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Oo la la! A look at Disney in France
Disneyland Paris Food - A commentary and review by Kevin Yee

What do you get when you cross a country renowned for food and fine dining with a theme park company often recognized for both hits and misses in the culinary field? Well, you don't get Disneyfied escargots. What you do get is an extension of the Disney record of hitting and missing, though I'd tend to argue that the hits are even bigger hits, and the misses are … well … somehow uniquely American. Bear with me, I'll get there.

The Disneyland Paris resort consists of several hotel complexes, the Disney Village shopping and dining promenade in front of the theme parks, and, of course, Parc Disneyland itself. I don't have too much to say about the resort eateries, since I've only ever been to the Hotel Cheyenne, and each time I've eaten at the Chuck Wagon Cafe. This barbecue restaurant exemplifies, in many ways, the Americanization of the resort -- it's not so much a representation of the Wild West as it is the European vision of the Wild West. I know what you're thinking. Even representations of the old West here in America are not true to life and that's certainly a valid point. But our view of the Wild West and the Europeans' view are slightly different in subtle ways that are hard to put a finger on. If I had to guess, I'd say there's an extra layer of hokeyness and fun-poking in the European view. At least the food was good.

Disney Village contains an awful lot of places that are familiar to us Americans: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Rainforest Cafe, Planet Hollywood, McDonald's, and then several invented eateries that are also themed to be American: the L.A. Bar & Grill, The Steakhouse, the 50s-themed Annette's Diner, and the deli New York Style Sandwiches. Again, all this emphasis on America is done less to make traveling U.S. citizens feel at home than to offer a kind of escapism for the visiting French and European tourists. America, here, is being marketed as fun-loving, crass, and commercial -- but it's portrayed in such a way that there's nothing wrong with any of those attributes. Nevertheless, the success of this approach is only mixed as there are plenty of European tourists who miss the wink-wink in the portrayal of American capitalism and marketing, and see only the cynical, self-interested, corporate-greed side to it.

Let's head into Disneyland itself. There's a Main Street here, and suddenly Main St. U.S.A. takes on a new meaning. This isn't a stylized representation of our small towns here anymore, it's a stylized representation of a small towns over in some foreign country. Once again we have a slightly different lens viewing the American (read: Disney) culture, and the restaurants reflect this. There's a Victorian Plaza Gardens restaurant, which serves the kind of hot and cold dishes you'd expect. Refreshment Corner has here been replaced by Casey's Corner, where baseball is the theme.

Apparently when Europeans think of Americans, they think of baseball! Naturally the focus here is on hot dogs, a quintessential form of American cuisine. The foot-long hot dogs (which debuted here long before Walt Disney World or Disneyland) cost around 5 Euros (a Euro is worth about 87 cents American). Main Street is also home to Walt's - An American Restaurant, a fabulous table service restaurant that is tastefully decorated and themed to the life and works of Walt Disney. A classy idea, carried out effectively.

Wait, a classy sit-down restaurant on Main Street? Is this the park's big answer to the Blue Bayou or Cinderella's Royal Table? Turns out that Europeans enjoy the table service restaurant experience to a degree greater than Americans (big surprise there), so Disneyland Paris has a lot more of them. For example, there is the Auberge de Cendrillon themed to the Cinderella story, one of the few places to highlight French cuisine and culture (in this case, the culture of expensive princely banquets and dances).

The equivalent to Disneyland's Blue Bayou or Epcot's San Angel Inn - both of which feature quiet, indoor, romantic settings alongside a slow-moving water attraction - is the Blue Lagoon Restaurant, which offers a peak of the Pirates of the Caribbean at the start of the ride. Sorry guys, despite the name of the restaurant there is no Brooke Shields here, though the restaurant has a Caribbean and Polynesian feel to its theme and architecture, and an emphasis on seafood on the menu. This is the one restaurant where I was disappointed. The high prices (around 20 Euros for a main course) were not accompanied by an equally high quality of food, at least when I visited. Terrific atmosphere, of course.

While we're in Adventureland, let's look briefly at Restaurant Hakuna Matata which, with an African and Lion King theme, offers more exotic dishes such as lamb curry or shish kabob. The other big Disney movie set in Africa receives its share of attention nearby at Colonel Hathi's Pizza Outpost (Hathi was the elephant in Jungle Book). This charming location offers quick meals such as pizza or pasta, and the live bands that perform are great.

Before we leave Adventureland, we'd be remiss if we didn't take a brief look at least at Captain Hook's Galley. If you're familiar with Disneyland history, you'll remember a pirate ship just like this one in Disneyland's Fantasyland until 1983, where it served tuna fish sandwiches. This version was built specifically to honor the one removed from Disneyland, but serves hot dogs and ice cream instead.

Passing briefly through Fantasyland again, there are lots of restaurants, but I wanted to focus on one unique one: Toad Hall Restaurant. The story of Mr. Toad is not well known in Europe, as its origins are American, so there is no ride here based on Toad. What you'll find instead is this restaurant, built to resemble an English manor and serving -- what else -- English food in the form of fish and chips. A great place to relax and wallow in the knowledge that you know more about the theme of this eatery than practically everyone else around you (possibly even the employees).

Discoveryland -- the Paris version of Tomorrowland -- is the land with the most European feel to it, as it is based Jules Verne's vision of the future. Ironically enough, it is also the land where the food choices are the most American. You have, for example, Cafe Hyperion under a giant blimp and located inside Videopolis (which in Disneyland Paris means the indoor Tomorrowland stage). Here you can find hamburgers and hot dogs, and perhaps a few sandwich alternatives. Whenever the stage is not in use for a show, classic Disney cartoons run on the giant screen overhead to entertain you while eating. I recommend it, for the relaxation factor alone.

Across the way, and almost hidden behind the colossal Space Mountain, is Buzz Lightyear's Pizza Planet Restaurant. Begun as a temporary location with a different theme, the Toy Story atmosphere proved a good fit for this location, and it's seldom as crowded as other venues. The big dish here is the pizzaburger, which sells for 5.49 Euros. This dish is exactly what it sounds like -- pizza atop a burger. At least, it tastes exactly like that, I don't recall there being a layer of pizza in the fashion we imagine. Strangely enough, the combination is not as revolting as you might think. It is truly heart-clogging, however, and a masterpiece of the school of greasy dining.

It is Buzz Lightyear's Pizza Planet that I think of when I hear the words "Disneyland Paris" and "food" put together. The reason has little to do with the tasty-yet-vicious pizzaburger, at least not directly. It's the very Americanness of the pizzaburger. Or at least, it sounds very American, doesn't it? Pizza and burgers -- two American things to eat. So putting them together seems equally American … and yet I'd never eaten one nor even heard of it prior to my visit to Disneyland Paris. This is why the pizzaburger encapsulates the Disneyland Paris food experience for me; in their attempt to portray American food and culture to the rest of the world, the actual American culture gets stretched to fit the European preconception. And that's okay with me. I rather like the quirky take on American culture. It drives home the point of differing perspectives. And wasn't that the point for my visit to a foreign country in the first place?



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