Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dining at Disney, Part 1: Kouzzina by Cat Cora, Teppan Edo and Chefs du France

In order to keep my desktop clean and sanity intact I'm going to post reviews of restaurants sampled at Disney in a few separate posts. For the purposes of clarity, the following are all restaurants that are permanent parts of Disney World and are not part of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

It is my pleasure to start this review post with a review of Kouzzina by Cat Cora. Located at The Boardwalk Resort, walking distance to Epcot and a short boat-ride from Hollywood Studies, Kouzzina by Cat Cora very recently opened to much fanfare, including more than a few mentions on Cat Cora's blog. As with most celebrity-owned restaurants, Cora is not generally at the restaurant, as she has other business ventures, celebrity chef appearances and book signings, in addition to her regular gig on Iron Chef America to tend to. However that did not detract from the experience of dining at her restaurant one bit. First off, reservations must be made, but can be easily done via the Disney Dining Service Reservation Line, which is what you have to call to make reservations anywhere in the resort. We got ours the same day as calling. In fact I believe we made our reservations somewhere around 2-3 hours before dinner.

Because we had been sampling so much food during our trip we pretty much only wanted samplers, appetizers and soups when we went to Kouzzina. Therefore my group of four ordered two samplers, with slightly different offerings, two different soups, an entree and dessert. The samplers included Greek specialties such as Kalamata olives, tsatsiki, hummus, high quality olive oil, pita bread and either spicy meatballs or shrimp. Everything was fantastic. [And, yes, everything contained garlic, but unless you're as sensitive to it as I am, you're not likely to have difficulty eating it.]

Bread and butter were brought out to the table. The bread was a full-grain wheat bread with nuts and seeds, sweatened with honey. Paired with the real butter, adorned with Hawaiian sea salt, it was a treat in and of itself.

Next, my mother and I ordered soup. Mom got a traditional Greek soup made from eggs and cream. To my mind it tasted like a creamy chicken soup, with egg added ala egg drop soup. My soup was a tomato-based Greek chickpea soup that tasted very much like minestrone. The soup spoon came to the table with homemade and very mild hummus. The combination was delicious and light; perfect since I didn't want a huge volume of food.

The Lovely Spouse has a much larger appetite than I do, so he ordered an entree: a porkchop with Greek seasonings paired with roasted fennel. His was perfectly cooked and very well balanced, while still retaining a rustic appeal.

My parents were celebrating their 43rd anniversary and were brought desserts, including a mild chocolate cupcake with a candle on top. Therefore The Lovely Spouse and I ordered a dessert: the mixed Greek cookies. There were 3-4 cookies including a light pfeffernusse-style cookie, a nutty biscotti-style cookie and coconut macaroons flavored with almond oil. The last were my favorite. :-) These were paired with a well-balanced and refreshing iced latte that ended the dinner very well.

Would I go back to Kouzzina by Cat Cora? Absolutely, but with more of an appetite next time.

Would I recommend eating there? Sure! The food was both rustic and refined, while being accessible to both foodies and non-foodies. It's a beautiful spot that's well-decorated and surprisingly close to two of the Disney theme parks. The staff were attentive without being clingy or snooty. The menu is diverse enough to accommodate vegetarians as well as carnivores. The portions were good without being too large or too small. And the prices were very fair for what you can find in comparable restaurants around Disney and Orlando.

My next review is for Teppan Edo, at the Japanese pavillion in Epcot. As some of you already know, I generally don't like hibatchi-grilled foods. I usually find the "show" of preparing the food silly in its pretention and the food is usually overcooked and overpriced. However I do make exceptions, particularly if members of my group really, really want to eat there. Therefore we made reservations 3 months in advance to eat at Teppan Edo.

If you haven't been to Epcot in a few years and remember how things used to be you'll immediately notice a major change at the Japanese pavillion: there are now two restaurants. One for sushi and one for hibatchi. And both are booked full months in advance. Therefore if you make a reservation for one, you cannot change it at the last minute. That said, we were able to add one to our reservation the day of our dinner, so Disney Dining allows some flexibility.

The next major change you might notice is that the decor is completely different, for the better. Both restaurants are now more elegant, although a bit more crowded than before.

As before all of the hosts/hostesses are Japanese students, who are very surprised if you speak even a few words of the language. My entire group had either lived in Japan or studied Japanese at some point in their lives, therefore knew at least a few words. Surprisingly, the hibatchi chef was a local Florida guy. He made up for it with humor while doing the standard hibatchi routine.

As is true for most hibatchi restaurants, you are limited to only a few different sushi rolls on the appetizer menu if you don't want to order off the hibatchi menu. For one member of the group this meant a confusing dinner of trying to figure out which bowl of rice belonged to her and which was her neighbors. Alas, it's probably better to order as the group does and add an appetizer or two when dining at a theme restaurant. The rest of us ordered off the hibatchi menu and got the typical entrees: a mix of some sort of meat (chicken or beef), some sort of seafood (scallops or shrimp) and/or a mix of vegetables. I ordered just scallops and veggies and was pleasantly surprised that while the scallops were slightly over-cooked they weren't beyond recognition (as usually happens at hibatchi grills). The Lovely Spouse's beef was cooked medium, even though he requested medium-rare, but it wasn't flavored well and paired well with the Kirin that was served in 750 ml glasses. It was unusual for the meal to come with udon noodles grilled on the hibatchi, but the combination was nice.

In addition to the meal, we ordered a beef roll from the appetizer menu. Surprisingly it was grilled on the hibatchi and very flavorful. The restaurant claims this is the new direction sushi is heading in the future. I don't know about that, but it was tasty. And I would gladly order it again.

So would I eat here again? I still have my bias against hibatchi. I don't blame the restaurant because as far as hibatchi restaurants go, they are probably among the better ones. However I'd gladly go again to make friends and family happy. If I had my choice, though, I'd prefer to eat sushi.

Would I recommend this place to others? If they're already fans of hibatchi or have been wanting to try it out, sure. The service was excellent and the food was decent.

My final review for this particular post is for Chefs du France. On this particular trip we ate at Chefs du France, in the French pavillion of Epcot, because my father wanted to eat of the Prix Frixe menu. For $20 you get three courses: appetizer or soup, entree and dessert. This really is a fantastic price for Disney World. The Lovely Spouse ordered off the regular lunch menu, and as you will see, made the Correct Decision.

First off, let me just say I have never had any problems with Chefs du France. In fact, during previous visits to Epcot they have always been my favorite restaurant. The quality of food, the classical French techniques and service are second to none. On this particular trip I was delighted to see Remy from the movie Ratatouille fully animated as a puppet on a cheese tray being led through the restaurant. I regret not getting photos and video of this because it was beyond charming. I was also delighted to have a knowledgeable server from Bordeaux recommend a lovely wine (Chateau Laborie) that paired beautifully with the entire meal, all the way through dessert. Her French was also calm enough I could understand every word she said (some of you already know I can't understand Parisian).

Now on to the Prix Frixe menu. We all started with soup, as there were two choices: French Onion or Lobster Bisque. Dad said the French Onion was delicious, although he seemed confused by the cheese on the top since he is accustomed to French Onion soup served in the North East US that has a crouton on top instead of a heavy layer of cheese. The lobster bisque was light and flavorful, although I was surprised by how large the serving was: an entire bowl.

Next came the entrees, which were a selection of typical lunch items: quiche lorraine, mac and cheese or a sandwich. Mom and I got the quiche and my father got the sandwich on a baguette. The Lovely Spouse ordered beef tips braised in cabernet. Again, he made The Correct Decision, although I found his serving to be as outrageously large as ours. The quiche was large enough to feed a couple of people. Even after cutting mine in half, I was still unable to eat a single one of the french fries (funny!) served with the meal. The quiche was...average. I found nothing special about it, although it was acceptable as quiche goes. However it was extremely heavy to be eating when it was 95 F outside.

As if this wasn't enough food, we still had dessert. Mom ordered the profiteroles, Dad ordered the creme brulee and I ordered the chocolate gateaux. In this case the creme brulee was perfectly executed. Not so much on the others. The profiteroles were dense and heavy. On top of that they were filled with ice cream and drowning in a chocolate sauce. I expect them to be light as air and melt in my mouth. Not so with these. The gateaux was extreme on the chocolate. If I hadn't just had an unexpectedly huge meal beforehand I might have enjoyed it. As it was I cut the cake in half and still could only eat about a quarter of the dense chocolate madness. Or maybe I was just exhausted because it really was 95 F + 67% humidity while we were there.

Would I eat here again? Yes, but only if ordering off the normal menu.

Would I recommend this place to others? Yes, with the same caveat. Avoid the Prix Fixe unless you have a huge appetite.

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