As my sons get older, I've made a conscious effort to involve them more and more in the planning of our vacations, particularly those to Walt Disney World. As I make advance dining reservations, I ask them for input and actually let them choose one new restaurant each visit (if I don't require that they choose a location we've never visited before, they would probably choose Tony's Town Square Restaurant and the German Biergarten every time). This past spring, their choice was Teppan Edo, located in the Japan pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. It turned out to be an inspired choice for several compelling reasons.
To begin, Teppan Edo provided a venue for my boys to experience a meal from a culture different from their own. Granted, there are plenty of Japanese restaurants near our home, but the level of visual detail, combined with the opportunity to interact with young people from Disney's International Program add a level of meaning and authenticity we would not be able to experience in our own hometown.
Like of the World Showcase pavilions, Japan offers beautiful surroundings. The architecture, particularly the torii gate located in the waters in the front of the pavilion and the imposing pagoda are serene and inspiring. The calming blue accents, the subtle lighting, and the many textures found in this large pavilion stand out, even among the other beautiful Disney-created landscapes of World Showcase.
Additionally, the gardens here are superb. The entire area surrounding the Katsura Grill ranks among Disney's most compelling landscapes. The multiple levels, the variety of plantings, the lovely streams and waterways, the picturesque bridges, and the koi (carp) fish make this area one of Epcot's most photogenic and most serene. We visited during the International Flower and Garden Festival, so we experienced the incredible bonsai tree display, something that entertained my 5-year-old sons as well as me.
The exterior of the Japan pavilion is also impressive, with its soaring white castle walls, its moat, its massive gates, and its imposing bronze sculptures of samurai warriors upon their proud horses. There has long been a rumor that Imagineering wants to build a Mt. Fuji thrill ride behind the walls of this imposing structure; we can only hope that this long-held dream becomes a reality someday. The addition of another attraction to World Showcase would certainly ease the strain on existing attractions like Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion and add to the overall Epcot experience.
In addition to its imposing architecture and charming gardens, the Japan pavilion offers a massive shopping experience: the Mitsukoshi department store. Housed in a huge building located beneath the Teppan Edo restaurant, this compelling store rambles on and on. Its shelves are stocked with everything from clothing to dolls, intricate musical clocks to jewelry, to a variety of items based on Japanese pop culture—think Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and anime. This fun shop adds immeasurably to the atmosphere and fun of the overall Japanese experience.
The restaurant we choose, Teppan Edo, compliments the experience on a variety of levels. It successfully blends the traditional images of Japanese dining with a surprisingly contemporary and confortable atmosphere. The phrase "pleasant ambiance" comes to mind when describing this inviting space. Diners sit at large tables on high stools with comfortable seats, backs, arms, and foot rests. Tables are U-shaped with the grille in the middle. Diners are joined by other guests; our table included one family of two and another party of four. The attentiveness of the staff reminded me of very "old school" Disney World where service was everything and individualized attention to guests was the norm, not the exception. From the charming attendant who took our name to the elegant hostess who showed us to our seats, the staff was uniformly professional and warm.
Our table staff consisted of a waitress, a server, and a chef. Our waitress, named Nana, was amazing. Her warmth and genuine enthusiasm made our visit memorable for many reasons. My sons learned how to say "hello" in Japanese prior to our visit; Nana was delighted, and proceeded to teach them several other Japanese words and phrase. She also made them origami cranes (a symbol of good fortune in Japan), and wrote out their names in Japanese on a small slip of paper that is sure to become a treasured memento from our vacation. She sincerely seemed to enjoy interacting with my kids; this may have been due, in part, to the fact that the two small children at the other end of the table spent much of the evening throwing handfuls of rice at one another while their parents drank glass after glass of Japanese beer. Whatever the reason, the more interest my kids showed in Nana's culture, the more attention she gave them. They loved her instructions on using chopsticks, and still practice at home.
We also enjoyed the antics of a very entertaining and skilled chef who cooked a delicious dinner on the grill in front of us. The kids ordered the Tori (chicken breast), which came with seasonal vegetables (zucchini and mushrooms) as well as udon noodles and steamed sukiyaki beef rice. I ordered the Nihonbashi (sirloin steak and chicken breast), which came with the same sides as the kids' dinners. Because it was all cooked to order, the meat was perfect. The variety of dipping sauces was wonderful, and the amount of food ample and generous.
For desert, we choose the Chocolate Ginger Cake, a deliciously light concoction with just the right amount of ginger and the right amount of chocolate. It was, by far, one of the best desserts we have ever enjoyed at World Showcase—and that is saying something with that amazing French bakery just steps away.
For atmosphere, service, and quality of food, we gave Teppan Edo five stars. The hour or so we spent at this restaurant was truly memorable.