Disney World Restaurant Reviews
BY MIKE WARING – DECEMBER 2007
Disney Dining Part Sixty Two, or Maybe Sixty Three
To continue with our series looking at various restaurants at Disney World we have a couple of new entries from the latest trip. We had planned on visits to the new character breakfast at Tusker House and lunch at the Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom, The Plaza Restaurant and Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. And finally a meal at Tokyo Dining, the newly reopened restaurant in Japan in the World Showcase,
Well, that was the plan. The reality was that we visited most of the restaurants that we planned, but we had to skip a couple. First off, changes to our schedule caused us to have to forgo the visit to Crystal Palace. Frankly I didn’t regret that all that much, since I try and limit exposure to character meals to one per trip maximum. Also, we got to go to Seasons 52 instead, which is one heck of a consolation prize. The attempt to check out the Yak and Yeti suffered from a lack of appetite after the big breakfast at Tusker House that morning, as well as a long line, high prices, too long spent in the hot sun and shorts that kept riding up.
As regards the restaurants that we did get to, well, there were hits and misses. Mostly misses this week.
Tusker House is not a new restaurant, though it recently concluded a remodel that made it into a sit down restaurant, the first one inside the Animal Kingdom itself. We don’t count Rainforest Café, as it’s on the edge of the park and it frankly stinks. A table service restaurant is something the park has needed for quite a while. A table service restaurant that serves a breakfast buffet is even better, but then they went one more step and made it into a character meal. Overall, character meals are not our absolute favorites, though we recognize that they are popular with parents and kids, and normally we find they aren’t too annoying. I suspect the meals would be somewhat less expensive if they didn’t have characters, but then again it’s our option to avoid them if this bothers us.
So we did get a picture or two with Mickey and Daisy Duck stylishly attired in explorer togs. The food was better than expected, on par with the buffets in the Deluxe resorts. I especially liked that they offered some African-influenced dishes, similar to what one can find at Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge. The fresh sliced ham with a spicy sweet mustard sauce was quite tasty. Mary appreciated the mango juice that was offered when we sat down. All of the items were fresh and replenished quickly so they stayed fresh. The pastries were fair. I would have liked a bit more variety in the fresh fruit department, but there was enough to keep me happy. And I know that most people at the parks are more interested in stocking up on the starches and the sugars: that’s the way I roll myself.
The inside of the restaurant itself has changed little, other then the removal of the counters and queues from the original counter service restaurant that preceded the current incarnation. You’ll still find the same whitewashed walls artfully damaged to look worn, tile floors and distressed but comfortable furniture. The staff was efficient and pleasant and even when the characters arrived the place didn’t go wild. The children were much more relaxed then in other character venues we’ve seen. All in all, if the price doesn’t induce a coronary, then it’s a pretty good place to enjoy a character meal.
The one park we’ve not spent much time eating in is the Magic Kingdom. We are going to spend the next few trips trying to rectify this omission. This time we had planned on trying both the Plaza Restaurant and Crystal Palace but we had to postpone the latter until another day. The Plaza, on the other hand, we did manage to check out for dinner one evening.
The Plaza may be the smallest full service restaurant in the World. I don’t think that there’s seating for more than 50-60 people at a time, which is why it is absolutely imperative that one get a reservation. I don’t think there’s more than the proverbial snowball’s chance of getting a walk up table unless there’s a no-show. The setting is turn of the century (last century that is) quasi-Victorian with white wrought iron and bright wall paper. And that pretty much does it for décor.
The food is pretty much as undistinguished as the surroundings. Basically you can get a sandwich or a salad. Well one salad anyway. The three sandwiches we tried won’t win any awards, though they weren’t bad. Just a bit dull. The shakes were just fair at best, not much better than McDonalds. The highlight of the restaurant is obviously the ice cream sundaes. We weren’t in a position to actually consume one (too full after a day of big eating) though the ones people around us were consuming looked good.
Overall, there’s no real reason to eat at the Plaza Restaurant unless you really want an ice cream sundae served in air conditioned surroundings. The food is undistinguished and for very slightly more you can get much better food in the Liberty Tree Tavern.
The two main restaurants in Japan (Epcot’s World Showcase) have recently finished a renovation. Previously there was a Teppanyaki place adjacent to a sushi/tempura restaurant, plus a bar. The sushi/tempura restaurant and bar have been combined into a modern, open dining area serving a wide variety of Japanese food, which is now called Tokyo Dining. The Teppanyaki restaurant is still a Teppanyaki restaurant, though now it’s called Teppan Edo.
The décor for the new Tokyo Dining restaurant is simple and not intrusive. It’s also not especially evocative of anything except a vaguely Japanese feel. For some reason I felt like I was dining in a fast food place rather than a fine dining establishment, but that may have been the beer talking.
The food is pretty varied. We never actually ate in the sushi restaurant before the revamp, so I’m not sure how the new menu compares. The new menu has tempura, sushi and sashimi, bento boxes and the deep fried cutlets beloved of the Japanese, though the ones offered here were all chicken unlike the pork cutlets we were used to seeing in Japan. There are also some soups and salads.
Overall the food was of decent though not exceptional quality. The sushi is not as fresh or innovative as what we’ve sampled in other restaurants, and certainly not as good as the fantastic sushi available at California Grill in the Contemporary Resort.
The tempura was fresh and hot when it arrived at the table. Unfortunately, however, the two people at the table who didn’t order tempura had already received their dishes about 15 minutes earlier. This meant the two tempura-ordering people got to watch the lucky bento box-ordering people eating, while they sat waiting. Quite strange. We attributed it to the fact that the restaurant was recently reopened.
I liked my bento box, though I had a nagging feeling that I might like the teppanyaki served next door a bit more. At least it comes with a bit of a show. The Kirin beer was of course awesome, and almost worth the visit all on its own.
Ok, we had planned on getting some lunch at the newly opened Yak and Yeti restaurant in Animal Kingdom. But after the breakfast buffet at Tusker House just a few hours before, even I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm for it. I feel like I missed the winning field goal or something. We did walk by and check it out though.
The menu didn’t inspire us to try and cram in a few more morsels. First, apparently the restaurant is run by the same company that runs the Rainforest Café, which we don’t like at all. One strike. Second, the name of the restaurant, Yak and Yeti, and its location and theming (which are tied into Everest) would seem to imply that the food would be Nepalese influenced. Nope (it’s mainly Chinese) and the second strike. Third, and this is strictly a personal failing, it was hot and we just didn’t feel like a big meal. Now the third strike has nothing to do with the restaurant per se, but is just petty whining on my part. Oh, well.
The prices are high. Actually pretty dang high, especially for lunch. (The menu and prices are the same at lunch and dinner.) I’m used to spending a penny or two here and there, but I’m having a hard time justifying entrees that start at $15 and proceed all the way up to $23. There are appetizers that hit $13, though to be fair I think they’re supposed to be shared.
We walked by the restaurant at about 11:15 and were able to wait in only a short line to put our name in for a 12:30 seating. However, upon returning to the restaurant at 12:15, there was a gigantic line, in which both those with reservations and those without had to stand. It didn’t move much in the 10 minutes we waited, and we could tell we wouldn’t even reach the front until around 1:00. So we took that opportunity to say forget it, and moved on.
My major complaint is that the menu, advertised as “Asian fusion,” is really just Chinese with maybe two Thai and one Vietnamese-influenced dishes. There is nary an Indian or Nepalese dish to be seen. Not even one. I realize that Chinese food is better known in the States today, but some of us do like (even love) Indian food. Could they not have thrown us a bone, or at least a pappadum?
So even though I like the idea of another sit down restaurant in Animal Kingdom, I just don’t see us making a special trip to this venue. For the sake of completeness, we may actually eat there next time we’re in town, but at this point I feel it’s going to have a lot to prove.
We actually did get off the property a couple of times to check out restaurants in the area. First was Steak ‘n Shake. This is a chain that has locations thoughout the South and the Midwest. Mary had been tipped off to it by a reader some time ago and tried it and pronounced it good. So I finally had a chance to sample the offerings and I also have pronounced it good. It offers basic burgers, grilled sandwiches and salads, plus great shakes and ice cream desserts of many types. Prices are very good and the food is much better than you’ll find at any of the usual fast food outlets. Check it out if you want something casual and tasty, with air conditioning and table service. Our bill for three hungry people was $25 with tip.
The second restaurant we tried is a favorite of ours, that we have visited three times now. Seasons 52 is a small chain with a total of seven outlets, one of which is north of Disney World on Sand Lake Road. (Allow about 30 minutes to drive there from Disney World.) It offers a fine dining experience at reasonable prices. The decor is not dissimilar in many respects from Biaggi’s or P.F. Chang’s. The food and wine offerings are really quite good and the menu varies weekly depending on what is seasonal (thus the explanation for the 52 – it refers to the weeks of the year). Additionally, every item on the menu is under 475 calories. So far every time we’ve dined at Seasons 52, we have been very happy with our meal. If you want something a little higher end than Chili’s off property, you could do much worse than checking out Seasons 52.