I was glad when I heard that Walt Disney World’s culinears were making changes to Le Cellier. The steakhouse has always languished in the, um, cellar of my rankings of Epcot restaurants, even as it rated inexplicably high among tourists. In the past I’ve attributed its popularity -- it has been named a finalist for best theme park restaurant several times by ThemeParkInsider.com readers -- to the relative safeness of the food. Surrounded by “foreign” foods at the other pavilions, the Canadian full-service restaurant served familiar steak-and-potato fare to unadventurous diners, a group made up largely by tourists who did not need a passport to travel here. (The U.S. pavilion does not have a full-service restaurant, a figurative slap in the face to American cuisine.)
Perhaps in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Le Cellier, Disney recently elevated it to “signature” dining status, which in effect places it on the same level as California Grill or Flying Fish Cafe. (It also means that guests in the Disney Dining Plan have to use two dining credits to have dinner here.) To celebrate the new status -- or perhaps to justify it -- Le Cellier was given a new chef, Al Youngman, and a new menu. It still focuses on the meat items but with prices worthy of signature status. Entrees range from $23 for a vegetarian quiche to $42 for a bone-in ribeye or New York strip. Actually, the quiche is an anomaly; all other entrees are north of $30. This ain’t no bargain basement.
Unfortunately, nothing was done to the decor, although I’m told the tabletop setting has been upgraded to include votive candles and better napkins (no tablecloths). But the surroundings are still cold and dank: a dark room of block walls lit mostly by fake candles; wood tabletops and captain’s chairs; and worn-looking carpeting. Dungeons have more warmth.
But even more disappointing is that despite the use of fine ingredients, haute preparations and elegant presentations, the food, which I sampled recently as an invited guest at a media dinner, does not match the premium prices.
I liked the lobster chopped salad, with mixed greens, avocado and quartered hard-boiled eggs. And the heirloom tomato salad was good too. The jumbo asparagus were nicely grilled, but the hollandaise on top had turned eggy.
For a restaurant that prides itself on being a steakhouse, Le Cellier’s cooks seem to have trouble preparing these very expensive cuts of beef to the requested temperature. I ordered the mushroom filet mignon medium-rare and another guest ordered his medium. Both steaks were overcooked. And the mushroom risotto on which the filet sat was loaded with salt.
Another guest gave me a taste of her Pacific king salmon, which was much more enjoyable, a firm fillet that was moist and flavorful. (Pacific salmon is so much tastier than its Atlantic cousin.)
Entrees were followed by a selection of cheeses, Canadian, of course, all of them stylishly presented and each one delicious. Desserts featured a trio of chocolate sweets, including a mousse (not moose) made with Canadian Club. We also sampled a lemon cheesecake. Best part was a huge cup of very good coffee. The restaurant now has a trolley cart of cordials and fine scotches for after dinner imbibing. It’s a nice touch but couldn’t look more out of place in this setting.
Side dishes included sauteed mushrooms that were just as salty as the risotto, and lovely rainbow-colored carrots (they’re not just orange anymore) with maple butter.
But what does it say that the most enjoyable thing I had all evening was the “poutine” fries? A stapleof diners and Quebec fast fooderies, poutine is essentially a dish of french fries topped with cheese and, traditionally, a gravy or sauce. Although classified as a junk food, poutine is enjoying new status in trendy restaurants throughout the provinces where chefs dress them up with gourmet touches. Here the sauce is a red wine reduction, and the fries are graced with just the right amount of truffled salt. These french fries cost $8. So basically you have a pedestrian dish that’s been gussied up and slapped with a higher price tag.
Call it a signature item.
Le Cellier is in the Canada pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Click here to download Le Cellier’s lunch menu ; click here to download Le Cellier’s dinner menu . This link will take you to the restaurant’s page at disneyworld.disney.go.com. The number to call for dining reservations is 407-939-3463.
Note: Update to correct reference to Best Theme Park Restaurant status from ThemeParkInsider.
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