LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When Epcot debuted more than 25 years ago, the World Showcase pavilions pioneered the idea of global cuisine as a theme park attraction in itself, and expanded fine dining in Central Florida.
“Authenticity and tradition were two key words when we embarked on the research and planning for our restaurants,” said Jens Dahlmann, executive chef for Epcot. “Our goal is to staff each World Showcase restaurant with people from the country represented, so when you’re in Germany’s Biergarten, for instance, your hostess will greet you and take your order as if you’re in Hamburg or Munich.”
Collaborating with chefs and restaurateurs from around the world, such as France’s celebrated Paul Bocuse, and Joachim Splichal’s Tutto Italia Ristorante, the Epcot restaurants are premier attractions at Walt Disney World Resort. From a spirited mariachi band and mole poblano in Mexico to belly dancing and spicy bastilla in Morocco, World Showcase offers gustatory globe-trotting – all in easy walking distance.
“Our guests love the diverse dining adventures,” said Mandy DiGiammarino, general manager of Epcot Food & Beverage. “We immerse our guests in traditional cultures, but with contemporary experiences.”
Ordinarily, it might take a lifetime of vacations to sample the representative cooking of China, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Italy, Norway, Mexico and Morocco. For the World Showcase traveler, it’s a 1.1-mile walk around the lagoon, where all roads lead to authentic restaurants. Starting counterclockwise from Future World:
Le Cellier Steakhouse welcomes guests to a cozy space featuring steakhouse fare – favorites such as Prince Edward Island mussels, cheddar cheese soup, King salmon, salt-crusted prime rib and a veal
t-bone. Ales and beers reflect Canada’s brewing history, and dessert wine feature Canadian ice wine and late harvest Rieslings.
Rose & Crown Pub and Dining Room embodies “Otium Cum Dignitate,” or “leisure with dignity,” and sipping Bass Ale and Guinness Stout in the lively pub gets guests in the spirit. The adjacent restaurant offers herb-roasted lamb, vegetable curry, bangers and mash and other traditional dishes. The Rose & Crown’s outdoor seating is one of the best spots for viewing the nightly “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” fireworks and laser show.
Chefs de France has the lively atmosphere of an authentic brasserie along the Rue de Seine, with gastronomic creations of its three famous owner-chefs: Paul Bocuse, the late Gaston Lenôtre and Roger Verge, whose gourmet restaurants in Lyon, Paris and Cote d’Azur, respectively, are known around the world. Bocuse’s son, Jerome, oversees the culinary operations, and Executive Chef Bruno Vrignon trained under Bocuse in his Lyon restaurant. Braised lamb shank, roasted breast of duck, seared tuna and classic onion soup are menu among favorites.
Restaurant Marrakesh serves flavorful specialties, using a long list of herbs and spices including saffron, a key ingredient in many Moroccan dishes. A favorite appetizer is bastilla, or fried pastry, that combines layers of the pastry with chicken seasoned with almonds, powdered sugar and cinnamon. The dessert menu includes bastilla au lait etamandes, with cream and toasted almonds and traditional Moroccan mint tea. During lunch and dinner, a belly dancer entertains with live Moroccan music.
Tangierine Café, located on the right side of the entrance to the showcase, specializes in quick-service specialties such as shawarma, sandwiches made from slow-roasted chicken, beef or lamb, served with hummus and tzatziki.
On the top floor of the Japan pavilion is Tokyo Dining and adjacent Teppan Edo teppanyaki dining rooms. With sleek interiors and stylish costuming for chefs and servers, both restaurants infuse authentic Japanese hospitality with a dash of hipness.
The popular teppanyaki rooms feature show-style cooking along with traditional teppan dishes. Tokyo Dining is a 140-seat dining room with a centerpiece “show stage” where diners can watch the sushi chefs in action. Nearly 50 varieties of sushi and sashimi and six varieties of sake are on the menu, along with tempura and grilled steaks and seafood.
In the Italy pavilion, Tutto Italia (“everything Italian”) Ristorante showcases cuisine from different regions of Italy, with a seasonal menu with freshly made breads and pastries, handmade mozzarella and pasta, and an array of Italian wines. But favorites that remain on the menu include eggplant Parmesan, fried calamari, penne Caprese, cannelloni al forno and spaghetti with veal meatballs. And sweet endings like classic tiramisu and cannoli are hits, as are gelati and sorbetti.
“My inspiration for Tutto Italia was the incredible variety of cuisines that I have enjoyed during my visits to Italy,” said Chef Joachim Splichal of California-based Patina Group, which operates the restaurant. “I wanted to distill that experience and create a restaurant with some of my favorite dishes.”
Tuxedoed waiters create the ambience of big-city dining in the traditional restaurants in Rome and Milan. On cooler Florida days, the tables on the patio are wonderful for al fresco dining under umbrellas.
A sumptuous buffet features authentic German cuisine. It’s a home-cooked dining experience, with guests served from skillets and crock pots surrounded by a lively Octoberfest celebration. The chef offers salads from Bavarian cabbage to warm German potato salad; and main dishes such as roasted chicken, pork shank, homemade spaetzle, white veal sausages, salmon with lemon-dill sauce and carved pork roast. Sweet endings include Black Forest cake and apple strudel.
Unlike most Mexican restaurants in the United States, you’ll not find nachos at the San Angel Inn in Epcot, because, says manager Richard Debler, they are not authentic Mexican dishes. And Debler was trained in his family’s restaurant in Mexico City.
Chocolate may sound like an unorthodox ingredient to use with chicken, but the mole poblano prepared according to a San Angel Inn recipe combines chile ancho, chile passilla, green tomatoes, ground tortillas, coriander seed and 11 other spices with cocoa for a rich sauce in which chicken is simmered until tender. Fresh tortillas are made every day and filled with duck marinated with tamarind sauce and topped with avocado, pineapple and chives.
In the Cantina de San Angel, just outside the pyramid entrance to Mexico, you can find nachos, burritos and tacos, as well as sweet churros (donuts rolled in cinnamon and powdered sugar), frozen margaritas and Mexican beer.
Epicurean adventures into five Chinese provinces await World Showcase travelers at the 250-seat Nine Dragons Restaurant where servers from China enjoy interacting with guests. (Placemats are a conversation starter with Chinese writing symbols and their evolution through centuries.)
The lobby features etched glass and gold artwork on one wall, depicting a pair of dragons playing with a golden ball. (The ball represents wisdom, and the dragons, representing people, are forever chasing it.) The dining room is brightened with colorful lanterns in pale greens, blues and reds and elegant glass sculptures from China backlit on one wall.
“Help yourself to the koldtbord” (cold table) is the catch phrase in Akershus Royal Banquet Hall where guests are encouraged to make multiple trips to the table. The seafood, cold meats and cheeses provide an appetizing beginning for this Norwegian-inspired dining experience.
Next come the smarvarmt, or hot dishes. A sampling of these delights would include pork shank, mustard-glazed grilled salmon and lamb stew.
There’s a “Princess Storybook” theme at breakfast, lunch and dinner starring Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, Mulan, Cinderella, Ariel, Alice and Mary Poppins.
Future World restaurants feature all-American fare. Electric Umbrella offers salads, chicken sandwiches and burgers, all which can be “topped” at a central toppings and condiments bar.
Farmer Mickey, Pluto and Chip ‘n Dale present beef, seafood and poultry dishes served family style for dinner at The Land’s revolving restaurant, Garden Grill. Below the Garden Grill, and below the pavilion’s enormous central skylight, is Sunshine Seasons, where four shops offer a diverse selection of fast-casual dining options.
Serving the only American food in World Showcase, the Liberty Inn bill of fare represents cooking at its simplest – hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, french fries and, of course, Coca-Cola.
Coral Reef Restaurant is part of The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion in Future World, featuring seafood specialties as well as steaks.
Special meals for children 9 and under can be found throughout Epcot, offering entrées they are familiar with: from quesadillas in Mexico to grilled fish at Coral Reef Restaurant.
Kids who enjoy adventures in eating won’t be disappointed, either. They can try pot stickers in China; Japan’s tempura, shrimp and fresh vegetables dipped in a light batter and fried; or France’s croquette de boeuf en brioche (a fancy hamburger).
Adding even more diversity to the mix for dining experiences is the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The six-week-long festival attracts a diverse audience of more than 1 million guests each fall, from wine connoisseurs and epicures to neophytes primed to boost their wine IQs. Beer aficionados can raise their steins at several tasting locations.
“There’s no other festival environment in the world like ours,” said Chef Dahlmann. “From the picturesque World Showcase Lagoon to the authentic architecture that showcases many cultures, it’s an ideal backdrop for the exceptional culinary and wine-related talent of Walt Disney World Resort and for the great celebrity chefs and wine connoisseurs who join us each year.”