Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: August 23, 2004 at 2:30 AM
Not as over-the-top as some of Disney's other restaurant blurbs, but it is a bit misleading. Personally I don't think it is right for Disney to claim you will be dining in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, since the mini-Tower is behind the entire pavilion and it never casts it shadow over the tourists.
Other than that, everything isn't so misleading. The restaurant is certainly not "elegant," but it is moreso than most theme park restaurants so they can have that one. As for turning diners into geographic amnesiacs: it's good, it's French, but you can see Mexico from here.
You can see a lot from here, in fact. And that is one of my favorite things about this restaurant. The majority of Epcot's restaurants don't give you much of an outside view, if at all. Most of Les Chefs' tables are in a large room surrounded on three sides by windows, all of which look out on the main World Showcase walkway. Normally I don't like sitting in such large rooms, but being able to people-watch makes up for it. A second room is smaller and overlooks the France walkway, which is even a better view, but good luck getting it. The third room, the smallest, is situated between the two rooms and has no view but of the bar. But there are few tables here, so chances of getting one here are small. If you want a view, you could always ask for one, I guess.
So enough about the seating! How's the food? I am salivating just thinking about it. Les Chefs is my FAVORITE restaurant in ANY theme park, which says a whole bunch considering how many good restaurants there are in the Orlando theme parks.
Appetizers are mostly uninspired, at least for a menu that fancies itself as being so elegantly Frenchified. Potage du jour (Soup of the day), Bisque de Homard (Lobster Bisque), Salade Maison (House Salad, fergawdsake!), Pâté de campagne en croute avec sa salade (the first word is the only important one) and TWO different assorted cheese plates! Not that they are bad, just too expected. The cheese plate sans the meats was a great appetizer for me, a person who could eat cheese all day long. The Soupe à l'oignon gratinée (Onion Soup) was enjoyed by my companion, but I didn't taste since onions aren't my thing. The same companion and I even went native once by ordering the Cassolette d'escargots de Bourgogne au beurre persillé (yes, snails). For those who haven't tried this "treat" think mussels cooked in garlic. Lots of garlic! I love garlic and even I thought this was too garlicky. The texture was certainly not as bad as oysters, but I just couldn't get past the garlic.
Main courses are where this restaurant really shines. The Croque Monsieur, a fancyass ham and cheese sandwich, is something I always get if I see it on a restaurant's menu. The first time I ever had one was at this restaurant, so you can tell how much I enjoyed it. The sandwich is so good that the restaurant even offers a prix-fixe menu at lunch featuring the sandwich (with onion soup and dessert). The last time I had it, though, (in March 2004) the sourdough was so crisp that it really took away from the enjoyment of the melted gruyere. Mmmm... gruyere.
In fact, both my companions on that trip had much better meals. One had the Crêpe au poulet et fromage - a dish I almost chose - and after tasting it I immediately wished I had. The menu sure could use more thorough explanations. The Crepe says it is filled with chicken, gruyere, spinach and sundried tomatoes. The description needed three times as many words to adequately explain how delicious this dish was. My other companion got a dish with another bland explanation. The Quiche Lorraine simply said "ham and cheese quiche." Wow! Yet this was the tastiest Quiche Lorraine I have ever shoveled into my mouth. Thankfully she didn't finish the thing!
On the visit with the garlic... I mean Escargot... I went out on a limb and tried the Gratin de Macaroni, which is fancyass macaroni & cheese. Hey, I already love mac & cheese, as many of you know, so if you make it with gruyere, I am so there. Surprisingly, I don't think gruyere is a strong enough cheese for mac & cheese and it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong; it was quite good. I was expecting more, I guess.
But that dish is on the menu as one of two vegetarian dishes, which are often hard to find outside California or large cities. There is also a vegetarian lasagna, and many seafood entrees for those who want to stay away from red meats.
There are entrees that are more "elegant" than those I have eaten here, like fancified hanger steak or rotisserie chicken, but those start edging into ridiculousness with their prices. The crepes, sandwiches and quiches will cost you around $10 for lunch, which is quite reasonable, but entrees start at $15. And that's just for lunch. Dinner entrees, which aren't too different from the lunch entrees, will cost you more than $20. And that's money that could be spent on souvenirs. Or alcohol.
Besides, this is one of the few restaurants where you won't miss much if you do a lunch here instead of a dinner. You won't get duck or leg of lamb at lunch, but you won't get any of the crepes, sandwiches or quiches at dinner. You CAN get a reasonably priced prix-fixe meal in the evening though, but you'll get whatever they give you, which is usually the onion soup for starters, one of the meat dishes (usually the chicken) and creme brulee.
Creme brulee? Did I forget the desserts? The Boulangerie Patisserie next door usually has the longest lines in the park, so this is a good place to be able to get your dessert before your stomach shrivels. The desserts here are all uniformly scrumptious. The Tarte Tatin et sa glace vanille, an apple tart a la mode, and the Crepe Melba, a crepe filled with pastry cream and topped with vanilla and peach ice creams, were both so good we couldn't decide which was better. A couple at the next table got them both also and we got into a long debate over each's merits. The creme brulee, which I got once only as part of the prix-fixe menu, was also excellent, just not AS excellent. My only regret is that I haven't had a chance to try the other five or so items on the dessert menu. In time, people, in time!
This restaurant is certainly not perfect. Service can often be spotty, as it is in most World Showcase restaurants I have tried. And some of the French waiters seem uninterested in learning English, which is such a French thing. But if you want to chance such service and are willing to spend an hour people-watching and eating great food, then you will find no better place to do it than Les Chefs de France. On the TPI scale, I award it a 9 - Outstanding. It might get a 10 if it was a little closer to my house!
(Don't forget... you can make Priority Seating reservations ninety days in advance by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Bon appetit!)