Wednesday, April 1, 2009

table talk, part 2

Okay, I've shared some of my favorite table-service memories, but to give you the bigger picture, I think I need to share some of the less-than-perfect meals, too. Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that. But just as a reminder, every dining experience is unique, and I still say that, for vegans, the service you get can mean a lot more than what's on the menu. Catch the right chef, and it could be your lucky day! Call ahead, and your odds most likely improve as well.

In an attempt to be more organized, I'll try to group these by park. Let's start at the Magic Kingdom. Crystal Palace is a buffet with "character" - you can dine with Winnie the Pooh and friends. While I haven't tried this one myself yet, it actually gets high praise from other vegans as one of the most accommodating buffets. It's on my list to try. The Plaza Restaurant is another good choice that I haven't tried yet. There's a vegetarian sandwich on the menu, veganizable by request. And I've heard they usually stock Tofutti and Rice Dream for dessert. Liberty Tree Tavern was a bit disappointing. Dinner is a family-style meat-fest, but lunch usually offers a vegetarian option. The menu has changed since I ate here about a year ago, but at the time I felt it was just "okay". Tony's Town Square Restaurant was another that just didn't live up to my expectations - very generic pasta dish with little flavor. A call in advance might help here. Last but not least, we've got Cinderella's Royal Table. Rating this place on food alone, I'd have to call it "okay", at best. I was served a rather simple pasta/veggie dish. However, it remains one of my favorite meal memories because of the atmosphere - there's just something magical about eating the castle.

Moving onto Epcot, Futureworld... haven't tried Coral Reef, but the menu isn't too promising for vegans. To be honest, I think the idea of watching other diners feasting on seafood, while happy little fishies swim by their table just turns me off. I'm guessing I'm not the only one, because I've never read a review on this place by a vegan before. Garden Grill, on the other hand, is one I would try again. I ate here as a vegetarian and had a very tasty ravioli dish. Last I heard, they were offering a veggie cous-cous dish, but they have plenty of fresh veggies to work with, and seem happy to accomodate. They do suggest you call ahead, though, for the best options.

Hitting World Showcase, we have some rather exotic choices. Le Cellier (Canada) gets good reviews from other vegetarians and vegans. They are reported to be very accomodating - I plan to give the place a try someday. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway) is a bit riskier - I've heard good and bad, depending on who your chef was at the time of your visit. The buffet itself is rather limited, so you'll need a helpful chef. Biergarten (Germany) has, in all honesty, kept me away more for its design than its food. Being bashful, the idea of being seated with other diners kind of freaks me out. However, I've read at least two reports from other vegans who said that they were treated to a very nice meal here - again, dependant on the chef as the buffet is mostly not veg-friendly. In France, we have Bistro de Paris, and Chefs de France - I've heard that the later is much more accommodating, but have no first-hand experience to back this up. Nine Dragons (China) is definite no-go - response from Disney has led me to believe that every dish here has some sort of hidden meat ingredient, and they aren't comfortable altering them. Sadly, Restaurant Marrakesh is a no-go, too. Their best option, veggie cous-cous, supposedly contains dairy, though it seems that they're a little evasive about the question, making me think this isn't a safe choice. You might find something at Teppan Edo or Tokyo Dining (Japan), but again, I haven't tried them, or heard enough to give an opinion. Tutto Italia (Italy) - same thing.

One I get asked about a lot is San Angel Inn. As someone who loves Mexican food, like many others, I thought this would be a no-brainer - Mexican dishes usually lend themselves well to vegan versions, and this place even has a separate vegetarian menu! Well, I was sadly disappointed, as were other vegans I've heard from. It seems that when you remove the dairy, the chefs here completely lose all ability to think. I ended up with a plate of black beans in tortillas, with a side of black beans. It was edible, but that's about it. I'm going to pass on a suggestion - skip San Angel Inn and hit Cantina de San Angel (the counter-service place) instead. They will put together something for you that tastes better and costs much less. (Thanks for the suggestion, Lisa!) The best part? You can still wander the pavilion and enjoy all the ambience of the restaurant without enduring a bad meal!

Disney's Hollywood Studios: I've already raved about 50's Prime Time Cafe, and given Brown Derby a thumbs-up. Hollywood & Vine is supposed to be a decent buffet choice for a vegan, but I haven't tried it myself - this is one you might want to call ahead on, just to be sure. Mama Melrose's, for some reason, is one I keep meaning to try and just never seem to get there. I've heard that they will work with you - it looks promising. Sci-Fi Dine-In is one I have trouble reviewing. I hear so many non-vegans complain about the food here, but vegetarians and vegans seem to be pretty happy - something you don't see very often from a place that pushes burgers and shakes. I ate here years ago as a vegetarian and enjoyed my meal, though my meat-eating husband did *not* enjoy his meal. It's a cute place, though - worth a visit at least once.

Animal Kingdom... Rainforest Cafe was not a favorite for me, but other veggie folks have enjoyed it. I was a bit uncomfortable with the set-up (very noisy, tables much too close together), so that may have influenced my opinion. I ate there many years ago, but haven't felt the need to try it again. Tusker House already got a full review from me, but I will add a note here: my "less-than-perfect" experience had more to do with a rather unhelpful chef and much-too-high expectations. The truth is that I did have a number of options and didn't leave hungry. Other vegans *love* this place. Yak and Yeti, the newest choice, is one I hope to try someday. While the menu is limited, I just happened to stumble on a couple of vegans asking the staff what they could do, and it seemed that they were very willing to work with them.

Well, it looks like I'll have to share the resort restaurants in a future post, because this is just too darn long already. I'll leave you with a photo of the Mexico Pavilion. Just remember, enjoy the pavilion, skip the restaurant.

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