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Sunday Brunch

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.

 

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