Restaurant review: Food's better, but service worse, at Disneyland's Blue Bayou2006-10-25
By Robert Niles: As part of its Pirates of the Caribbean revamp this past summer, Disneyland also made changes in its New Orleans Square restaurant line-up. Disney upgraded Cafe Orleans to a table service restaurant and added the Blue Bayou's famed Monte Cristo sandwiches to its menu, giving fans of the fried ham, turkey and cheese sandwich an option in addition to the always-crowded Bayou. And online reports promised changes to the Bayou as well, with managers boasting that the waterside eatery soon would become the best among all Disney's parks.
I decided to give the Blue Bayou a few months before hitting it for a review, as any restaurant needs a little time after opening to work out the kinks. (Plus, the summer just got away from me. If you have kids, you know how that happens.) But today was my birthday, and, coincidentally, the kids had the day off from school, so we hit the road to Anaheim.
First, the good news. The Bayou's food tastes better now than I've had there in years. A spicy (by non-New Orleans standards) cup of gumbo woke up my taste buds and got the meal off to a hopeful start. The Bayou's gumbo didn't skimp on the okra, and offered enough chicken and ham to balance the peppery roux. Most dinner entrees come with a choice of the gumbo or a wedge salad to start the meal. Too bad I overheard diners at all the other tables around me choose the salad, rejecting the staff's recommendation of the gumbo. They missed a great treat by opting instead for an unspectacular hunk of lettuce.
The Cajun-Spiced Salmon delivered smart heat, tempered by a tangy citrus beurre blanc accented with crawfish. The recent spinach scare eliminated that vegetable option, leaving a mix of white asparagus and broccolini, along with the au gratin-like "Blue Bayou" potatoes. The potatoes should please folks who taste buds are tuned to "creamy," "cheesy" and "salty," but they didn't do anything for me. I spent more time with the asparagus, which wasn't among the most flavorful I've ever enjoyed, but I'm always thrilled to find a decent veggie in a theme park.
The rest of the family opted for the Bayou's Five-Pepper Prime Rib. It was, as advertised, peppery, but came out browned, unlike a more traditional, carved-to-order prime rib. Laurie's cut was a perfect medium rare in the middle, however, and far tastier than its appearance suggested. (Keep in mind that these pictures all were taken with a flash. We really couldn't get a good view of our meals until we got home and downloaded the pics. Yep, the Bayou's a very dark restaurant!)
Our waiter had asked the kids how they wanted their cuts prepared, which I found odd since I'd assumed that the "kid-sized" portions would come from the smaller, well-done end of the rib. Sure enough, that's what the kids got. Now, the end's a flavorful, tender cut, and Natalie, at least, enjoyed hers. But I wondered why the waiter would bother asking us to make a choice that we really didn't have.
Which brings me to the bad news. The service at the Bayou, well... falls far short of what any fine dining establishment should consider acceptable. Laurie had made reservations in advance (you can call 714-781-DINE up to 60 days before your visit), and requested a waterside table, as it was to be my birthday dinner. When we arrived, our hostess greeted us with a warm "Happy Birthday," as well as a much-appreciated card and button, but we got a table in the middle of the room. And that was the highlight of the service.
Don't get me wrong. No one ever denied our other requests. And every cast member exuded cheer. But they didn't seem either to understand what was happening in the room, or they just weren't paying attention. Perhaps the crew simply lacks the experience to manage a restaurant this busy. But things that an experienced wait staff would have handled without prompting -- offering bread, refilling drinks, clearing dishes -- didn't get done without our asking first at the Bayou.
The major faux pas? A busboy slammed into the corner of our table, knocking my son's fork from his hand and sliding Laurie's plate to the edge of falling in her lap. Yet the busboy plowed forward without pause, not bothering to apologize or to help us straighten the table. Sorry, but that never happens in a top-quality restaurant. Even in a theme park.
We finished by sharing the Flying Dutchman Cookie Boat, a yummy cookie cake with what looked like a large white chocolate "sail" in the middle but, unfortunately, turned out to be inedible. Still, the cake offered plenty of gooey chocolaty goodness without becoming too cloyingly sweet.
Overall, since the summer's changes, the food at the Blue Bayou is better and the service is worse. Meaning, as usual, the Bayou remains a great choice for its atmosphere, but a disappointing alternative to restaurants in Downtown Disney for an outstanding dining experience.
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