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Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: Big Blue Restaurant

10 February 2013

In the big blue world,
You're just a little fish

Aw, Dad.

In the big blue world,
You'll be seen as a tasty dish.

No!

Sorry, Nemo, your dad's right. While there aren't too many humans exploring Nemo and Marlin's reef home, another Disney reef is viewed by hundreds of guests every day while they delightfully ingest the sea life they view during their meal. Seafood restaurants around the country are popular for having a giant lobster tank where you can pick the lobster you want for your dinner. At Walt Disney World, The Coral Reef takes the concept to a new level by giving you a tank full of ocean! Located at the Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion, the Coral Reef is one of the few Table Service restaurants in Epcot's Future World, opening with the Living Seas Pavilion in 1986.

The Coral Reef

In all my years of visiting Disney World, my family had never dined in this magnificent restaurant. I've seen Danny Tanner try to propose to his girlfriend Vicki while they dined next to a magnificent fish tank. Topanga had dinner with the forgotten teen star Andrew Keegan here while Cory tried to win her back through the same tank. Alas, this mythical restaurant under the sea was out of my family's grasp.

The Coral Reef at Epcot

It wasn't until the last few months that I actually made up for lost time and had the fortunate to dine here twice! The first time was with friends for a Candlelight Processional dinner package in November and recently several nights ago with my visiting friend and her family from back home. I sat in different sections for each dinner and had a different entree each time. Overall, I was very satisfied with both meals and the restaurant's unique setting makes for quite an interesting meal.

The Coral Reef's dining room is divided into three tiered levels containing both free floating tables and booths, which all face the aquarium or coral reef, the restaurant's namesake. Luckily I've been seated in the middle and first sections closest to the tank, with both offering great views and the first section being the best.

The Coral Reef at Epcot

The Coral Reef at Epcot
Wave-like light projections on the ceiling
simulate a sense of being under water in the middle section

The Coral Reef at Epcot
The first section offers the closest and best views

Each table is equipped with a handy guide to help guests identify the sea life they can see in the tank. In addition to fish, one can see manta rays, sea turtles, and sharks! Also, scuba divers are frequently seen making their rounds and waving to guests. During my last visit, my friend and I tried very hard to get a good picture of the manta ray as he swam by approximately every 11 minutes, but alas he swam faster than my shutter speed.

The Coral Reef at Epcot - Fish Spotting Guide

The Coral Reef at Epcot - Fish Spotting Guide

The Coral Reef at Epcot
The elusive manta ray

The coral Reef at Epcot
Two divers waving to the guests.
Divers can be either cast members or scuba certified guests

The menu seems to be designed to please every member of the family as seafood cuisine tends to have a rather limited audience. Entrees range from the fishiest of fish (Sustainable catch of the day) to not fish for non-seafood eaters (Seared Chicken Breast and NY Strip Steak). For my first meal at Coral Reef, the Candelight Processional dinner package included an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

First up, we chose the Appetizer for two and the Fish Tostados. The Appetizer for two included two little teacups of a smooth and hot creamy lobster soup, tender and perfectly seasoned crab cakes, and crispy fried shrimp with a spiced remoulade. The Fish Tostados were crispy tortillas topped with light and fresh fish tossed with a little bit of cabbage, avocado, and lime. They were very refreshing and a delightful way to start the meal.

The Coral Reef at Epcot

The Coral Reef at Epcot

Next, were the entrees. During my first meal, my compadres both ordered the Coral Reef Lobster Orecchiette Pasta. It was essentially a seafood macaroni and cheese with white cheddar and bits of lobster. Both of my friends felt there could've been more lobster, but they enjoyed it nonetheless.

The Coral Reef at Epcot

For myself, I ordered the Orange-Ginger glazed Scottish Salmon. Salmon is probably my favorite fish, even if it is a fishy fish. At Coral Reef, the terrific orange-ginger glaze really makes this salmon unique and probably my favorite of all that I've tried throughout the Walt Disney World resort. There were quite a lot of green beans though; it would've been nice to have a mix of vegetables rather than just one.

The Coral Reef at Epcot

My second visit to Coral Reef, I was tempted to order my favorite Salmon, but I wanted to try something new since this was a surprise opportunity to dine here. This time I went for a non-seafood item: the Seared Chicken Breast. It came on a bed of Spaetzle, an egg noodle from Germany and the surround countries, and was encrusted with an amazing crispy topping of Applewood smoked bacon (the final selling point in my menu decision). Though I felt odd not eating fish, I did enjoy this dish a lot and did not feel as bad watching the fish while I ate.

The Coral Reef at Epcot

For dessert, both times I ordered the signature Coral Reef dessert: The Chocolate Wave, a warm chocolate cake with a soft center and crisp coating served with a perfectly tart raspberry gelato. During my first meal, my friends ordered the Classic Vanilla Creme brulee and Baileys and Jack Daniel's Mousse. Both were also quite delicious, though the liquor was quite strong in the mousse (as explained in the Zebra Domes article). During my second meal, my fellow dining companions also ordered the Chocolate Wave, the mousse, and the Champagne Sabayon Tart, the latter which my friend's father dove into too fast before I could snag a photo. My friend's brother though did love that the Mousse had his favorite crispy chocolate pearls he first came to love on the desserts at Be Our Guest.

The Coral Reef at Epcot
The caramel crisp and chocolate pearls make this dessert appear as though it came right off of the reef

The Coral Reef at Epcot

The Coral Reef at Epcot

The Coral Reef at Epcot

The Coral Reef at Epcot

I generally am not a seafood eater, so I don't go to seafood restaurants often, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Coral Reef, and enough to want to go a second time after my friend and her family so graciously invited me. In retrospect, Coral Reef lacked the one thing one expects to find in a seafood restaurant: the fishy smell. Generally a turn-off at most seafood restaurants, Disney must've done something special in designing the restaurant layout to prevent that odor from leaving the kitchen. Whatever the case may be the main attraction of the Coral Reef is the floor to ceiling aquarium and the cuisine of the sea on your plate. With much of the undesirable aspects of seafood dining somehow reduced if not eliminated, Disney has managed to give their guests an undersea dining experience Nemo can be proud of, even if his friends make up the menu.

 

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