26 March 2012

Planting pointers

We’re in high festival time in Epcot, with the blooms of the International Flower and Garden Festival opening to guests. Knowing that guests will be spending a lot of time in Epcot, specifically around World Showcase, the Gazette Roundtable dives headlong into our favorite World Showcase dining options to offer up some suggestions.

Roundtable Topic: Which pavilion in World Showcase do you dine in most often and why?
Roundtable Contributors: Melissa Loflin (Makin’ Memories), AJ Wolfe (The Disney Food Blog), Suzannah DiMarzio (ZannaLand), Andy Jackson (Eating (and Drinking) around the World), and yours truly.
Melissa – Our new no meat diet has changed the way we eat around the World Showcase. We tend to find ourselves snacking around the countries instead of sitting down for a proper meal. One of my favorite places that is a "Must Do" each trip is tucked back in the streets of France, Boulangerie Patisserie. The cramped and fast paced atmosphere inside really makes you feel like you are somewhere in Paris; even though this is rumored to change soon. My favorite options as a non-meat eater include the cheese plate and any number of the delicious pastries that are lined up on display. Enjoying these snacks outside at bistro tables lining the streets and people watching makes the experience even more enjoyable. You will also find food kiosks much like you would imagine on the city streets in France. At the end of the evening enjoy Illuminations in France, and since you are in the country of love, grab some Champagne and a crepe and toast to a romantic night.

AJ – I'll have to answer this several different ways, I'm afraid!

I dine at Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion quite often, because it is a favorite of mine, everyone always wants to go there, and it's fun to keep an eye on what they're doing with the menu. And I dine in Italy at Via Napoli from time to time as well, because it's one of my husband's favorites, and we love trying new menu items there!

I always love heading over to Rose and Crown Pub AND/OR Restaurant for a bite to eat -- especially in the not-too-crowded early afternoon! I can't handle the cut-throat, all-out war for an Illuminations-view table in the evening; but stopping into the pub for a British Bulldog and an Imperial Sampler when they first start serving around noon is just about the most perfect way to spend an Epcot day.

But, honestly, the pavilion I find myself in most often has very little to do with "dining" and much more to do with drinking! I'm always up for a trip to La Cava del Tequila in the Mexico pavilion! I love the innovative margaritas there, and even though I live in Texas and have great queso a stone's throw in any direction, I have yet to find a dip I love more than La Cava's queso blanco con jalapeno. It's everything that's good about cheese...sitting right there next to a giant margarita and a pile of tortilla chips! Heavenly. Worth the price of admission just for that!

Suzannah – This is such a tough question. As a local, we frequently dine in the Parks, and World Showcase definitely has the best variety. About five years ago, my answer would've been Japan's Mitsukoshi Teppanyaki without a doubt. However since the refurb and renaming to Teppan Edo, we noticed a pronounced dip in the quality of food and, to a point, guest service. We used to be able to get upgrade to a filet for my oldest, at a charge of course, but that is now no longer possible. In addition, I recently took my husband to Tokyo Dining for the first time and was shocked to learn that I could not substitute *anything*. This was extremely disappointing as I love sushi, but not sashimi or nigiri, the raw fish variety. Rather than substitute a California Roll, I was just told a flat "no." To me, part of what makes World Showcase dining options so great is that you are able to cater to certain dining needs or issues, while still expanding your palate from burgers and chicken fingers. Our last visit to Japan will most likely be our last, which makes me quite sad.

Negatives out of the way, I have to say our family usually has a grand time at Les Chefs de France and Biergarten. It is our annual Mother's Day tradition to dine in France and we also frequently pop in for lunch. In fact, I was just there on Monday and think the quality is actually improved over my last visit. Similarly, Biergarten in Germany always has something for everyone to enjoy and is a wonderful respite from the heat of the day, while you enjoy a show too. These two countries get our "most dined at" award because quite frankly, they usually have walk-in space available, unless you are there on a ridiculously busy day.

Another new favorite is La Hacienda de San Angel. I've been a fan since it opened and I could just sit in there all day soaking up the ambiance of this beautiful gem on the World Showcase lagoon. If you time it right to Illuminations with a window seat - heaven! I wish we could dine there more often but it is simply so popular, it's been hard to get a reservation recently. Honorable mentions are Rose and Crown, where we always have a wonderful experience, and of course, Le Cellier, which, if you can get in, is still my favorite place for a steak!

Andy – Pretty much anyone that knows me knows that World Showcase is my Happy Place – Epcot is by far my favorite park, and even if the circle of countries around the lagoon were a park unto itself, it would still be my favorite…

So needless to say, I’ve done lots of eating around the pavilions in Epcot…

Now if you, like me, consider tequila one of the major food groups, Mexico would have to be the pavilion I dine in most often…

But if you’re going to insist on the usual food groups be included, Japan tops my list of most frequent dining around the World Showcase.

Teppan Edo is fun if you have a group (even if the food itself is very average), Tokyo Dining is reliable, if not spectacular (be sure to try the sweet potato sushi!), but where I dine most often is the quick-service eatery: Katsura Grill (formerly Yakatori House).

Homey (in an Eastern-way, of course), filling, flavorful dishes are on the menu (and the revamp added several new, and interesting items, to the usual Teriyaki and Udon dishes – even though I still wish they would bring back the Sukiyaki Beef!). On top of that is the atmosphere, especially in the outside seating area.

It’s nothing overly fancy, but the large rocks and water features surround a semi-secluded area with Japanese lanterns crowning all – visit at night and you’ll soon find yourself in another world. Sitting back in the corner, you can almost forget you’re in the middle of a huge theme park – slurp on a bowl of warming Udon, sip on a Kirin, and you can almost believe you’re in a small diner in Japan…

Afterwards you can wander down the hillside to the new Garden House for some specialty sake drinks and then take a gander at the goods in the seemingly endless Mitsukoshi Department Store.

I’ve even been known to come over for just an afternoon, have a bite in Japan, wander a bit, and make my way back to the west coast of Florida…

Japan is relaxing, full of options (did I mention the sake bar inside the store or the Kabuki Café out on the promenade?), and my favorite country, and dining location, in Epcot – even if I do have to stop at La Cava for a Margarita (or at Promenade Refreshments for a Stella) on the way there…

Ryan – World Showcase offers options for every palate, including classic American favorites and progressing all the way along the food spectrum up to exotic options. While there is nothing I won’t try, there are definitely haunts I tend to visit upon more often than not. With all the options, I tend to head to certain World Showcase dining destinations for specific meal components.

In the beverage department, there is no stop finer than the plethora of margaritas available at La Cava del Tequila. My personal favorite is something light and refreshing, such as the Cucumber Margarita. Although, I am the first to admit that any of the offerings will be certain to hit the spot, especially when paired with some of the watering holes fine accompaniments.

For a meal, I prefer something a bit more out of the ordinary. I tend to focus my meals around the savory selections of options available in both the Japan and Morocco pavilions. Though if pressed for a singular entrée, it’d have to be the Shawarma Platters from Tangierine Cafe in Morocco. Between the succulent meats, lamb or chicken, and the sides, which salad, bread, tabouleh, and hummus, this makes for a great meal.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, dessert. When I think about desserts in World Showcase, there is only one place I can think of, Boulangerie Patisserie in France. The wide variety of pastries, along with a couple of heartier options, is enough to satisfy any sweet tooth! If you want my recommendation, I would never turn away from a slice of the Raspberry Schuss.

There you have it, some of Walt Disney World’s expert foodies have weighed in with their favorites from World Showcase. Now, it’s your turn. Let us know where you love to dine in World Showcase and what items really cause your stomach to roar! While you’re at it, send us a photograph of your favorite foods alongside some of the spectacular flowers!

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