Walt Disney World Dining

Coral Reef Restaurant Review at Epcot

Coral Reef Revisited 4/09
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Review by Kevin Klose - 8/06

We were recently discussing which restaurants would be good choices when booking a Candlelight Processional package. The restaurants in World Showcase were all popular.
When asked what I thought of the Coral Reef Restaurant in The Living Seas pavilion in Epcot, I had no opinion as I had not been there in many years. So, off we went in search of a Coral Reef ADR (advanced dining reservation).

It took a great deal of flexibility on our part to get a reservation. I had to wait two weeks for an opening and that was at lunch. So, armed with our ADR for 2:00pm on a Wednesday, off we headed for Epcot.

As I said earlier, I have not been to the Coral Reef since shortly after its opening. My memories were that it was very quiet and elegant. I remember it being pricey with small portions. A complete “white table cloth and linen napkins” kinda place.

We entered the cave-like entrance at 1:50 as requested. There were four women behind the podium. Not one of the four acknowledged our arrival. Not a hello, not a “I’ll be right with you.”….nothing. While this silence only lasted 30 or 40 seconds, that’s a long time to make a guest stand there feeling like an interruption. Once they acknowledged our presence, our name and reservation were located and we were told to “stand over there.” That was it. A total of six words…”whats your name?” and “stand over there.” Six words from four Disney employees. I had a bad feeling.

As I looked around the place I was told to stand, I was not impressed. The atmosphere is dark and gloomy and yes, I get it….I am supposed to be “under the sea”, but that’s not the feeling I got.

As we were shown to our table, I expected this place to be FULL. We had a difficult time getting an ADR, so I assumed table space was at a premium. As we walked around the plastic wall into the main part of the restaurant, I was surprised to see that 1/5 of the available tables were occupied. And those that were occupied all seemed to be populated by screaming kids. What once struck me as a beautiful undersea sanctuary, now seemed like an undersea cafeteria.

Let me describe the physical space. There are three tiers of tables, all facing a”floor to ceiling” wall of glass, behind which is the coral reef from the Living Seas. It has the potential to be a beautiful restaurant, but before I go any further, let me explain that I find it a bit “weird” to be ordering and eating that which is designed to be the center of my attention. I get the same feeling at the Crystal Palace Character Breakfast as I am eating bacon and being hugged by Piglet.

As we looked at the menu, we each decided to order a soup and an appetizer. (As there were two of us, we thought that if we each ordered something from each category, we would be able to give a fair appraisal of the food.)  We ordered two of the Lobster soups ($6.99 each), one order of the calamari ($7.99) and a Caesar salad to which we added fried scallops ($10.99).

I asked our waiter if the menu I was looking at was a lunch menu or the menu used for the entire day. I was told that there was also a dinner menu, so I asked if I could look at it.
He brought the menu and I asked if it was possible to order from the dinner menu. I was told that it would be “no problem at all” to order a dinner.

The lunch menu at the Coral Reef is very limited. There are approximately 8 or 9 choices of entrée. As I wasn’t thrilled with any of them, and I was there to review the restaurant, I thought it a good idea to order from the evening menu. I decided on the grilled flounder served over wasabi mashed potatoes.  I was told that that was an excellent choice, but they didn’t have flounder and were substituting a tuna steak. As that didn’t sound as appealing, I changed my order to the Chesapeake Crab cake served with “chorizo hash browns” ($27.99). I asked if it would be possible to order a side of the wasabi mashed potatoes in addition to my entrée. Again, I was told there was no problem.

I should mention that my companion ordered the grilled Mahi Mahi over Israeli cous cous with a soy honey glaze reduction ($21.99)

If you are adding this up…my meal of a soup, salad and entrée is now running $46.00 and my companions is at $37.00 for a total of $83.00.

Our waiter delivered our soup and appetizers at the same time. While I consider this bad form, it is not that unusual and not that big a crime, unless you are paying inflated prices for the opportunity to sit and look at the fish. Then it feels like you are being rushed.

Our soups were ok. Not great and not worth seven bucks….but ok. The calamari appetizer was 6 rings that had the look and consistency of Burger King onion rings served with an overly spicy marinara. That works out to $1.33 a ring. The salad was a small portion of lettuce with Caesar dressing with croutons and the added fried scallops. It was difficult to discern the scallops from the croutons. They looked identical. Again, not horrible, but certainly not worth $10.99. The highlight of our meal was the free bread and butter. It was a beautiful loaf of multigrain bread served warm. It was delicious.

As we finished with our first course, our waiter delivered our entrees. I can only describe my reaction as “speechless”. He placed in front of me a plate the size of a tire. In the center of this huge white plate was this sad little crab cake. No parsley, no lemon, no mustard sauce as described, nothing, just a sad little crab cake. Next to the plate, he left a bowl of non-descript mashed potatoes. Apparently, I looked shocked as he then stated that because I had ordered “off menu”, the kitchen wasn’t prepared to make “the syrup” for the crab cake. I didn’t know what to say. The waiter left.

My companion received a huge bowl with a small serving of pearl pasta and a piece of fish the size and consistency of a man’s wallet, all covered with soy sauce.
At this point I needed to speak with a manager. I asked a passing hostess and a manager came to our table. I asked if she thought that my meal appeared to be worth $27.99. Her response was “what is it?” I told her it was the Chesapeake crab cake. She asked “Where did you get it?” I explained what had happened and her response was “You got that here?”  My sarcastic side wanted to tell her that no….I had brought it into the park with me and decided to enjoy it in her restaurant, but I didn’t. She excused herself and in seconds she and our waiter reappeared at our table. He explained that he was only “trying to meet my dietary restrictions.”  I explained that I had no dietary restrictions and that I also had no intention of paying for the sad little crab cake. I let them know that they could remove it.

The manager explained that there was little she could do with it and offered to let me keep it at no charge. I politely declined but she insisted. As she left, I took a small bite and can only describe it as fried cat food. I asked my companion to try and he took a small bite and spit it out. It was that bad.

At this point, we asked for our check. The manager had removed not only my entrée but my companions without being asked. I thought that was a graceful touch. As our waiter approached the table, he turned his back to us and we watched him remove the comment card from the check folder. I think that speaks volumes.

Our check for two soups, calamari, a salad and a diet coke was $36.00.

Before I sign off…let me take a minute to explain something. I have talked a lot about pricing but have no problem paying Disney’s inflated prices, provided that I get a good meal and decent service. My favorite restaurant at Disney is Jiko. Yes, it’s highly overpriced, but I consistently get great food and amazing service. I have no issue with paying $100 for dinner. I know what to expect going into the experience. My problem is with someplace like the Coral Reef charging these prices for sub-par food and service. This restaurant could be one of Epcot’s premier dining destinations and sadly, misses the mark on all counts.

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