Sunday Brunch: New Year, New Food
January 1, 2012
Author's Note: Due to life changing events, last
week's Sunday Brunch was delayed. I apologize for any inconveniences
and thank loyal readers for checking every week.
With the New Year creeping up on us like a little
black rain cloud on a honey tree, there was little time to discuss
one of the newest dining venues to the Walt Disney World resort.
While not exactly an entirely new establishment, the Yaki House in
the Japan pavilion at Epcot received a new name, refreshed look, and
new operators, making the semi-popular quick service location more
accommodating to guests.
Near the end of the summer of 2011 around August and
into September, large wooden walls promising new improvements to
Japan went up around the Yaki House. Though saddened by this news, I
learned in a pre-shift meeting at work that the restaurant would be
reopening on November 16th as the Katsura Grill. As I
patiently waited for this date to approach, I distracted myself by
enjoying the food and flavors of the Food and Wine Festival at
Epcot. On November 18th, I eagerly walked down the
promenade to try the new restaurant with the gusto and satisfaction
that Sunday Brunch will be among the first of the Disney food
bloggers to cover the opening of the restaurant. As I approached the
Japan pavilion, I noticed that the Japan marketplace for Food and
Wine was still running, though the festival and all of its kiosks
had closed the weekend before. To my dismay, the new Katsura Grill
was not yet ready to open its doors as it was still under
construction with the walls still up.
With disappointment, I walked away and settled for
the Asian stir fry at the Land's Sunshine Seasons for the evening's
meal. Sunday Brunch's coverage of the new Grill would have to wait.
Finally, in early December, while enjoying the holiday sights and
sounds of Epcot's Holidays Around the World with a couple of
friends, we found that the walls were gone and the garden pathway
invited us to come inside.
The little pagoda style restaurant still resides
atop the peaceful, little hillside amid a quaint garden. The garden
itself has been refurbished a bit. At first a tiny getaway with
small pathways and quiet ambiance, the garden has been slightly
downsized to accommodate the now wider pathways. Its quaint ambiance
has been a bit interrupted by large metal hand rails. For safety,
this is a plus, but as far as theming with the given environment, I
would have been in favor of expanding the current bamboo fence and
railings that still exists by the bridge over the stream. Hidden
Mickey Monday writer Alex M remarked that the changes did help to
open up the area more, inviting more guests to come explore who
otherwise did not realize it was here. All in all, with the expanded
walkways, this area of Epcot still manages to transport you away
from the hustle and bustle of the World Showcase promenade and into
the peaceful countryside of Japan.
The Koi Pond, as seen in 2008, still exists today
As we walk up towards the pagoda, I noticed the
windows were now much more open. Probably in response to guests'
desires to view the fireworks, the decorative window frames were
removed in lieu of clear, wide glass windows. Pictured below is the
Yaki House in 2008 on the left with the new Katusra Grill on the
right. Also notice how bright day light and 3 years of photo
capturing experience improves one's technique. Both images were
taken with the same camera.
Once inside the Katsura Grill, there is a wider
feeling of openness compared to the Yaki House. While the Yaki House
was exactly the same size, its design made it feel cozy, yet cold.
The wide open windows and improved lighting helped to bring in more
light and warmth to the still cramped, yet open space. The biggest
difference is the service counter. It is now twice as wide as the
former, with the two side walls taken down that used to hold the
menu and Japanese art. With the expanded counter and sanctioned
ordering queue, the efficiency of guest service has greatly
improved. Japan has caught up with the times, and features the HD
screen menus like much of Epcot's quick service restaurants now
feature. The new operators of Katsura Grill have also nearly doubled
the menu offerings.
The new service counter
As you can see, the entrees are organized by entr'e
type with more side items and desserts offered compared to the
previous Yaki House's menu. The 'Recommendation' part of the menu is
a random assortment of additional menu items, which is quite
refreshing as it offers more traditional Japanese cuisine offerings
other than the expected Teriyaki and Udon entrees. The prices were
comparative to Yaki House and also a bit outrageous, but the quality
of the food and service had greatly improved. At Yaki House, the
food was good, but oftentimes your plate didn't quite match the
picture and I have to say the stress of the cramped ordering style
took its toll on the cast members. Katsura Grill was very efficient
in ordering as the cast members were eager to call upon you to order
and answer any questions. I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Chicken
Teriyaki with a dessert order of Matcha Roll cake.
The food was fresh, as always, and matched the
picture I saw above the menu. The chicken was flavorful and tender,
not chewy like I remember at Yaki House. The Matcha Roll cake was a
slight mint flavored sponge cake with a chocolate filling. It was
nice, fresh, and moist, though the price was a bit much for its
size. The Yaki House was not terrible, I just remember feeling I
paid a little more than what I was expecting in food quality.
Previously, you received shopping mall food court food for Disney
theme park prices. At Katsura Grill, you pay the same, but for
Disney quality food.
The dining area features similar seating to Yaki
House, though the view is improved by the frameless windows. The
outdoor seating area has covered tables with movable stools and
seats. It is decorated with paper lanterns and the restrooms can be
accessed from here. In the first photograph below, you can see the
new metal handrails that line the walkway throughout the garden.
While the Yaki House was dearly missed during its
construction, the required refurbishment downtime was definitely
worth the wait. The Imagineers and new operators brought terrific
improvements to an already successful establishment. With such a
pleasant experience at the new restaurant, I eagerly look forward to
my next 'getaway' food adventure to the peaceful countryside of
Japan at the Katsura Grill.