Let's do lunch at Epcot's Tokyo Dining

December 8, 2008, 7:54 PM · LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Welcome to Walt Disney World!

Entrance to Walt Disney World

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.

Photo from Tokyo Dining at Epcot

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.

Photo from Tokyo Dining at Epcot

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.

Photo from Tokyo Dining at Epcot

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).

Photo from Tokyo Dining at Epcot

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.

Replies (12)

December 8, 2008 at 8:13 PM · Reading your reports gets me all excited about our upcoming trip in June. It will be our second trip ever to WDW, and although we were there 10 days last time, there is so much we missed. We definitely plan to spend more time at EPCOT.

Allergic to all seafood, (can't even touch it or have someone who's touched it touch me) so I'm afraid we'll be skipping the restaurant. Still, there are so many other places to see (and eat) at EPCOT, we can't wait. Hope you're enjoying yourself.

December 8, 2008 at 9:31 PM · I actually think the Canada movie was an improvement. Being from Chicago, the old Canada movie was like "I can see this in Minnesota". This one kept the wonders of Canada and added more. I am glad they kept the same song. I love that song.

This Japan place didn't replace the "cooking in front of you", did it?

December 8, 2008 at 9:42 PM · Maybe I missed it, but have you been on the refurbished Spaceship Earth?
December 8, 2008 at 9:56 PM · No, Anthony, that's still at the Teppan Edo, which is the "new" Teppanyaki place. Tokyo Dining is in the old Matsu-no-ma Lounge place.
December 8, 2008 at 9:55 PM · Raul,

I did that one for the first time today, too, but didn't have as much to say about it. Basically, I like the homage to Horizon at the end, with picking between the undersea and outer space adventures. The "Photoshopping" your face into the presentation was a fun touch, too.

But the bulk of the ride seemed pretty much the same old Spaceship Earth to me. I thought that Packard garage was cute, but smiled at how they avoided mentioning Hewlett or Packard. (Didn't fork over the sponsor cash, eh?) Too bad, given that Walt was an early H-P customer.

December 9, 2008 at 5:44 AM · Thanks for the expert review and close up pictures of Tokyo Dining, Robert. While I am not a huge fan of sushi, I love cooked fish (and veggies) especially in a light-tasting tempura batter. It sounds like Tokyo Dining may just be a welcome addition to my itinerary in 2010...

Can't wait for your next report. I have never seen the Osborne Lights in person, but I saw a special about them the other day and they look amazing. I am sure you will have an incandescently swell time!

December 9, 2008 at 3:52 AM · Although I haven't yet seen the new O Canada I trust it's an improvement on the previous incarnation Doh....Canada ?

The old one ( and by the sounds of it this new one also ) paled into comparison with the thrilling and absorbing film over at the China exhibit. Now that one is jaw-droppingly good without being either "school-maamy" or,indeed, humorous.

I'm really looking forward to your review of the Osborne Lights. We were there in 2002 so it may have changed. But we thought it was a wonderfully Christmassy walk through.

Just remember to remove your 3-D glasses when you leave. I didn't and it was like the 60s revisted for a while.

December 9, 2008 at 5:28 AM · Being a citizen of Canada, I've noticed that Canadians are very touchy when Americans discuss our culture (contrasting that we are constantly critical of American culture). Every home-bred Canadian I visit Epcot with is always disappointed with the Canadian pavilion, whether it's the Off-Kilter band ("we don't wear kilts"), the souvenir shop ("we don't only export maple syrup and hockey gear"), the food ("where's the poutine?" - actually, I kind of agree with that one), or the English phone booth ("I've never seen one of those in my life").

Truthfully, none of the pavilions represent the cultures accurately. You think that Americans still dress colonially and play in fife-and-drum bands, or that vikings scour the Norwegian shores and battle trolls, or that Germany only listens to oompah music? The pavilions are exaggerations of past (and some current) customs and, in my opinion, are very well done. The old Canadian film was bland, but the new one tried to be so hip that it was, even to me, confusing. I'm wondering if they had a Canadian director - there were so many components they missed and so many they didn't need.

I was hoping that they would lose the Circle Vision - everybody complains about standing - and replace it with a famous Canadian invention, the IMAX. Get the director who did Impressions de France - that was done perfectly, and you didn't even need Martin Short (though I do like him). I know there are other Canadian celebrities, too, who would loved to have given spiels on Canada.

Ah, well. It's still a great pavilion, and Epcot is still the best theme park out there, in my eyes.

December 9, 2008 at 5:28 AM · The Martin Short Canadian film gets a bit silly at times and it uses a healthy portion of the film from the original 'O Canada' presentation. I much prefer the original.

I was working as a guest relations host in the mid-1980s when Disney once changed the film completely. Specifically, as I recall, the original Walt Disney Productions film was replaced by a film made by the National Film Board of Canada.

Ironically, after the film was changed, we received a handful of complaints at guest relations saying that the new film made Canadians seem dullwitted.

As my mother is from Vancouver -- and I have several Canadian relatives, I enjoy the movies picturesque scenes of the Old Grove forests, Victoria, BC's Inner Harbor, Vancouver and the Springs Hotel in Alberta.

December 9, 2008 at 5:31 AM · Oh, and great review, Robert. The tempura looked amazing, though the sushi seemed a little off-color.
December 9, 2008 at 7:10 AM · Hooray for mid-winter updates from warmer climates! :)

Echoing Dierde, this builds the anticipation for our June trip. Keep up the good work and sharing about your trip! I really can't wait to read about DHS, I haven't been there in years and is the park I am looking forward to the most on this trip.

December 9, 2008 at 9:35 AM · I went to Tokyo Dining in April this year and would rate it in the top 3 meals of our holiday.
We were seated in the window over looking the lagoon, amazing. Didnt even need to pre book.
Service was fantastic. we asked for any recommended dishes and we werent disappointed, the food came quite prompt but not so quick as to think it was laying around.

All in my girlfriend and i rated it so high that we are looking forward to a meal there again in May 2009

Please if you only go to one restaurant at Epcot, make it this one..

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