Eating Around the World, Again

by Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 15, 2003, Issue #199 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Slowly, slowly, I'm eating my way around the World. Walt Disney World, that is. And I'm bringing all my family and friends along for the ride!

One of the things that never fails to intrigue me about Epcot's World Showcase is the variety of experiences one can have all within a one-mile semicircle. I like to take guests with me when I dine here, particularly folks who haven't been to the countries represented by the various pavilions, to expose them a bit to what the rest of the world is like.

OK, OK... I've traveled enough of the world to know that a visit to the UK pavilion isn't exactly like being in Merry Olde England, and that a stop in Marrakesh isn't a pure Middle Eastern experience. But the fact that you can get even a glimpse into an alternate culture is better than nothing. And the pavilions, for the most part, do a reputable job of conveying at least some aspects of their native lands.

Even though it's been three years since I've been overseas, I've recently managed to dine with family and friends in the UK, Morocco, and Japan... with mixed results.

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It had been a few years since my last visit to this restaurant, and I thought what better time to revisit than when I had a native of the United Kingdom with me? I'd heard that the menu and the chef had changed, so, hoping things had improved since my last meal there, I took my sister and our English-born mother along. Sadly, we were all a bit disappointed with what we found.

The evening started out ominously -- A heavy rainstorm had forced too many park-goers into the cheery Rose & Crown Pub, so that there was no indoor place to wait for our Priority Seating. And wait we did, huddled under one of the covered gift kiosks just outside the Rose & Crown's podium. Still, despite the 45-minute wait, we were thrilled when we were finally seated -- we snagged a table outdoors, ensuring we'd have a nice view of that evening's IllumiNations... if the rain didn't cancel the show.

Our cheery server Kate, from Lancaster, made small talk with us about Britain, and we dried out and warmed up. After much discussion, we placed our orders, and the meal began on a high note. The Mushroom Medley ($5.79) appetizer was a buttery puff pastry with lots of garlic, shallots and a mixture of mushrooms, including portobello and small white buttons, perched atop a creamy sauce. The tomato-based Lamb Barley Soup ($3.99) was seasoned perfectly and was loaded with lots of small pieces of tasty lamb, carrots, barley and a fresh parsley garnish. Both starters were rated winners!

The main courses, however, dampened our moods once more. The English Pie Sampler ($15.99) should have been a spotlight on some of the finest English mainstays: chicken and leek pie, pork pie, and cottage pie. The cottage pie suffered from too much time under the heat lamp, I fear -- although the ground meat was spiced nicely, the cheese and potatoes topping it were very dried out. The pork pie was flavorful, but it was dressed with a brown gravy that tasted as if it were straight out of the jar. The chicken and leek pie was the best of the trio, with an excellent pastry and cream sauce and a mild leek flavor -- my only complaint was that it could have used a bit more chicken. The dish came served with fresh, crisp green beans.

The Harry Ramsden Fish & Chips ($14.79) served up a nice white cod fillet fried in a tasty batter, enhanced by malt vinegar. Sadly, though, the English "Chips" were nothing more than frozen French fries, and the garden peas had come out of the same freezer. How the dish could have benefited from traditional English "mushy" peas and some real chips made from roughly cut potatoes!

Last, and least, were the Bangers and Mash ($15.99). The traditional English sausage was plump and not too fatty, but it was served with heavy mashed potatoes and a rather tasteless onion gravy. The accompanying "bubble and squeak" was cabbage fried with onions -- according to our UK native, it was authentic in composition but not flavor, lacking the pizzazz of the "real thing."

Dessert was the meal's saving grace in more ways than one -- it came as the rain cleared, during a spectacular viewing of IllumiNations! Although the Sticky Toffee Pudding ($4.29) and the Warm Apple Crumble ($4.99) were inviting, we settled on splitting the Chocolate Grand Marnier Trifle ($3.99). It featured two kinds of chocolate and strawberries layered with sponge cake, laced with orange-flavored liqueur, and garnished with fresh whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. Definitely enough to satisfy both the chocoholic and the biggest sweet tooth!

Dinner for three, including coffee and tea, one glass of wine, and tax, came to just under $75 (gratuity not included).

For the dinner menu:

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Clear across the other side of the world from the UK, and on the other side of World Showcase lagoon, is the land of the Rising Sun, Japan. Located atop the just-refreshed Japan pavilion, the restaurants in this pavilion made a convenient getaway recently during a typical late summer afternoon rainstorm in Orlando. Too many folks had the same idea, and crowded the lovely Matsunoma Lounge to the point of overflowing... we'll just have to wait until next trip to expose hubby to the merits of lounging there while sipping sake and noshing on sushi, watching the Epcot crowds below stroll by.

In spite of the crowds, though, we had the chance to expose two reluctant 11-year-olds, who were sure they would NOT like Japanese food, to the cuisine of the Orient.

I think they knew they were in for a treat when the host started throwing paper wads at them while we were waiting to be seated. The paper wads turned out to be small origami critters -- my son kept his frog, while his friend pocketed a bird. By the time we were ushered to our seats, along with two other couples who would be sharing our table, everyone was smiling.

If you've ever been to a Benihana or other similar Japanese steakhouse with the hibachi table grills and the table-side shows of flying knives and flourished salt and pepper shakers, then you have an idea of what's in store for you at Teppanyaki. Guests sit around the large grills, while the food is prepared as you look on. You may be seated with strangers -- the tables seat eight -- but with the entertainment provided by the chefs, it's a fun, not strained, atmosphere.

Our chef on this particular evening was a cheerful young woman named Miko, who told us her father was working at the next table! After performing some impressive stunts with her knives, including chopping off shrimp tails and tossing them into the top of her tall chef's toque, she dazzled us with another neat trick -- stacked graduated onion rings, then poured water into the center, which immediately steamed upward giving the effect of a spewing volcano.

After starting with a small tossed salad in a tart ginger dressing, my husband and I opted for the shrimp and chicken combo known as Hatamoto ($19.95), stir-fried along with bean sprouts, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables. The combo also comes with steamed rice and two dipping sauces. Other combinations include Kamome (scallops and chicken, $20.95), Tonosama (sirloin and chicken, $21.95) and Nihon-Kai (shrimp, scallops and lobster, $28.50). (There are also other individual, non-combo entrees of steak, shrimp, chicken, lobster, etc.)

After being instructed in the fine art of how to hold their chopsticks (my son was aided by a helpful Cast Member who provided a "cheat" with a strategically placed wad of paper and a rubber band), the boys ordered Shichi-Go-San -- my son with the thinly sliced strip loin steak, his friend with grilled chicken. Both meals came with mixed fruit salad, grilled fresh vegetables, steamed rice and ice cream ($8.95).

The food preparation in this type of restaurant is deceptively simple -- there are no exotic spices or heavy sauces (except for the optional use of dipping sauces), just the unadulterated meat or fish, grilled with the vegetables. This ensures that most items on the menu will please even the most finicky eaters -- children included! Most will happily eat their beef or chicken and might even try a piece of zucchini or a mushroom, while they are being exuberantly entertained by the skilled chefs.

All the portions here, both for children and adults, were generous, and our young friends protested at the end of the meal that they were too full for dessert. Until, of course, the small dishes of ice cream, garnished with vanilla wafers, were presented to them. Amazingly, every drop of ice cream disappeared in short order!

Like the adults, the boys came away not only stuffed, but delighted by the chef's performance and grateful that they had been dragged in to a new experience. Dinner for four, including a glass of plum wine and a Kirin beer for the grown-ups, came to a reasonable $70 before tax and tip.

UPDATE: Teppanyaki closed and was replaced by Teppan Edo.

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Returning to an old favorite is always fun, like visiting a long-time friend, and it had been too long since I'd had dinner at Restaurant Marrakesh, tucked way in the back of the Morocco pavilion in World Showcase. The menu hasn't changed substantially for quite some time, but I'm not complaining -- it's a fine representation of a variety of Middle Eastern delights.

Stepping into the dimly lit Marrakesh transports you at once to another time and place. Reminiscent of a sultan's castle with its marble pillars, intricately carved decorations, and plush carpeting, the atmosphere is at once exotic and luxurious.

Our pleasant server Bader started us off this visit with the Beef Brewat Rolls, layers of thin, phyllo-like pastry stuffed with seasoned ground beef, then fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar ($5.95). The savory spices combine perfectly with the sweetness, making one think this could almost pass for a dessert. Other appetizers we've tried in the past, including the Chicken Bastilla ($5.95) and the Harira Soup ($4.25), a lamb, tomato and lentil concoction, have all shown the same quality.

Deciding on an entree was tough -- I very much enjoy most items I've tried on the menu, from the Shish Kebab (skewers of marinated beef marinated beef, $23.95) to the vegetarian Couscous (rolled semolina steamed and served with seasonal vegetables, $16.95). This night, however, I opted for a dish that has never disappointed, the Lemon Chicken ($18.95). The juicy braised half-chicken seasoned with garlic (and lots of it!), green olives and a hint of lemon, came falling off the bone tender. Try as I might to avoid it, I found myself picking it up with my fingers and thinking to myself, "finger-lickin' good" -- it was that delicious. The other entree sampled, Roast Lamb Meshoui ($22.95) is another of my favorites. The large portion of lamb, slowly cooked in its own juices and seasoned simply with garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin, was tender and succulent, accompanied with fragrant almond-studded rice.

If you like a little entertainment with your meal, Marrakesh won't let you down. Near the top of most dining hours, musicians sporting fez, the traditional headgear of Moroccan men (think Sydney Greenstreet in the film "Casablanca") appear inconspicuously, then begin filling the air with the unusual rhythms of the country. Ten minutes into their performance, a beautiful belly dancer sashays into the room, with scarves swirling and finger cymbals ringing. She captivates diners with her graceful dances and beguiling smile, encouraging the children to join her in the central floor area. Watching the delight on their faces as they try to imitate her fluid movements is a show worth seeing. (Of course others in the audience might appreciate the belly dancer for other, less innocent, reasons.)

Portions here are so generous that neither my husband nor I had room for any of the enticing desserts, which ranged from another version of Bastilla, topped with vanilla cream and toasted almonds ($4.95), to two types of crepes: Crepes Atlas, apple crepes with cinnamon topped with ice cream and almonds for $5.95, and Crepes Casablanca with roasted almonds, cinnamon and honey topped with a scoop of ice cream for $4.95.

Next time. And there will be a next time.

Dinner for the two of us, including a carafe of the house red wine (a bargain at $15.50) was under $65 (tax and tip not included).

For a dinner menu:

So... that's Europe, Asia and Northern Africa -- cuisine from three continents, all in one place.

I've still never tried Epcot's Nine Dragons Chinese restaurant or the Bistro de Paris in the France pavilion. And I've had lunch, but not dinner at Norway's Restaurant Akershus. I'd say that I still have plenty of culinary expeditions to make before I can say that I've truly "eaten around the World."

I guess I know what my next assignment will be...


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.