When I think about the top tier restaurants at Walt Disney World Resorts I usually think of Flying Fish, Citricos and California Grill, though the latter has declined somewhat in terms of experience. After a recent visit to Jiko - The Cooking Place, I'm prepared to include that Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurant in the upper echelon, too. (Victoria & Albert's is in a higher tier all by itself.)
What all of those restaurants have in common is that they are accessible without the requirement to purchase a ticket to one of the theme parks. Which is not to say there aren't good restaurants inside the parks. Certainly Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Monsieur Paul at Epcot's France pavilion offer a higher standard than a basic meal.
In that category of restaurants I now include Tiffins, a surprisingly adventurous and slightly upscale restaurant appropriately located inside Animal Kingdom. I was invited recently to dine with some WDW executives, so my experience wasn't the same as an everyday visitor, but I liked what I tasted, and what I saw going on at nearby tables.
What does it say that two of the top sellers at Tiffins are Charred Octopus and Whole-fried Sustainable Fish? I saw several of each delivered by the serving staff to tables in our dining room. The whole fish is an impressive presentation, the body frozen in an undulating swim pose on the plate, head and tail intact. Such a sight would previously have sent most guests screaming to the nearest burger joint or steak and potatoes restaurant. (There's a reason that Le Cellier, the Canada steakhouse at Epcot, is so popular.) Here, the sight of the fish at the next table seems to encourage others to choose it. And, by the way, it is well executed and quite delicious, especially with the fermented black bean sauce and green papaya slaw.
The Charred Octopus appetizer was good, too, served on olive tapenade with romesco sauce and dots of squid ink aioli.
Spiced Chickpea Falafel featured meatball-sized fritters (but meatless, of course) served with a brightly flavored pesto fashioned out of mint and pistachios.
Roasted Beets and Burrata, a take on a Caprese salad, had golden beets and cakelike red beet sponge surrounding the creamy cheese, pickled blackberries included nearby.
For my main course I chose the Berbere Spice-rubbed Venison, beautiful medium rare thick medallions with English peas and pea tendrils with a bit of berbere vinaigrette. Despite the berbere, the flavor was mostly mild.
One of my hosts chose the Snake River Farms Wagyu Eye of Ribeye, sufficiently tender and accompanied by cauliflower of different colors, bacon-sherry vinaigrette and Amarula liqueur.
Grilled Swordfish sat in a puddle of carrot and coconut purée with pickled Napa Cabbage and trumpet mushrooms.
Crispy Corn Cake was perfectly crisped, served with a variety of vegetables and topped with the South African relish known as chakalaka. This dish was apparently included as a vegetarian option if not a particularly inexpensive one. It is the least expensive of the entrees, but at $29 it isn't exactly cheap. (As I said, I wasn't paying.)
The highlight of the dessert sampler we were offered was the Whipped Cheesecake, with Amarula panna cotta, piped in a squiggle onto the plate. I would like all my cheesecakes to be served this way from now on, thank you.
A tiffin, by the way, is a South Asia lunch box of sorts. (I thought it was a bird; what do I know?) The restaurant's bread service, which includes crispy pappadum, is presented in a tiffin, with accompanying chutneys.
Although Tiffins is a fairly large restaurant it is divided into various rooms, each with its own themed decor.
By the way, be sure to also include the Pandora ride in your visit. It's an incredible multi-sensory experience. But do it BEFORE dinner.
Tiffins is at Animal Kingdom (admission to park required), Walt Disney World, 2901 Osceloa Parkway, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily; 407-939-5277.