Let's do lunch at Epcot's Tokyo Dining
By Robert NilesLAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Welcome to Walt Disney World!
Published: December 8, 2008 at 7:54 PM
Theme Park Insider hits the road this week, with a special cross-country visit to Central Florida. Today, I visited Epcot, a park which I am embarrassed to confess I haven't visited in nearly three years. There's much to catch up with here, and based on a suggestion from TPI reader James Rao, I decided to make the top priority for my day a visit to review Tokyo Dining, the (relatively) new fine-dining restaurant in the Japanese pavilion.
Tokyo Dining, which opened last year, is located upstairs, along with the Teppan Edo steakhouse. Tokyo Dining offers a pleasant dining area, divided in two. The one with a more traditional feel stands nearer the windows overlooking the Japanese pavilion and World Showcase lagoon. The smaller, more modern central dining area stands in front of the counter where sushi chefs and assistants prepare and assemble your meal.
I had no problem walking in without a priority seating time and getting a table in the early afternoon. Diners filled about half the restaurant on this early December day, not a typically heavy period at Disney World.
The wait staff at Tokyo Dining reaffirms popular stereotypes of Japanese service - cheerful, polite and eager but never aggressive. Yet I not once found myself waiting, wondering where the waiter had disappeared. Sure, the place wasn't that full. But the staff didn't let its attention waver, either. When I was ready to order or to pay, my waiter was there.
As I always seem to do in Japanese restaurants, I began my meal with green tea and miso soup.
The miso came with fried tofu, not something I'm used to, as well as an abundance of kelp. Call this the "Chunky" version of miso soup. Still, I wouldn't complain. Miso soup might be the perfect food to me. Go ahead, throw more in. I'll take it.
Dining alone, I opted for a combination lunch, so that I could sample more than one option from the menu. The Ginza Gozen includes steamed rice, seaweed salad, five pieces of sushi (one tuna, one yellowtail and one shrimp nigiri and two crab and roe rolls) and nine pieces of tempura (three scallops, two shrimp, and one mushroom, green bean, zucchini and sweet potato).
At $23.50, I can't complain about the quantity, though I was disappointed to see surimi in lieu of crab in the roll. Don't come to Tokyo Dining expecting world-class sushi. The nigiri satisfied, though it didn't thrill. The tempura, on the other hand, exceeded the expectations set by the sushi - crispy, light and perfectly finished through.
(Comparing Tokyo Dining with the Southern California chain Japanese restaurants that I'm used to, I'd rate this one better than Kabuki, but not quite up to Sushi Roku.)
I wish that more theme parks would embrace Japanese food - I find it a refreshing way to refuel in the middle of a theme park visit, engaging my taste without weighing me down. Tokyo Dining wouldn't be a destination restaurant for me, on its own, but within an Epcot visit, I found it a delightful and relaxing lunch.
More Epcot notes
In addition to Tokyo Dining, I checked out two other Epcot attractions that Disney had revamped since my last visit: O Canada!, the Circlevision movie starring Martin Short and Gran Fiesta Tour, the rethemed indoor boat ride in the Mexican pavilion.
Both shows had been showing their age, especially the Mexico ride, which indulged the cheesy stereotypes of Mexicans as street hawkers, leaving riders with the impression that if they'd seen Tijuana's Avenida Revolucion, they'd seen pretty much all Mexico had to offer.
The new version, which follows the same ride as before, brings Disney's Three Caballeros into the mix. Jose Carioca and Panchito are looking for Donald Duck, who's disappeared and in danger of missing the show. Donald - Disney's id - is predictably off enjoying the sights and sports throughout Mexico, having more fun than anyone else in the joint. Sure enough, Jose and Panchito find Donald with the mariachi and it's showtime, as fireworks explode in the sky and the tour comes to a close.
Riders are left with the impression that Mexico is... fun! Contrast that with the overly earnest O Canada!, where Martin Short tries to inject some humor into the Great White North. Having provided about two of every three non-Jewish comedians now working in Hollywood, Canada's not exactly a dour place. But the new film tries sooooo hard to make Canada seem hip that the viewer feels more embarrassed for Short than thrilled by him. Of course, that's Short's shtick - the overly earnest guy we end up laughing at, not with.
It's okay. Just okay. Which is a shame because Canada deserves a funnier, warmer and most engaging film than this.
Check back tomorrow for our Tuesday Park Visit, when I head over to Disney's Hollywood Studios for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.
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