Nine Dragons Restaurant - A tale of two entrees

by Roan Poulter, contributing writer

Nine Dragons restaurant is located near the entrance to China in Epcot's World Showcase. You can watch the acrobats wow the crowd as you wait for your table. It is not as exclusive as Le Cellier or Chef's de France, but we have come to respect the unique offerings at Epcot's table service restaurants and we were not disappointed here.

This is the sign on the outside of the restuarant. Photo by Roan Poulter

We had no problem whatsoever getting a reservation, in fact the place was nearly empty on the weekend we went. Now in fairness, it could be that was the reason for our exceptional service, but nonetheless we accepted it gratefully. In terms of theming, it seems to accurately depict an American Chinese restaurant. The wood carved panels and dragon etched glass stood out as amazingly authentic; the details were nice and everything was very neat and clean.

Beautiful carved panels open into a very cafeteria-style dining hall. Photo by Roan Poulter.

On the day we dined at Nine Dragons there were a couple of specials that are not part of the permanent menu, so be advised that we can make no promises of their availability in the future; check with your server.

Our delighful server smiles for a photo. Photo by Roan Poulter

These were our selections:

Braised Pork Belly Steamed Buns – Steamed buns filled with braised pork belly served with chili aioli. A delicious way to start off, the pork belly (the same cut of meat used to make bacon) give the soft steamed buns a savory and decadent filling, countered nicely by the spicy chili aioli, freshly sliced onion, and crunchy Chow Mein noodles for textural interest. I actually much preferred these to the duck that was served at Food and Wine.

Braised Pork Belly Steamed Buns are a great appetizer. Photo by Roan Poulter.

Sweet-and-Sour Pork – Tender chunks of battered pork bathed in a sweet and sour glaze with pineapple, served with steamed broccoli and white rice. Called go lo yuk by the Cantonese, this was not a great showing. The sauce was badly overpowered, obscuring the subtle flavor of the pork. This feels like something the chef was forced to have on the menu, despite his begging.

The Sweet-and-Sour Pork left us wanting. Photo by Roan Poulter.

Shanghai Grandma's Red Braised Pork Belly (Hong Shao Rou) – Pork belly slow cooked in a special grandma's house made red sauce., served with a stewed egg and broccoli. A classic pork dish in mainland China, the pork belly is cooked in chili peppers, sugar, light and dark soy, and rice wine until the fat and skin break down into a succulent bite that quite literally melts in your mouth. Not for the texture fearful, but amazingly delicious. Imagine flan and bacon got together and had a baby, this would be it. The stewed egg was good, though tougher and more steeped in flavor than I am used to. It was also served with rice, though it is not pictured.

This Chef's Special was an adventure for the palate. Photo by Roan Poulter.

Nine Dragons boasts a robust drink menu including mixed drinks, wines of every variety, and some non-alcoholic choices as well. I will say that the idea of drinking in China isn't that appealing, as any drink I have ever tried in China has been over-sweetened to the point of nauseating, however I cannot speak for the Nine Dragons drink choices. They did sound and appear to be to a higher standard than the stands. I will try it the next drinking around the world I'm a part of.

As you can see above, Nine Dragons can be a hit or miss in terms of entrée quality. My recommendation is to quiz your server, be bold with specials, and stay away from standard selections that might be served at a Chinese buffet. Your reward may well be the difference between this tale of two entrees.

The Dragon is watching, conduct yourself accordingly. Photo by Roan Poulter.

Our ratings are as follows:

Dad (42): 4.4 of 5 – Easy to get a table, good variety of menu options, some surprisingly bold choices to be had. However, not all menu options are equal in their reach for greatness.

  • Food Quality: 4.3 of 5
  • Value for money spent: 4.5 of 5
  • Ambiance: 4.0 of 5

Mom (41): 4.5 of 5 – Ordered the sweet and sour pork against her husband's advice. Just to spite him she said it was wonderful.

Daughter (18): 4.3 of 5 – Loved the pork buns, appreciated that the broccoli was perfectly steamed to crisp yet tender. Agreed with her wise father that the sweet and sour pork was over sauced.

Son (16): 3.8 of 5 – Thought the pork belly was a little on the fatty side for his taste. Really liked the stewed egg.