CHEFS DE FRANCE
ADDRESS: EPCOT at Walt Disney World (1830 Avenue of the Stars, Orlando, FL 32830)
Venturing into any of the Disney World theme parks on a normal day is already guaranteeing you hours filled with dealing with crowds. But venturing into one of theme parks on New Year’s Eve, now that is just dialing up the crowd factor to the next level. And that is exactly what my friends Bryan, Katie, and I decided to do last year to close out 2019.
EPCOT ended up being our choice to ring in 2020, and perhaps it was a smart one — around 1 p.m. that day, we got a notification that Magic Kingdom was closed for further admission since the park was at capacity. In all the times I’ve gone to Disney, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen that happen before. But one of the things that we made sure not to overlook when planning out the day was on what to eat. Dining reservations had been booking up fast, but we managed to get a seating at the Chefs De France restaurant in the France Pavilion for later that afternoon.
I guess on New Year’s Eve, when there is a ton of people in the park, everyone will be hungry. At least, that’s how it appeared with the restaurant being completely packed after we arrived for our 2:40 p.m. seating. The main dining area definitely had a more elegant feel to it, with the décor and architecture giving off a prominent vibe. It was also able to hold a large number of people as well, which makes sense when you’re designing to accommodate the theme park crowds. For our seating area, however, we got put in one of the tables in the side rooms, which looked outwards towards the people walking around outside.
The lunch menu consisted of a wide spread of salads, soups, and proteins for the entrées. The dishes on the menu were presented in French, with the descriptions below them aiding in determining what to choose. The last time that I ate at a French restaurant in Washington D.C., the beef bourguignon in particular really resonated with me. The slow braise of the beef until it falls apart was so rich in flavor; I thought why mess with a known commodity and decided to try it at this restaurant as well. Because we figured it’d be a little while before the next time we ate, we also decided to tack on an additional appetizer of the salad with baked goat cheese (salade de chèvre chaud, for those of you that speak French).
Our waiter for the afternoon, Lyam, would pop in and out of our corner of the dining area. There were stretches of time that we didn’t see him at all; granted, it was New Year’s Eve, so perhaps the restaurant might have been short-staffed and he had to cover more than his normal area. Even though it did seem to take a bit longer than usual to get our food, we were glad to get a break from the hustle and bustle outside in the park to sit in the restaurant and relax.
First up out from the kitchen was our salad appetizer, consisting of a spring mix with walnuts, fresh grapes, cherry tomatoes, and endives, tossed in a light vinaigrette and a small disc of baked goat cheese right on top. For the size of the salad plate, I was honestly expecting there to be at least two of the baked goat cheese discs instead of just the one. The salad was split between the three of us, so the portion of goat cheese we each got was probably good for just one bite of salad. But aside from that, the crisp flavors of the ingredients helped to brighten up the palate before the rich entrées that we ordered arrived.
The way I saw it, the beef bourguignon was plated with a yin and yang look, with the braised beef on one side with the dark colors and the light-colored linguine pasta on the opposite side. My first stop was to try the star: the beef. Tender, moist, and rich with umami flavor, the beef even had that light note of red wine from the sauce. The baby onions and carrots complemented the flavors well, especially with the sauce. I suppose I probably should have done a better job mixing the pasta with the meat once I took my photo, but the beef was good enough that I just kept eating it on its own. A periodic bite of pasta might have made its way in there, too.
Considering that our reservation for the restaurant was picked up about two weeks prior to visiting, I thought that it turned out to be a pretty solid option to get something else in the tank outside of just snacks to continue taking us to midnight to celebrate the new year. Even if the dining area was pretty packed for the holiday, the food still ended up being relatively good and it was an enjoyable meal overall. Given the bevy of other dining options available at EPCOT, however, I’m not totally sure if my experience would warrant a definite return visit in the near future.
Let’s now take a look at the Chefs De France Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
And finally, here are my rankings for Chefs De France:
Food: 4 / 5
The beef bourguignon was rich in flavor, and I thought that the portion size for the plate was just right. As for the baked goat cheese, however, that salad definitely could have used a bit more of it.
Atmosphere: 4 / 5
If we had gotten a chance to sit within the main dining room, I feel like our experience might have been a little bit different. With us being seated in the side area, where we could see the other park visitors outside, I felt like it removed us from the immersion of the experience a little bit.
Service: 3.75 / 5
The only noticeable downside from the service perspective was that there were times we needed to ask Lyam for something, but we didn’t see him for a little while. Outside of that, I thought the kitchen was able to handle the crowds pretty well and get our food out in a timely fashion.
Price: 4 / 5
The fact that it was French cuisine already gave me expectations that the price points would be high. Add on top of that the fact that we were dining within a Disney theme park, and I thought that the cost was pretty much par for the course.