Winding your way past the understated, delicate beauty of the bonsai trees and the crystal clear babbling brook alive with brightly colored koi, one feels almost reverent and immediately refreshed from being enveloped in the quiet pleasures of the Asian garden which is one’s introduction to the pavilion that is Japan in Epcot’s World Showcase. And looming above it all is the splendor of an impressive pagoda, beckoning those wanting to delight in the flavors of a traditional Japanese meal in a modern setting. And based on my recent experience there, I wholeheartedly encourage you to heed the call.
Inside the Mitsukoshi pagoda, one will find Tokyo Dining, a surprising delight which, despite the fact it is housed inside a very popular tourist destination, somehow retains a dignified and gentle serenity.
My guest and I were immediately and warmly greeted with respectful, traditional bows and warm smiles and led to our waiting table. The dining room is not ornate but relies on subtleties such as muted lighting, large panoramic windows looking out on the promenade, symmetry and tradition. Two of the focuses of the room are the open sushi kitchen where chefs prepare many delicacies which flow from their station at a relaxed but steady pace and breathtaking scenes of the splendor of Japan taking shape as a morphing presentation of wall projections.
It took only a few moments after our waiter, Takuya introduced himself, told us a little about his city in Japan and offered us hot towels to clean our hands that we wanted to award him the server of the year award. Never have either of us had a more polite, attentive, conscientious or delightful waiter. Halfway through the meal, he seemed like a old friend. . He made us feel incredibly special. Had the food been disappointing or the ambiance lacking, I would honestly have to say that Takuya’s service and gleeful presence still would have made this a pleasant, positive experience. A definite asset to the restaurant and to Disney (which we subsequently told a very grateful manager who stopped by our table mid-meal to ensure we had everything we needed).
So many of the menu’s offerings seemed inviting but with some suggestions from Takuya and a second glance at the creative fare, we were ready to order.
We began our journey into this wonderful world of Japanese cuisine with Philadelphia rolls, sushi rolls of salmon, cream cheese, onion and sesame seeds. The fusion of the salmon and cream cheese is a treat for the palette. Absolutely scrumptious. And while I am a huge fan of wasabi and soy sauce, the rolls were so fresh, moist and savory they were just as good on their own. Even my guest, who is not the sushi fanatic I am, was in love with this choice of starters and helped me happily devour each one.
Both our entrees were served with a small cup of miso soup which was hot and brothy. Finely chopped scallions added to both the aroma and flavor. It was enhanced and delicately laced with a hint of mushroom.
The presentation of food is a treat in itself. The food looks almost like modern art in the precise, sharp shapes, splashes of color and array of textures. In a way, the contrast between the basic decor against the brilliant vibrancy of the food is an interesting and clever balance.
The Fuji bento box I ordered exhibited every bit the melding of old tradition and modern flavors. My bento was served in a lovely black lacquered box and featured four compartments bursting with a lively variety of Japanese fare. An assortment of lightly battered tempura shrimp and vegetables, California sushi rolls, a sirloin and broccoli medley and four pieces of fresh sashimi (tuna and salmon). The sushi was fresh, tasty and nestled in white rice which had the perfect consistency. The tempura was light, crunchy and subtle, giving way to the goodies hidden beneath: fresh, flavorful shrimp and plump vegetables (I especially enjoyed the sweet potato). Void of much seasoning (for which there is no need), they are accompanied by a light ginger dipping sauce which was tangy enough to further enhance the flavor but not mask or overpower it. The sirloin with broccoli was gingerly dressed with a sauce which seemed to be part soy, part apricot. Very tasty indeed with a very modern flavor.
The sashimi was so fresh and was cut thinly enough to melt in my mouth and was greeted with my very approving“oohs” and “aahs”. The bento box is a wonderful choice because it affords one the opportunity to sample so many wonderful flavors of Japanese cooking.
My guest ordered the Shibuya, tempura fried chicken and shrimp, served with a seaweed salad and steamed rice. Both the chicken and shrimp were moist, tender and nicely seasoned. Again the coating is light, subtle and adds a nice texture to the meat. Each bite does not end in a mouthful of mere batter but in a plump morsel of chicken or shrimp. It was refreshing in its simplicity. The rice was perfectly prepared. The portion was enormous and despite the amount of food we had ordered, my companion did a good job, clearing most of his plate. The high-quality of fish and meats is evident, and the sauces and batters are minimal so that the food (despite the generous portions) is not heavy and remains the savory star.
Too stuffed to even think about dessert, we did take note that the restaurant offers a Ginger Chocolate Cake and a Green Tea Pudding, which looked appetizing and quite refreshing.
The restaurant is kept immaculate and in pristine condition. There is order and preciseness in every apparent detail. The acoustics must be wonderful because, although the restaurant began to fill up as we were halfway into our meal, we noticed the noise level did not increase. So this is yet another reason (besides the magnificent service, food and atmosphere) that one can enjoy a serene, delightful meal at Tokyo Dining, one which truly seems to capture the spirit of Japan.
Food: Traditional meets modern. Fresh flavors gently enhanced with simple seasonings lends itself to gratifying meals.
Atmosphere: A quiet, understated elegance. And relatively quiet for a busy Disney restaurant
Service: What can I say? If every server was like Takuya, no one would ever have a bad dining experience. A 5-star rating for sure
Tips: The bento box is a wonderful way to sample some of Japan’s signature cuisine. Ask for a table by the window for wonderful views of the lagoon and promenade. Try the sushi. Whether you’re a connoisseur of this delicacy or sampling it for the first time, you’re in for a treat. Savor your meal and enjoy the “feel” of the pavilion around you. Above all, ask for Takuya!
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