Planet Hollywood

Interior

Interior

Exterior

Carousel of apps

**** (4 stars)

This complete remodel of Planet Hollywood is a definite improvement. Not only is the volume level now more reasonable, but the space is actually inviting. It’s dominated by giant projections on one half of the dome, although most of the material is not of sufficient resolution, so it is downsized to repeated inset smaller videos. But when the full frame is in use it is quite impressive.

For a tourist restaurant, the food is pretty decent, too. A good choice is the appetizer sampler, served on a metal Ferris wheel. It’s for four, but makes a good complete small plate meal for two.

Service was prompt and pleasant during an unbusy weekday lunch.

Note there is also a small outside dining area overlooking Disney Springs that looks like a good spot to enjoy a more restful experience.

Planet Hollywood
1506 E Buena Vista Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32836
(407) 827-7827
https://www.yelp.com/biz/planet-hollywood-lake-buena-vista-6

Coral Reef

Interior

Chargrilled octopus

Scampi

Bailey’s and Jack Daniel’s Mousse

*** (3 stars)

When it first opened this was one of the best restaurants at Epcot. They offered a true upscale dining experience and a spectacular view of the fish tank at the Seas Pavilion.

The view of the tank is still there, but the upscale dining experience is long gone. The reason, as with most of the other restaurants at Walt Disney World, is the advent of dining packages. Because guests can now get the food as part of their lodging and admissions packet, it has had a leveling effect on all of the restaurants, where everything is somewhat uniform. It’s not that the food is bad, it’s just very similar, and none of it stands out.

This is particularly apparent at the Coral Reef, which despite its theming isn’t really even a seafood restaurant anymore. Chicken and meat dishes outnumber the few fish dishes on the menu.

I had the chargrilled octopus, which was good, and the scampi, which included a skewer of decent shrimp and scallops over a completely flavorless pile of unsauced spaghetti.

Dinner for four, with a bottle of wine and tip, was over $300. Service was friendly and helpful, and the view is great.

Coral Reef
Walt Disney World Resort
Epcot’s Living Seas Pavilion
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32856
(407) 824-4321
https://www.yelp.com/biz/coral-reef-lake-buena-vista

Morimoto Asia

*** (3 stars)

Morimoto occupies a spectacular space within Disney Springs: the old three-story Mannequins building. They’ve taken full advantage of the height, with two floors of dining, and beautiful long lighting fixtures making the space feel like a scene out of Spirited Away.

Unfortunately, as with most restaurants on theme park properties, the food and service don’t measure up to the decorating.

If you’re expecting the food experience you’d get at another Morimoto, you will be disappointed. Here, only the name has been licensed, and the majority of the food is actually Chinese rather than Japanese,

There is a sushi bar upstairs, and sushi is available throughout the restaurant, but it’s expensive and nothing special. They do have a few fish not found at every neighborhood sushi place, including Fluke, Red Snapper, and Yellowtail, although they were out of some selections when we visited. Sashimi pricing was a problem though, with the serving sizes bordering on microscopic. I calculated that the one inch long paper thin slices of Fluke and Red Snapper are going for about $100 a pound. That’s just ridiculous.

Other dishes we tried included:

The five spice chicken wings were very oily inside, and there was no sign of five spices, although the garlic bits and jalapeño that topped them were tasty.

Spare ribs were delicious, very meaty and fall-off-the-bone tender, with a sweet, spicy coating.

Ikura sashimi was very good, served in a hollowed out lime with a shiso leaf.

Hamachi tartare was a small portion literally swimming in a soy broth. Any attempt to pick up some of the tartare, even with the provided miniature spoons resulted in the tartare disintegrating into the broth.

Spicy salmon roll seemed straight out of a sushi bar at central casting. Nothing remarkable here, move on.

Thai fried rice was delicious, with anise leaves, lemon grass and sprouts. This was the best dish we had.

Fried bronzino was the traditional whole fish, carefully deboned and covered in sweet and sour sauces. The fish was excellent as long as you could avoid too much of the sauce. This is a classic presentation, well done.

Our server was well-intentioned, but clearly needed more training and more practice. With about a hundred employees buzzing around a new restaurant, that’s not too surprising. I’m sure things will shake themselves out.

In short, if you’re looking for an Iron Chef experience, forget it. If you’re looking for PF Chang on steroids at twice the price but in a gorgeous building, this is a spectacular choice.

Morimoto Asia
1600 E Buena Vista Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-6686
http://www.yelp.com/biz/morimoto-asia-lake-buena-vista

Victoria & Albert’s

***** (5 stars)

It’s a Christmas Eve tradition for us to visit Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian, where we sit by the fire in the Queen Victoria room. We’ve been doing it for at least 15 years, so everyone knows us, and it’s like spending the evening with old friends.

This Christmas our friend Pamela is visiting us from Australia, and it was fun to introduce her to this wonderful tradition.

caviar and lobster

caviar and lobster

tuna

tuna

lamb

lamb

scallops with blood orange and fennel

scallops with blood orange and fennel

The mysterious object...

The mysterious object…

…truffle butter

…truffle butter

Corn and ravioli

Corn and ravioli

veal, sweetbread and peas

veal, sweetbread and peas

a great bottle of Madiera

a great bottle of Madiera

coffee

coffee

cheese

cheese

fruit dessert

fruit dessert

chocolate

chocolate

chocolates to go

chocolates to go

Victoria & Albert’s
4401 Floridian Way
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-7707
http://www.yelp.com/biz/victoria-and-alberts-lake-buena-vista

California Grill

*** (3 stars)

It’s difficult to do a fine dining restaurant in a theme park environment, and it’s not entirely the establishment’s fault. You’ve got people dressed as tourists, and their kids are exhausted from spending the day in a theme park. And did I mention the kids? There are lots of them.

Still, it’s possible. Victoria and Alberts is one of the greatest restaurants in the country, but they don’t allow kids. They turn the lights down, have a dress code, and charge enough that the patrons are likely to be foodies.

California Grill doesn’t use these tactics, and so the results are somewhat less spectacular. The setting on top of the Contemporary is dramatic, but bright lighting turns the windows into mirrors. The menu is fairly similar to Seasons 52 (which, let’s face it, stole the whole concept from California Grill), but the prices are obviously higher. The real difference, though, is the theme park production line approach to service, which just doesn’t work in a fine dining restaurant.

There’s really nothing wrong with the California Grill. If you’re staying on the Disney property — especially if you’re staying on the monorail loop — it’s a great choice. And if you time your visit to the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, there’s no better view.

It’s just that if you’re off-property there are better fine dining choices in Orlando. Or splurge, and go to Victoria and Albert’s.

California Grill
4600 N World Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463
http://www.yelp.com/biz/california-grill-lake-buena-vista

Kona Cafe

*** (3 stars)

Typical Disney restaurant on the mezzanine of the Polynesian. Kid friendly (and packed with them). The most flavorful thing we had was the teriyaki sauce that accompanied the beef satay. A lot of the selections are fairly bland, so if you have picky eaters it’s a safe bet. Extensive selection of island-themed mixed drinks.

Kona Cafe
Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463
http://www.yelp.com/biz/kona-cafe-lake-buena-vista

Victoria & Albert’s

***** (5 stars)

Chef Scott Hunnel has created a dining experience that rivals the best restaurants in the US, possibly the world. The seven course menu provides two or three selections for each course, emphasizing fresh ingredients that work together, yet also allow you to savor each flavor and understand why it was used to create the whole.

The chef’s table in the kitchen provides an even more extensive experience.

The matching wine pairings are an excellent way to enhance the meal. Manager Israel Perez has thoughtfully selected often surprising and always delightful wines to match each course.

The dining room is lush, spacious, and romantic, and the service is both professional and friendly. There is no hint of the Disney ambiance, just the sort of perfection one expects from a five star experience.

Pricing is quite reasonable for the top notch experience you’re guaranteed. I can say “guaranteed” with some confidence, since I’ve never had less than a perfect meal in dozens of visits. Highly recommended.

Victoria & Albert’s
4401 Floridian Way
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-7707
http://www.yelp.com/biz/victoria-and-alberts-lake-buena-vista