Finding Middle Ground:
Dining More Moderately

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the February 10, 2009 Issue #490 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Readers often ask if we only eat at the more elegant restaurants at Walt Disney World, as those are the restaurants that are most often reviewed in the AllEars® newsletter.

While it's true that there's little I enjoy more than ending a great day at Disney World with a terrific meal in a nice atmosphere, it's also true that I do not have a bottomless pocketbook -- and so I can't always indulge in a night out at the California Grill or Victoria and Albert's. That's why periodically I try to cover some of the more moderately priced restaurants and counter service spots to "find middle ground" as the title indicates.

Recently, I tried the mid-priced restaurants at three deluxe resorts, with varying results.

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CAPTAIN'S GRILLE
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Formerly the Yacht Club Galley, this nautically themed restaurant is found, no surprise, on the first floor of the Yacht Club. Not much has changed at this establishment since it was renamed in January 2008. The decor is still the same -- ship's wheels, model s ailboats, nautical flags. Even the menu is still very much the same as it was before (although they claim to have changed it recently), but I thought that since it had a fresh name it was time for a fresh visit.

The evening we stopped in the restaurant was sparsely populated -- one of those evenings when the staff has so little to do you're in danger of getting TOO MUCH service. Luckily our server Amy realized that my dining partner and I were just in the mood to relax, eat, laugh and talk, not necessarily in that order.

We started our meal by sharing the Spinach Cheese Dip, which came with grilled flatbread, chopped onions, tomatoes and bacon ($7.49). Hot and creamy, and loaded with spinach, the dip came with ample wedges of doughy flatbread. Although just an appetizer, this was more than enough for two -- I could have made a meal out of it, and was sad to have to leave some of it on the plate.

Instead I tried the day's vegetarian dish as my entree -- Warm Wild Mushrooms and Onion Tart ($14.99). The flaky puff pastry was a bit overdone, but it I could overlook that as it was smothered with an abundance of mushrooms. It came with field greens, drizzled with a light balsamic-truffle vinaigrette. I loved the added touch of tender kernels of barley tossed through the salad -- a nice addition. This was a nice, light meal that left me perfectly satisfied.

My dining companion opted for two appetizers instead of one entree. She generously shared one of the Crab Cakes ($10.49) with me -- they were plump and moist and not overly polluted with filling, although the house-made tartar sauce that accompanied them was a bit flat, lackluster. The generous serving of New England Lager-braised Mussels ($10.99) (we counted at least 10, surprising for an appetizer) came swimming in a garlicky sauce that was thankfully not overpowering. And the nice chunk of garlic toast that accompanied the shellfish was perfect for mopping up the leftover sauce.

The meal for two, which included a glass of zinfandel, an Antioxidant cocktail ($9.25), coffee and a cappuccino came to $68.09 before tax and gratuity. Not too bad, especially when you subtract the 20% Tables in Wonderland discount.

Overall, I'd say that Captain's Grille continues to put out reliably good, not great, food, at a reasonable price, with a nice ambience and fairly decent service. Its proximity to Epcot makes it a great spot to duck over to for dinner before heading back to the park for an evening of fun and IllumiNations, yet it is frequently very quiet -- I've never had a problem getting a reservation here, in either of the restaurant's incarnations. In addition, the Captain's Grille is open for breakfast (buffet and a la carte) and lunch.

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THE WAVE
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Relatively new to the Disney dining scene is The Wave, a more moderately priced restaurant located on the lower level of the Contemporary resort -- in the space formerly occupied by the resort's game arcade. The restaurant's menu is billed as "bold cooking inspired by fresh markets," and its lounge is unique for featuring only screw-cap wines from many areas of the southern hemisphere, such as Argentina, Chile, Australia and South Africa. (Apparently the decision was made to limit California vintages to the upscale California Grill upstairs at the resort.)

Because it's located on the lower floor, The Wave has no windows. Don't panic. Using clever decorating techniques, the restaurant artfully disguises that fact. You enter through a brushed steel arch "tunnel" with blue lights, which reminded me for all the world of the tubular blast-off point of Space Mountain. The restaurant, which seats 220, is bathed in earthtones and natural fabrics. Frosted glass lamps cast soft lighting around the room, which features banquettes and booths along the perimeter, and wooden tables under the copper-colored metallic ceiling.

My son Alex and I decided to start our meal at The Wave with a drink (a Supercharged Smoothie for him, a glass of organic syrah for me) and the Lettuce Wraps, which came with sauteed lamb and bay scallops and a soy-rice wine vinegar sauce ($11.99). The five leaves of Bibb lettuce, once filled with the lamb meatballs and scallops along with the savory sauce, were wonderful. The sauce was not too sweet, not too salty, and although the wraps are a little bit messy to eat, they are worth every drip that runs down your hands.

Alex selected the day's Sustainable Fish as his entree ($20.99) -- that evening it was Arctic Char, a fish he was unfamiliar with, but he's an adventurous eater these days (hey, he's 16 going on 17 -- of course he is!). The meaty white fish came seared and seasoned lightly, with corn and edamame stew, an unusual but tasty accompaniment. A handful of bright green haricots vert finished off the plate, giving it a most colorful presentation -- it looked good enough to eat! And eat it, my son did, claiming that the cilantro chutney was a great condiment that perfectly complimented the fish.

I opted for what I thought was going to be a more traditional dish -- the Braised Chicken Pot Pie ($19.99). However, our server did warn me that it was going to have The Wave's unique twist -- and it did. More than a pot pie, the dish resembled a sort of chicken stew, with a savory sauce heavily infused with thyme, mixed up with the usual peas, mushrooms and carrots. Instead of being topped with a pie crust, a slab of thyme-seasoned pastry was placed jauntily atop the mixture almost like a cap. The unusual presentation did not detract from the flavor in the least -- the dish was well-seasoned and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, I had left no room for dessert, but bringing a teenage boy along guaranteed that at least one of us would be sampling the sweets menu. Alex chose the Creamy Indulgence trio of mini-desserts, which featured a small Cheesecake with Raspberry Coulis, Coconut Panna Cotta with Passion Fruit Drizzle, and a petite Chocolate-Passion Fruit Mousse with Pecan-Olive Brittle ($7.99). Pretty as a picture, as our server said when he placed the dish and two spoons on our table. Each of the treats rated a thumbs-up, except the pecan-olive brittle garnish of the mousse, which was a little too eccentric even for my adventurous eater.

Dinner for two, which included one glass of wine and coffee, was $76.44 before tax and tip, and before the Tables in Wonderland discount. Not bad for a very nice dining experience that didn't require us to get all gussied up, or spend a long time waiting.

The Wave is open for breakfast and lunch, as well as for dinner, and I'm looking forward to giving those other two meals a try soon.

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GRAND FLORIDIAN CAFE
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The grand dame of the Disney resorts, the Grand Floridian, has some of Walt Disney World's premier restaurants -- Victoria and Albert's, Citricos, Narcoossee's. The Cafe is the resort's "casual", more moderately priced offering. My previous visit to the Grand Floridian Cafe a few years ago was not a stellar experience, so it was with some trepidation that I made reservations to dine there again recently -- but anything in the name of research! And thankfully, I was rewarded for my diligence.

Unfortunately, I had to dine on my own this evening -- which can be a rather awkward scenario. But, as I was dining fairly early, and the restaurant was not too crowded, I was seated at a nice window table, rather than tucked away in a cramped corner, as is often the case for parties of one. The airy space is decorated with sheer curtains, flowery wallpaper, and my table hosted a single fresh red rose -- a classy touch. There's a huge wrought-iron chandelier and high ceilings with paddle fans, making the whole space feel very open and rather informal. As I glanced around at my fellow patrons, I could tell that even though this was the Grand Floridian, this was a moderate restaurant -- ball caps, shorts and sneakers abounded.

My server greeted me pleasantly enough and made a point of not rushing me through my meal, even though I was alone. I ordered a glass of the Bonterra cabernet sauvignon (another organic wine), and contemplated the menu. Surprisingly, it hadn't changed much since my last visit. I cringed when I saw they still offered the rib-eye steak -- flashbacks reminded me of that pancake-thin slice of beef, the consistency of shoe leather. Yikes! I hoped that the night's meal wouldn't be a repeat nightmare.

I started with the Soup of the Day ($5.49) -- a smoky Cheese Soup. It was a little too thick to be called creamy, but not too overpoweringly smoky -- I enjoyed it, while noshing a bit on the multigrain breads supplied in the basket. For my entree I went with the Grilled Pork Chop ($21.99) -- sorry, I just couldn't bring myself to try the steak again to see if it had improved. The chop came with Sauteed Bacon and Savoy Cabbage, a Grit Cake and Apple-Cherry Relish. As side dishes go, those sounded a bit unusual to me, so I thought, "Why not?" The chop was on the thin side, but still juicy and not overdone. The warm cabbage was just OK -- a good bacon flavor, but it was a bit crunchy when I was expecting it to be tender. The grit cake, though, was just too salty for my taste. I must admit that I left most of it.

In the name of research, and since I had the room, I decided to splurge on dessert -- especially when I noticed that most on the menu were of the miniature variety, and priced accordingly at $3.29. I chose the New York-style Lemon Cheesecake, which was an ideal petite size, with a Mickey-head splash of raspberry sauce served on the side. The cheesecake was light and chiffony and quite lemony -- the perfect ending to a meal that had turned out to be much better than I expected overall.

The biggest hitch in this otherwise nice dining experience was the price -- dinner for one, with a glass of wine and coffee afterward came to $41.96, before tax and tip! Even after the Tables in Wonderland discount (and don't forget they automatically tack on 18% gratuity now, too), I felt this was rather a hefty ticket for what was supposed to be a "middle ground" sort of eatery -- even if it IS the Grand Floridian.

The Grand Floridian Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner.

So, no, we don't only have to eat at the upscale, expensive restaurants to eat well at Walt Disney World. We just have to look around a bit. Watch for more periodic installments of "Finding Middle Ground" in the coming months.

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Related Info:

Resort Menus: http://allears.net/menu/menus.htm#res
Resort Photo Gallery: http://allears.net/din/gall_res2.htm

More articles by Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm

Write to Deb at: dcdeb@allears.net


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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.