The website has enjoyed what might be referred to as “mixed results” at Coral Reef over the years. Like a lot of Disney restaurants, it relies on its setting to draw people in and the food often “feels” like an afterthought. But I had been hearing some very good things over the last few months, so I decided to give the undersea eatery another try after seeing that the menu had undergone significant change.
Disney Parks Blog even ran a post on the changes, though as an astute user on Twitter pointed out, they never actually comment on how good anything tastes – just that you can turn up the colors in Lightroom after the fact.
Historically, some items, like this “Roasted Pork Belly with Barbeque Baked Beans, Jícama Slaw,and Jalapeño Cream” surprised.
For a long time, I would have said, “Go to Coral Reef. Get the trout.”
But other dishes, like this “Grilled Mahi Mahi with Laughing Bird Shrimp, Hearts of Palm, Jasmine Rice, Cilantro, and a Coconut-Lime Sauce” disappointed.
But at least the lobster is visible underneath the creamy sauce and delicate pasta. That will be less of a theme during this visit.
Coral Reef is actually hidden away pretty well in the Seas Pavilion, with the unassuming entrance located down to the right of the entrance to The Seas with Nemo and Friends.
The current menu isn’t a huge departure from previous offerings. “Creamy Lobster Bisque – Cream, Brandy, Chervil” replaces “Creamy Lobster Soup – Tarragon and Brandy,” for example.
The “Charbroiled Octopus” that currently arrives with “Nori Sushi Rice, Sesame Slaw, and Soy Reduction” was previously available as “Charbroiled Octopus” with
“Mediterrean Potato Salad and Grilled Lemon.” There’s still a Seasonal Soup, Seasonal Salad, Caesar Salad, and Calamari, but the Seafood Salad is a new addition and while it probably isn’t a departure from offerings available elsewhere, Crab Cakes haven’t been available here for a while.
For $7.75, the 22-ounce Reef Amber is a good value and should remind you a lot of the Safari Amber available in the Animal Kingdom area. And considering the quality of what’s about to come out of the kitchen, you might want to pretend like you are thinking really hard about what to order and guzzle 5-10 of these before the appetizers come out.
Entree-wise, a lot of this is similar or the same as before, at least in pricing and description. The Tuna Bowl stands out as being all-new and it’s the only vegetarian entree when the chicken is switched out for tofu.
The Kids’ menu.
A Prix Fixe menu is available for $42 per person with wine or beer pairings available for an additional $22.
While they’re all bottles/cans, this is an interesting mix of choices with local beers like the Brew Hub Diver Down and Bold City Mad Manatee IPA alongside more macro options like the Kona Big Wave and Dogfish Head Namaste.
The Fish Guide includes some fun facts:
Whether or not I would fit inside is another matter.
“Every seat is a good one for watching” may be a bit of a misnomer as some number of guests will need to crane their heads one way or another for a glimpse inside the tanks.
Of course, those seated in the back will have an obstructed view. My prior advice has been to eat somewhere else and enjoy similar views right up against the glass inside the Seas Pavilion on the opposite side, but let’s stop focusing on the past and fast forward to…well…still the past, I guess.
It’s typically not a good sign when servers are delivering bread baskets full of nine rolls to each table regardless of party size. But it did help foreshadow what we would be focusing on once the entrees arrived. These were otherwise disappointing and reminded me of the sort of rolls you buy in bulk at the grocery store in front of Thanksgiving – only not as good. They weren’t served warm or particularly fluffy. Just dense, dull dough.
The cold, rigid slab of butter didn’t do anything to improve the situation. At least we were each delivered our own slice.
This is the “Heirloom Tomatoes – Sherry Vinegar, Tuscan Olive Oil, fresh Mozzarella, and Balsamic Reduction” as part of the Prix Fixe menu. One of the disappointing aspects of this meal was how much better the same dishes tasted before the recent menu change, when this appetizer was twice as large with much fresher, more flavorful ingredients. This wasn’t “bad,” but it was just grocery-store-quality mozzarella that you can buy as an 8-ounce clump for around $4 – gritty, limp, and flavorless. The tomatoes are indeed bright, but all of the vinegar, oil, and balsamic broke down any crunch they might have had and they ended up being oily with a mushy texture. Disappointing.
For once, I actually ended up ordering the better of the appetizers in the $12 “Seafood Salad – Gulf Shrimp, Mahi Mahi, Citrus Marinade, Serrano Peppers, Mango Sorbet, Plantain Chip.” This was a proficient mix of seafood served ice cold in a very lime-focused citrus marinade that resembled the flavors and textures of a ceviche. The peppers added a little bit of spice to the marinade and a lot of spice whenever they were speared by the fork. The mango sorbet also lent a fresh, sweet flavor to everything it touched and had a really nice creamy quality to it that contrasted nicely with the crunch of the shrimp and fish. It was a flavorful, refreshing way to begin the meal and I thought the portion was generous for the money.
Things took a turn for the worse in dramatic fashion with the appearance of the entrees. This is the “Crab-Bacon Macaroni & Cheese – Asparagus and Piquillo Peppers.” We honestly weren’t sure if there was any crab involved as the mushy pasta suffered from a really acute, fishy, canned tuna taste.
There was virtually no cheese to speak of – other than a speck or two of panko bread crumbs, the pasta up front looks completely bare. I see maybe a third of an asparagus spear unceremoniously mixed in with the red pepper. But bacon? Nope. Crab? Nada. And the portion size isn’t particularly large – the pasta is sitting in the same bowl used for the tomato bisque and the pasta coverage covers the bottom in a single layer. I would be embarrassed to serve this.
The $23 “Teriyaki-glazed Tofu Bowl – Teriyaki-glazed Tofu, Rice Noodles, Charred Bok Choy, crisp Shiitake, Pickled Vegetables, Ramen Broth” was worse. The tofu made the pasta seem like it had structure – it was little more than slimy glop in a broth devoid of any flavor whatsoever – not even the distant flavors of soy and salt. Just brown water. “Pickled vegetables” translates to a couple thin strips of over-brined carrot with an unsettling vinegar quality and some bok choy that was so slippery that I think it would have slid up the stairs to the top floor of the restaurant if given a moment’s opportunity. Truly gross.
Compared to the other entrees, I struck gold with the $29 “Seared Mahi Mahi – Toasted Coconut Rice, Jerk Seasonings, Avocado Crema, Mango-Shrimp Salsa.”
There’s definitely fish on the plate. No doubt about it in my mind. /end review on a positive note
This wasn’t bad – the fish had a nice firmness to it and the earthiness of the avocado cream contrasted nicely with the playful fruitiness of the chunky mango salsa. The rice was prepared well with a distinct coconut flavor that benefited from the flavors of everything found on top. The jerk seasoning was mild, which probably plays well with the fish, but I would have liked some more resiliency from the pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Finally, the inclusion of a couple little shrimp was a nice touch, providing more of a seafood flavor against the various sauces. Altogether, it was a filling, satisfying dish as far as mahi goes.
Dessert was another highlight. This is the $9 “Key Lime Tart – Raspberry Sauce, Tropical Fruit Glaze,” which has a neat old school Epcot Center logo made out of chocolate on top. While purists may scoff at the notion, I liked how the tropical fruit glaze sweetened up the tart flavors of the key lime mousse underneath and the graham cracker crust added a pleasing crunch along with a bit of ginger and spice.
The $9 “Chocolate Wave – Chocolate Curls, Raspberry Cream” should satisfy any chocolate craving with its molten, ooey-gooey chocolate interior and generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. The raspberry cream added a fruity complement and the curls added some crunchy texture to the soft cake. Very good.
The $8 “Citrus Bread Pudding – Whiskey Sauce, Candied Pecans, Salted Caramel Gelato” was a little light on said whiskey sauce, but the bread pudding itself had a nice crispiness around the edges before giving way to a more custard-y interior with just enough citrus undertones to make it unique. The caramel gelato was refreshing with a sweet buttery flavor that was further enhanced by a salty component that made you wish it was served in a much larger bowl. The sweet, crunchy pecans underneath added a pleasant crunch. Altogether, very good.
Overall, Coral Reef wasn’t all misses, but with 2 out of 3 entrees bordering on being inedible, it was hard to find value in the $42 prix fixe price tag. Furthermore, the meal was disappointing considering how good the previous vegetarian entree tasted in the Crabless Cakes. Just a month or two ago, the Bacon-Crab Pasta was piled high with thick clusters of crab meat. Now, I’m not positive that there’s crab in the kitchen.
But the novelty of eating in an aquarium may still be enough to get you through the door. And if you do decide to make a reservation, hopefully you’ll visit during a kitchen uptick rather than a fall from grace.
Personally, I think there’s enough interesting dining at Epcot that I would take advantage of similar views of the inland marine environment for “free” on the other side of the glass, but Coral Reef isn’t necessarily a total bomb. The entrees were disappointing though, especially considering the elevated fare that the kitchen was sending out just last month.