Reasonable portions at reasonable prices? Universal's Mythos sets an example for theme park dining
By Robert NilesORLANDO, Florida - As Universal is fond of reminding you, Islands of Adventure's Mythos won Theme Park Insider's award as the theme park industry's top restaurant for six years in a row. But they don't mention that Mythos has fallen short of the top spot for the past two years. Our friend Scott Joseph's been a bit wistful about the place, writing that "Mythos today is somewhat different than the restaurant it started out to be."
Published: August 12, 2010 at 7:45 AM
Part of the elaborate interior inside Mythos
But something significant is happening at Mythos, still. No, the restaurant can't match the Theme Park Insider Award-winners from the past two years (Epcot's French restaurants) for culinary ambition and quality. Yet Mythos offers what might be the best value in theme park dining, and that's worth celebrating.
Entrees at this year's winner, Bistro de Paris, run from $33-$42. At Mythos? From $10-$19. Laurie and I looked at the menu, and noted a filet with truffle butter, mashed potatoes, asparagus and fried onions for... $15.95?
What? Aren't we inside a theme park?
We figured, at that price, the filet couldn't be USDA Prime, and it wasn't. Nor could the portion size be huge, and it wasn't either. But it was filling, more than enough for Laurie.
What's the use of serving oversized portions to vacationers? We can't take the leftovers home. Smart travelers have learned to split entrees, but what if everyone wants something different? We've got an obesity epidemic in this country. Shouldn't restaurants get back to serving normal portions, at normal prices?
At Mythos, Universal and its Executive Chef Steve Jayson are doing just that, and allow me to stand up and applaud them for it.
I ordered the Cedar Planked Bay of Fundy Salmon, with citrus butter and the same mashed-potato-and-asparagus presentation as came with the filet.
A reasonable portion, at a reasonable price, given the setting and quality. (At $18.95, it's the most expensive item on the menu.) Maybe they don't need to bring the charred cedar plank to the table, to prove how it was cooked, but I can see how some visitors would appreciate the fussiness. Still, chef de cuisine Mark Wachowiak and the kitchen hit this perfectly. Firm texture, without being overcooked. A slightly smoky flavor to enhance the mild flavor of salmon. An addictive sauce. I'm only sorry that the asparagus was treated as a garnish. With its grilled flavor, I could have eaten a plateful of these spears.
On the kids' menu, you can get a hand-tossed cheese pizza here ($5.99) for 80 cents less than off the cafeteria line at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous down the street. There's no table-service markup here.
Simple, but well-executed, the blend of tomato and mozzarella atop a wood-fired crust marked a welcomed improvement over the misguided mozzarella-and-cheddar "Dueling Dragons" pizza that Mythos served before the Harry Potter makeover made that version irrelevant.
The only item we ordered that missed was the kids' grilled cheese.
Served something like a panini, under crusty bread, the grilled cheese ($4.99, with fries and corn-on-the-cob) didn't offer much taste at all. My daughter thought the cheese bland, but I think it might have been the fault of the bread. A more simple presentation, with a nice cheddar on good sourdough, would have worked better.
Mythos' menu points out that the french fries served here, as well as throughout the Universal Orlando Resort, are fried in trans-fat-free oil. Universal was one of the early leaders in the theme park industry in banning trans fats, and I find the food throughout the parks to be of high quality. I regret that I seem to be developing some significant food sensitivities as I enter my 40s, and am planning a trip to an allergist when I return to LA. But I should also note that my day at Universal was one of the few on our trip when I felt I could eat anything, without a negative reaction. I don't know why, but to me, the food here just tastes... fresh.
We'd already loaded up with bags of sweets from Honeydukes, so we passed on dessert. The Warm Chocolate Banana Gooey Cake, with peanut butter ice cream, remains on the menu, as does the Rice Krispy "Sushi" Treats, which our kids adored on our last visit. Mythos was the first place I encountered "dessert shots" many years ago, and they remain on the menu, too - a pleasant after-dinner sweet at a reasonable $1.75 each.
Okay, so ultra luxe fine-dining didn't fly at Mythos. But thank heavens that Universal's found a way to make a statement with its restaurants nevertheless: Theme park visitors deserve reasonable portions of good-quality food, at reasonable table-service prices. For that, Mythos continues to deliver.
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