Canada Pavilion Steakhouse Finalist for Best Theme Park Restaurant Award
Each year, in July, the excellent Web site Theme Park Insider announces its awards for excellence in various categories among the country's theme parks. Best theme park restaurant is one of the categories.
This year, all five finalists are in Orlando theme parks, so TPI founder and editor, Robert Niles, has asked me to post my reviews of those restaurants for his readers, as well as readers of the flog here. I don't have a say in selecting the winner, that's up to you. At the end of each review, I'll give you a link to TPI's listing for that restaurant so you can vote or leave a comment. Robert will announce the winner on July 4th.
Last week: Hollywood Brown Derby.
Next up: Le Cellier
Le Cellier is the Canadian steakhouse operated by our neighbors to the north, though in relation to its World Showcase location, the Canada pavilion is more east-northeast from America.
Among Disney regulars, Le Cellier enjoys an almost cultlike following of fans. Visit any of the theme park forums and you'll find someone waxing eloquent about the food, the service and the atmosphere.
Frankly, I don't get it.
I'll go along with them on the service. The folks here are as friendly as any you'll find at Walt Disney World, which is the most authentic aspect of this restaurant -- Canadians are among the friendliest people you'll ever encounter.
But I don't care at all for the atmosphere. Of course, one shouldn't expect much from a place called The Cellar, and in fact it was designed specifically to shield theme park-wary visitors who need a respite. A sensory deprivation tank might be a better choice.
Le Cellier is dank on a good day but even more so on the rainy evening I visited recently. To make it even less appealing, the ceiling in the passageway that leads from the reception area to the dining room was leaking, a steady dribble of water dripping onto the stone ramp, where a yellow cautionary "slippery when wet" notice had been placed.
The dining room features massive stone archways and a wood-beamed ceiling, both of which allow for the echoing of childlike screams. Lighting is mostly provided by fake pillar candles on wagon wheel chandeliers and antlerlike wall sconces. They give a bright golden glow with nary a flicker. Tables and chairs are as plain as can be, and tabletops are uncovered.
Disney got it right several years ago when it pushed to rebrand Le Cellier as a steakhouse. Canada -- not unlike Florida -- has no easily identifiable cuisine of its own. But Canadians do good steak. And, of course, French cuisine is big, too, but Epcot already has two French restaurants, and that's a tough enough sell for American tourists. But steak? Put out a slab of beef and stand back so you don't get trampled.
So the menu is mostly meat. And even though we're going for a Canadian theme here, you'll find not only a New York strip ($34.99) but also a Kansas City cut ($32.99). I selected prime rib ($25.99), which is hard to come by these days.
But I started my meal with a cup of Canadian cheddar cheese soup made with Moosehead beer and garnished with bacon. It was undistinguished, neither cheesey nor beery in taste. And the cup serving was truly minuscule. The cost for the starter was $5.49, and I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the profit on this dish is five bucks.
By the way, there is a table d'hote option that offers three courses for $36.99. My soup and prime rib were included in that option (neither of the American-city steaks is), but that would have put the dessert at just over $5.50, which hardly constitutes a bargain. I opted to go dessertless.
The prime rib was neither good nor bad. It was a thinnish cut, a little rarer than the medium-rare I requested, but I make no qualms about that. It was tender enough but not buttery. The horseradish cream that was drizzled over the top was quite mild. The roasted Yukon potatoes that accompanied the dish were not hot and were mushy. They sat beneath a garnish of wilted greens.
I paired the prime rib with a glass of Ravenswood zinfandel, which can be purchased at a retail store for under $7 a bottle; I paid $9 for a glass, so you do the math. (Update: Master sommelier John Blazon advises that the Ravenswood served at Le Cellier is the Sonoma County tier, not the Vintner's Blend that is currently on sale, and retails for an average of $16.99.)
I was impressed with the dining room presence of not only the manager but also the chef, who wandered from table to table inquiring about guests' satisfaction. And he was doing that when I arrived -- it wasn't a show put on for the critic.
And that's probably the reason Le Cellier has the fans that it does. Ultimately, it's less about the food and the atmosphere and more about the people. Not a thing wrong with that. But on my list of restaurants that offer a complete and enjoyable experience, Le Cellier is somewhere near the basement.
Follow this link to vote for Le Cellier in Theme Park Insider's poll.
Also check out the review of Disney's newest restaurant, Sanaa, at Animal Kingdom Lodge's Kidani Village, which includes a video of the restaurant.