Chefs de Franceby Sue Holland, contributing writer
When Epcot Center opened in 1982, visitors had the opportunity to enjoy a break from the park by scheduling lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants around World Showcase. Each country generally had at least one full-service restaurant, as well as a counter-service place to pick up a quick snack. One of the most popular countries for dining was France, with Chefs de France being the primary eatery.
Years ago, France actually had four distinct dining options, although today there are only three. The Boulangerie Patisserie pastry shop still remains, as does the more intimate full-service Bistro de Paris. Located upstairs from Chefs de France, the Bistro serves fewer people and features more gourmet food. It is open for dinner only, and priority seatings are recommended.
There was once a delightful sidewalk café called Au Petite Café, which was eliminated during a renovation that incorporated this space into Chefs de France. The Café was wonderful during nice weather, but a bit uncomfortable in the humid Florida summers. At that time smoking was permitted, which made my visits somewhat hit or miss. Initially I was not happy to lose the Café, but once the new Chefs de France opened for business, I was very impressed with the changesand to this day Chefs de France remains a favored spot for lunch or dinner.
Chefs de France entrance. Photo by Sue Holland.
The restaurant was established with the help of three highly successful chefs from France (Paul Bocuse, Gaston Lenôtre and Roger Vergé), who continue to provide oversight. Whether you approach France from the United Kingdom or Morocco, Chefs de France would be difficult to miss. It occupies most of the ground floor of the largest building at the entrance to the pavilion, and its kitchen also services the Bistro upstairs.
A host or hostess will be stationed at the podium, and there are benches nearby to make waiting comfortable. The interior of the restaurant is bright and attractive, thanks to the many windows along the two main walls. From many tables, it is possible to watch the street performers outside, or see people posing for photos with the Disney characters.
The attractive interior of Chefs de France. Photo by Sue Holland.
My visits all took place during the lunch meal, and many of the menu items are also available during dinner. At lunch they offer a complete meal for the very reasonable price of $14.95, and there is enough food that two people can share this, perhaps with the addition of an extra bowl of soup. Called the French Menu, this lunch consists of a bowl of their delicious French onion soup topped with Gruyère cheese, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich with a salad, and also crème brulee for dessert.
The onion soup here is the best I've had anywhere, and is not salty at all. With a crusty French roll the soup alone can make a satisfying meal for people with lighter appetites. If onion soup is not your favorite, the lobster bisque ($4.95) is also excellent.
Diners ordering a la carte have several menu items to choose from. As expected, escargots (snails baked in garlic and butter, $7.95) are a staple, and done well here. There is also an onion tart, which unfortunately is not the same onion tart formerly featured at the annual Food & Wine Festival. The Chefs de France version is more of a flatbread baked with crème fraiche, onion and bacon ($6.95). Their tomato and goat cheese tart ($7.25) is also different than the version sold at Food & Wine. Although the Chefs de France version of both items were good, we felt the Food & Wine version was superior.
Other lunch appetizers include tartare of raw salmon for $8.50, house salad for $3.95, paté for $6.75, imported cheese plate for $7.50 and a larger assortment of cheeses, pates and sliced meats serving two to four people for $23.95. A variety of entrées and lighter items are available at lunch, and recently friends of mine ordered the chicken crepes. Filled with chicken, Gruyère cheese, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, this was declared to be something definitely worth ordering again ($10.75).
They even serve macaroni and cheese ($13.95) as a meal, but their version is much better than what diners have had in the past, most likely thanks to the Gruyère cheese used. The toasted ham and cheese sandwich with salad is available by itself for $10.25, unless you prefer your ham and cheese in quiche for $9.95.
Other light options include:
- Salad of selected greens topped with seared Pacific tuna, tomato, cucumber, potatoes, celery, eggs and black olives served with a light vinaigrette dressing $14.75
- Baked goat cheese on a walnut and raisin bread served with arugula salad and confit peppers $9.95
- Pain Bagnat layers of tuna, cucumber, tomato, pepper, served with homemade potato chips $10.95
- Vegetarian lasagna zucchini, eggplant and tomato baked into thin layers of pasta $13.75
Entrees at lunch are somewhat limited, with the following four choices:
- Pavé de cabillaud en Bouillabaisse, Pommes vapeur et julienne de légumes Cod fish served with Bouillabaisse broth, Steamed potatoes, vegetables julienne $15.95
- Brochette de fruits de mer, riz paëlla Seafood skewer of shrimp, scallops and salmon, Served with paella rice $16.75
- Steack du boucher grillé au poivre noir, Pommes frites Grilled hanger steak with black pepper sauce served with french fries $17.95
- Demi poulet fermier à la broche, Pommes rissolés et tomate braisé Half of a farm raised rotisserie chicken, Pan fried red potato and braised tomato $15.50
Desserts can be viewed before ordering
The French are famous for their delicious pastries, and diners at Chefs de France will have several tempting choices to choose from. Best of all, they can be seen before being ordered. You never know when something is going to look better than what sounds the best on the menu. The current desserts are as follows:
- Assiette de fromages de France imported cheese plate $7.25
- Gateau du Jour cake of the day $5.75
- Tarte Tatin et sa glace vanille warm upside-down spiced apple tart with vanilla ice cream $5.75
- Creme brulée a l'ancienne baked vanilla cream with caramelized brown sugar $5.75
- Matignon au chocolat avec sa creme Anglaise light chocolate mousse cake with vanilla sauce $5.75
- Profiterolles au Chocolat puffs with chocolate and vanilla ice cream $5.75
- Crepe Melba crepe filled with pastry cream and topped with peach and vanilla ice cream $5.75
- Gateau au fromage cheesecake $5.75
As you can see, the lunch and dinner menus list each item in French, with the description written in English, so anyone uncomfortable trying to pronounce the French name can easily communicate with the server by using English or simply pointing at the menu. A recommended wine is listed underneath each item, but of course there is no pressure to order anything just because it is listed.
At dinner, and there is a complete meal available for $25.95, and interestingly it is also called the French Menu even though the food is not the same as the lunch version. The dinner meal includes the onion soup, half of a rotisserie chicken with vegetables, and crème brulee.
The appetizers and salads remain the same as at lunch, the lighter menu items are not present, and the list of entrees includes many more choices. The vegetarian lasagna and macaroni & cheese are both available, but cost $15.95. The cod is present at $22.95, the paella is now $23.95, the hanger steak is $21.95 and the half rotisserie chicken is available for $20.95. Clearly, if those are the entrees that interest you, they can be had for less money by scheduling lunch rather than dinner. In addition, the following entrees are available only at dinner:
- Thon poelle, sauce Choron, Pois gourmand et pommes de terre seared tuna served with Choron sauce, snow peas and potatoes $24.95
- Navarin d'agneau Printaniers leg of lamb braised in tomatoes and wine served with spring vegetables $22.95
- Duo de Canard aux cerises duo of roasted breast and confit leg of duck with cherries, haricot verts and sweet potato puree $23.95
- Filet de boeuf grillé, sauce au poivre noir, gratin Dauphinois et haricots verts grilled tenderloin of beef with a black pepper sauce served with the original potato gratin of Savoy and green beans $27.95
Children are definitely welcome at Chefs de France, and the kid's menu includes a couple of items not generally found in other locations. All meals include a child-size soft drink and ice cream and range in price from $5.45 to $5.85. The unusual prices are a mystery after seeing children's meals more commonly ending in 95.
There are three choices on the menu, with the most American being a hamburger with french fries. Years ago it was served without the bun, but the current version is probably more appealing to most children. There used to be a delicious chicken breast served over pasta, which has now changed to a breaded chicken strip served with pasta. The third choice is a fried filet of orange roughy served with french fries.
Lunch generally begins at noon, although they may open earlier during very busy seasons. While it is possible to secure a table without making a priority seating in advance, it can be very difficult depending on the size of your party and the busyness of the season. For example, during the holiday season when the Candelight Processional is performed, many of the dining capacity are given to guests booking the dinner package that includes seating at the show. Someone walking up on the spur of the moment will almost always be turned away.
I've eaten at Chefs de France for over 20 years now, with a variety of different people. We've yet to experience anything but good service, great food, and a wonderful respite from the busyness of the theme park.