hospitality competition in North America. Even more impressive is that it was the only restaurant located within a theme park that won.

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Executive Chef Eric Kopelow, who also won "2010 Chef of the Year" by Chef Magazine, prepared an assortment of plates that clearly expressed the wholesome, high quality, satisfying direction the theme park is taking with some of its food choices.

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Right away the raised level of cooking relative to typical theme park fare was obvious. With the service of a soup flight, all negative notions of what theme park food is supposed to be vanished. The Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar Soup was creamy and rich with flavor as well as hearty.

Generous chunks of clam and mussel made the New York Clam & Mussel Chowder more of soup that eats like a meal. Its tomato base was vibrant but also balanced out the seafood.

Another delicious soup with its own distinct personality was the Chanterelle Mushroom and Corn Bisque. It had a satisfying viscosity and notes of pumpkin that made it extra enjoyable.

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Next, the supremely fresh Arugula Basil Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese brightened up the meal. The heirloom tomato was a great touch and was more evidence of the level of quality for which the restaurant strives.

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A trio of sandwich samplers showed up and each of them was tasty. The Shaved Roast Beef with Brie Cheese & Roasted Pears stood out as a wonderful combination of delicious tastes and textures.

The Oven Roasted Turkey with Muenster Cheese was a fine example of a turkey sandwich.

Of all the sandwiches, though, my favorite was the Smoked Salmon with Pickled Onions & Cucumbers. It reminded me of the bagel and lox breakfasts I used to enjoy back in my days working at Universal Studios on various sitcoms. I can't leave out the phenomenal assortment of olives that came along with everything.

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As they say in Hollywood, let's cut to the chase or, in this case, dessert. The Banana Meringue Tart was a delicate ending to the meal with my favorite part being the light crust.

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The Chocolate Enchantment was a handsome dessert and definitely much more assertive than the tart. Essentially this decadent treat is International Café's idea of what death by chocolate should be with its seductive layering of chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache. You get a chocolate buzz just by looking at it.

So, thanks to Universal Studios Hollywood's International Café and Chef Kopelow, your theme park meal doesn't need to be as scary as the Revenge of the Mummy ride or fake as a Hollywood backlot. In fact, it can be gourmet, delicious and nutritious. Nothing phony about that.

Universal Studios Hollywood Website

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