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Ever since I can remember it has always been a tradition for my Aunt Barbara and I to go Christmas shopping together. As a kid I remember my aunt picking me up from school and driving a few towns over to the mall full of stores crowded with holiday shoppers on a mission. My Aunt would patiently await as I examined possible gifts always contemplating what to buy my parents and how much too spend. Usually we would end our tiresome day of shopping with a nice relaxing dinner as we reflected on all of our great finds. However, once my Aunt moved to Florida our holiday shopping tradition stopped, and for the last few years I have found myself doing my holiday shopping alone desperately missing my shopping partner who would easily offer up suggestions, helping me to make excellent Christmas gift decisions.

However, Now that I am here in Florida for the holidays my aunt and I resumed our tradition and spent our day doing some much needed Christmas shopping. Five shopping bags and a much lighter wallet later we heading to Animal Kingdom Lodge for our much anticipated dinner reservation at Jiko, a signature dining restaurant offering up delicious food which combines together African, Indian, and Mediterranean flavors.

It was may aunts first time to the Animal Kingdom Lodge and boy she sure was impressed! Upon walking into the lobby she stared wide eyed in amazement as she took in the magnificent open room complete with wood beams hand carved with intricate African symbols. A large African themed Christmas tree decorated with African drums and other traditional items stood perfectly tall in the center of the lobby.

Of course no trip to the Animal Kingdom Lodge would be complete without a stop to view the animals.

We headed outdoors where my aunt stood open mouthed as she watched the animals obliviously roaming the open 21 acre savannah. She was even more shocked when she realized that the resort rooms had balconies which over looked the savannah, imagine waking up to wild animal strolling the land right outside your window, quite a way to begin the day!

Finally it was time for dinner. Upon checking in I also informed the greater at the front podium that in addition to my food allergy I was also a vegan, she carefully took down all my necessary information and was happy to inform me that they would be able to accommodate my special dietary needs.

We were promptly sat at 5:50 (our reservation time) in the dimly lit spacious restaurant. The hostess pulled out the chair for me and even set the napkin on my lap (quite the attentive service). Once sat our hostess gave us a brief overview of the restaurant and then handed us our menus, to me she handed a special vegan menu (Obviously I was ecstatic) which had vegan appetizer, entree, and dessert offerings. Less then a minute later the hostess returned to our table with two warm towels to clean our hands with, quite an impressive addition to our overall dining experience.

Like the rest of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jiko has a very authentic African theme. The warmly decorated restaurant has an orange and bright blue color scheme which was inspired to resemble the serine African sunset. The restaurant also hosts an open show kitchen complete with coral colored wood burning ovens.

We started our evening by splitting a cold appetizer, we ordered the Roasted Beet Salad from the vegan menu, which was made with 3 different types of beets, candied beets, golden beets, and roasted red beets, the salad was topped with watercress and Frisee and a beautiful burgundy colored blackberry Shiraz Vinaigrette which was drizzled over the plate. The non vegan beet salad came accompanied with pistachio crusted goat cheese and thinly sliced Serrano ham, so our server, Mike brought out a side dish with the two non vegan ingredients for my aunt to enjoy! She raved about the creamy cheese and the slightly salty ham.

Next we had our hot appetizer, a delicious Puree of Sweet Potato Soup made with pineapple, red pepper, and grated plantain fries. This soup was delicious the combination of crispy fried grated plantains topped with the velvety smooth soup puree had a unique texture.

Our server also brought us out each a basket of bread. My basket contained whole wheat flax seed focaccia and thin crispy papadum bread. Both breads were delicious! My Aunts basket contained the whole wheat flax seed bread with a side of creamy honey butter,which she raved about. It took some serious willpower from both of us to resist eating our entire baskets full of bread.

Next it was onto the main event. I selected the Egyptian Kushari Entree Made with Lentils, Israeli couscous, fresh chickpeas, tomato sauce, almond,and a a light Harissa Vinaigrette. This dish was great, it had a slight kick to it but the vinaigrette seasoned couscous topped with the spicy chunky tomato sauce and slightly salty sliced almonds made for a wonderful combination of flavorful ingredients.

After Indecisively changing her mind several times my aunt finally selected the Grilled Wild Gulf Shrimp Curry served over a bed of coconut basmati and seasonal vegetables, topped with plump raisins in a durban curry sauce. She loved her dish especially the combination of spicy curry sauce with the plump raisins which provided a bit of sweetness to the dish.

Three courses later we were quite comfortably full, yet there was still one course to go and I wasn't stopping until I had it. My Aunt on the other hand claimed she was too full for dessert, yet a run down of the items on the dessert menu by our server seemed to make the idea of dessert suddenly attractive to her. Within five minutes of being handed the dessert menu she had decided on the warm coconut bread pudding topped with caramel rum sauce and accompanied by the house made caramel ice cream. Despite being full she finished her entire dessert, somethings just don't deserve to be wasted!

I selected the Sorbet, a selection of three house made sorbets, creamy coconut, red raspberry, and sweet mango topped with a selection of fresh berries. A perfect light and delicious dessert and end to our dinner.

I also enjoyed a warm cup of freshly brewed chai tea with my dessert, made with the aromatic blend of comforting Indian spices!

We left Jiko completely stuffed but extremely happy with out excellent meal! Jiko is a great restaurant and extremely accommodating, in addition to their dinner menu the restaurant also offers Vegan, Vegetarian, Lactose intolerant, Gluten intolerant, and PKU menus making it a great place for those with special dietary needs. This is a signature dinning restaurant so entree tend to be priced between $28- $44 however, I think you'll find the quality of food absolutely worth the price!

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