The Coral Reef Restaurant at EPCOT’s Seas pavilion has always held a certain appeal for me. The whole idea of dining under the sea, like the underwater restaurant patrons in Horizons’ floating city scene, is just so darned cool. From the time I first heard of its existence when the Seas pavilion opened in 1986 I’d always wanted to eat there. However, a few things held me back.
For one thing, the tiny selection of menu choices didn’t really excite me. I’m from the coastal town of St. Augustine. When a seafood restaurant there serves you its “catch of the day”, you’re actually eating fish that was caught that day. There are lots of restaurants there whose menus overflow with shrimp, crab, lobster, whatever you want. You know how many seafood entrees the Coral Reef offers? Four. And one of them, the Lobster Ravioli, probably has way more pasta, tomatoes, and sauce than lobster.
Also, the negative reviews the place had received tended to put me off the Coral Reef. Words like “disappointment”, “mediocre” and “overpriced” kept popping up (although complaining about things being overpriced at Disney World is a little silly. It’s like going to a Michael Bay movie and complaining about the explosions). After repeating some of those negative comments here, I felt that I at least ought to try the place and see if the criticism was warranted. So, I had lunch there last weekend, and this is my report:
It should be noted that I’m not a food snob. Menus with strange, unidentifiable items like “Compote of whipped Marscapone in a Spaetzle reduction” don’t make me feel like I’m in a nice restaurant, they make me feel like I’m in a Klingon restaurant. As Forrest Gump might say “Never eat anything you do not know what it is”. So, don’t expect me to talk about food like it’s a job applicant: “This escargot is certainly efficacious, but it has an almost ideological conflict with the arugula.” Not gonna happen.
Our lunch reservation was at 1:45. We checked in about five minutes early and were given a beeper that would go off when our table was ready. (Okay, it’s technically not a beeper since it doesn’t beep, only flashes little red lights, but calling it a “flasher” makes it sound like a creepy dude in a trench coat.) Unlike some of the reviews I’ve read, the staff at the front desk was quite friendly and attentive. Within five minutes our “beeper” went off, and we were escorted to our table by a nice guy named Antonio or something. As we walked, he rattled off a memorized spiel about how we were now going “under the sea”, pausing to remind us to watch our step each time we stepped down one of the restaurant’s three tiers. I don’t blame him for the tacky memorized spiel, I blame Disney for making their employees say crap like that. I mean, it’s obvious that we’re supposed to be under the sea, there’s a giant aquarium right in front of us! We were pleasantly surprised to be seated at a table right next to the aquarium. Just on the other side of the window from where were were sitting, a large sea turtle was resting. He stayed there throughout our meal, occasionally swimming up to the surface for a lungful of air. The tank was teeming with ocean life; we saw sharks, rays, and several varieties of fish. Best of all, the old Living Seas area music was playing over the restaurant’s PA system! Unfortunately, the noisy conversation from the restaurants other patrons worked against the quiet peacefulness that the aquarium, the restaurant’s subdued lighting, and the area music were trying to create, but it’s not like Disney can put a Cone of Silence over every table.
I was already familiar with the menu and knew what I wanted to order. Before we left home, my wife had printed out the menu and highlighted a couple of items that she might like to order as well. This was a good thing, because whenever we eat at an unfamiliar restaurant she tends to be paralyzed with indecision. Unfortunately, she left the printout at home. So it took quite a while for her to figure out what she wanted. Our server came back to check on us at regular intervals, but I never got the feeling that he was getting impatient. He was very helpful when my wife had questions about the menu, and finally she decided on a Caesar salad with chicken, with Ranch dressing instead of Caesar. I ordered the New York Strip, cooked medium-rare.
One of the knocks on the Coral Reef is that the portions are too small. I’d have to disagree with that; I found them to be quite sufficient. I didn’t have any food left over (except for the watercress, which I chose not to eat) but I wasn’t hungry after I finished eating, either. My wife’s Caesar Salad came not with just cut-up pieces of chicken, but with an entire chicken breast. We both enjoyed our entrees very much. My steak was grilled to perfection, and the potatoes were very tasty as well. My wife enjoyed her salad very much, and she absolutely loved the Chocolate Wave she ordered for dessert. She said it was even better than Le Cellier’s Chocolate-on-Chocolate Whiskey cake. High praise, indeed! Our only quibble was that the Bloody Mary my wife ordered had too much vodka in it for her tastes.
So, would I recommend the Coral Reef? I can honestly say it’s the best table-service restaurant in Future World. And if you really want a steak and can’t get a reservation at Le Cellier, then the Coral Reef isn’t a bad second option. The atmosphere is wonderful, even if it does get a little noisy in there. I really wish they’d transplant the menu from Fulton’s Crab House (or even Red Lobster), but as long as they serve a good steak I’ll probably be eating there again at some point.