Note from Scott: Tokyo Dining is a fianlist in Theme Park Insider's search for Best Theme Park Restaurant of 2010. Click here to go to Theme Park Insider to vote for your favorite restaurant.
It used to be that the restaurants of the pavilions that line Epcot’s World Showcase were the only places in Central Florida to offer a glimpse of thehost countries’ cuisine and traditions.
That’s hardly the case anymore. Most of the cuisines can be found outside the theme park these days. And even the cultural exchange of meeting young people from the various nations brought over to work in the pavilions holds less allure as they become more Americanized in their behavior and attitudes toward the guests.
But the restaurants in the Japan pavilion remain the exception. Although the food is no different -- or for that matter any better -- than any you can find at dozens of area sushi bars and Japanese steakhouses, the staff does more to transport the guests to another land. The bowing alone is enough to provide a cultural shock for the uninitiated.
But the restaurants at Japan also offer a contrast to the traditional. At Tokyo Dining, the austerely decorated but oddly serene restaurant that specializes in sushi, the sushi chefs both times I visited were all women. Although no longer unheard of, women as sushi chefs are still a rarity.
The atmosphere here is a bit quieter than at Teppan Edo, the teppanyaki-table restaurant next door, but the sushi comes out at a fast pace. The sushi chefs work at a station framed by a proscenium that gradually changes color. Most of the specialty rolls seem to be based on California rolls with other fish and toppings added. That probably helps move things along quickly.
My rainbow roll ($12) with salmon and avocado was delivered promptly but did not have a premade quality at all. It tasted fresh and delicious. Even more impressive was the pieces of nigirizushi ($4.50-$18.50) I sampled. The slices of fish were expertly pressed on the pads of vinegared rice and stayed put even when flipped over to dip in the soy sauce. That’s the sign of a good sushi chef.
The highlight of Tokyo Dining’s room is the row of windows that offer an expansive view of the lagoon, even to those seated farther inside the room. It just may be the best view in the park. In the other direction a large-screen television displays serene and colorful scenes of Japan.
Women were the only servers in either restaurant – gender barriers don’t fall in both directions, apparently – and they were all charming and proper, thanking guests for waiting for too long even for food brought too quickly, and bowing when approaching the table and when leaving. It causes one to wonder how to respond. A nod would be the appropriate response if you were in Japan, and for the time you’re dining in either restaurant there’s no reason to believe you’re not.
Tokyo Dining is in the Japan pavilion at Epcot. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number for reservations is 407-939-3463. Click here for the Tokyo Dining pages of Walt Disney World’s Web site.