Thankfully, the song for which the restaurant Be Our Guest is named doesn’t play over the sound system as often as I had feared. I had been invited along with other members of the media to experience the newest restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the first -- and only -- in the theme park to serve alcoholic beverages. It’s an extremely difficult reservation to snag, so I jumped at the opportunity to try it. I was afraid, however, that it would be one long loop of the kick-line inducing production number, which is pretty much what happened when I attended an event announcing the restaurant in September. Took days to get it out of my head.
But I think I heard “Be Our Guest” only three times during the course of my dinner there recently, played in rotation with other songs from the Disney animated film (and Broadway show) “Beauty and the Beast.” It might have played more often and I just didn’t hear it over the din of the other diners.
“Beauty and the Beast,” you may be aware, is set in France, so therefore the new restaurant has a French flavor, though it doesn’t adhere hard and fast to Francocentric fare. The menu, under the direction of chef Michael Deardorff, might be described more as French influenced.
And the food I tasted was very good. My tablemates and I started with a charcuterie platter of cured meats, sausages, cheeses, pates and a surprise or two. What appeared to be ripe olives under the dark lighting turned out to be plump, sweet cherries (and delicious ones at that). We also tried the mussels Provencal, which featured delicious liquor of white wine, butter and garlic but unfortunately small and tough mussel meats. There was also a wonderful salad of fresh -- and locally sourced -- green beans and tomatoes.
Three out of the five entrees that I sampled were winners. I loved the pan-seared salmon, a beautiful reddish pink in the center, with a tender-firm texture, served on a creamy leek fondue.
The grilled strip steak was also done perfectly with a charred crust and a medium-rare center. It was served with thick fries -- pommes frites, if you will -- and a garlic-herb butter. I think I was supposed to put the butter over my steak, but I dipped the frites in it instead and loved it with the saltiness of the fries.
We all turned our noses up at the thought of ordering the layered ratatouille. It was vegetarian, after all, and, as someone else pointed out, from the wrong movie. But it was terrific -- oven-baked zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes and caramelized onions on a dome of quinoa with bell pepper sauce. A multitude of flavors.
The sauteed shrimp and scallops, with seasonal vegetables and a creamy lobster sauce, were served in a large bowl fashioned out of puff pastry that dwarfed the seafood, which was a bit too rich. And the thyme-scented pork rack chop, though prettily cooked and presented, was, as pork sometimes is wont to be, dry. The au gratin macaroni that accompanied, however, was delicious, as were the haricot vert and tomato medley.
Desserts, wheeled around in specially designed souped-up pastry trolleys, are mainly cupcakes and cream puffs of various flavors, all from Christi Frommling, the first full-time pastry chef for the Magic Kingdom. But the dessert that people clamor for is the Grey Stuff. This is a foodstuff invented expressly for the restaurant from a lyric in the “Be Our Guest” song: Try the grey stuff/It’s delicious/ Don’t believe me?/Ask the dishes. It’s a panna cotta, bereft of color, decorated with some candy pearls, presented on a plate with the words “Try the Grey Stuff...” stenciled in chocolate.
At the luncheon back in September, Stefan Riemer, Walt Disney World pastry chef/concept development, told us that the Grey Stuff would be offered as lagniappe to anyone who ordered, say, a cupcake. But now it is offered as a carefully guarded, special-occasion-only treat. It isn’t even on the menu. (AJ from the Disney Food Blog quipped that you might be able to get one if you’re dining there on your anniversary, but you’d better be able to show the server your marriage certificate.)
Service is up to the usual Disney standards.
The restaurant is quite large, perhaps too large in the main dining area, which is fashioned after the Beast’s ballroom. It’s an expansive two-story space with a bunting-draped gallery (unattended, apparently just for show) that rings the room. Massive chandeliers of gold with candle-like lights hang from a ceiling with a Raphaelian painting of cherubs in clouds (the faces of the little angels are those of Disney Imagineers or their children, I’m told). The far end of the room features floor to ceiling windows, beyond which can be seen mountains in moonlight and the glitter of falling snow. (The projection is directly from the cells used in the animated film.)
The high ceilings and numerous tables, all filled with chatting people, produce a din that gives the room the feel of a college dining hall. And the low, yellow lighting is not flattering to the guests or the appearance of the food. (Indeed, the dessert trolleys had to be retrofitted with light bars so guests could see the cupcakes.) Grey Stuff, it turns out, is still grey in yellow lighting.
The other two dining areas are more attractive and interesting, especially the moody (and darker) West Wing, with portraits bearing claw marks (the Beast as art critic?), tattered tapestries, and a hologram of a long-stem rose floating in a glass dome.
On the other side of the ballroom is the Rose Gallery with paintings featuring scenes and characters from the film and a large centerpiece music box of the Beast and Belle dancing. This room is currently used only during lunch, when the restaurant is quick-serve, with guests ordering food at a counter and then having it delivered (on china) by the serving staff.
Roses are a recurring theme, including in the folded napkins at each place setting. (I can’t imagine being tasked with folding all those napkins.)
By the way, the Beast himself made several passes, amid fanfare flourishes, through the dining hall on his way to the library, where he was available for photo ops. There was not, however, a Belle in the ballroom.
Prices put this at a premium dining level -- entrees from $15.99 to $29.99 -- but that wonderful salmon was a reasonable $20.99 and the ratatouille $15.99. The wine list is fairly extensive, and good play is given, as is appropriate, to French labels. And by-the-glass selections are impressive. But don’t ask for a go cup -- the rest of the Magic Kingdom is still dry.
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of little “Beauty and the Beast” references that will delight and entertain fans but which were lost on me. (Confession: I’ve not seen the movie or the stage musical.) I’m more interested in the dining experience itself, and in terms of the food and service I was very pleased. If I find myself visiting the Beast’s Castle again, however, I’ll choose to wait for a seat in the West Wing. It suits my mood better.
Be Our Guest is in the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland. It is open for full service dinner daily; quick serve only for lunch. Here is a link to the Be Our Guest webpage at DisneyWorld.Disney.go.com. The number to call for reservations -- you know, if you want to hear someone laughing hysterically on the other end of the line -- is 407-939-3463.