Friday, July 22, 2011

Restaurant Review: Coral Reef

My first two reviews were on Signature dining restaurants, so I thought I would review some other dining options. A reader from my Facebook page asked about Coral Reef, so I decided to review it next :)

Brief Description: Fresh seafood like mahi-mahi & pan roasted jumbo sea scallops are some of the fresh seafood options available, as well as a NY strip steak and a vegetarian option as well. A nice selection of appetizers, including salads & soups are present and they are known for their famous Jack Daniels & Baileys' Chocolate Mousse dessert.

Decor: The restaurant is home to a 5.6 million gallon salt water aquarium that holds 85 different varieties of tropical fish. When you are seated, along with your menu, you are given a sheet to help identify some of the fish you will see swimming in the aquarium. While the food is quite good-obviously the view is the big draw. The restaurant is decorated to give the feel of being underwater with it's blue ceiling that that gives the feeling you're looking up from the the ocean floor. Sand colored wood chairs and table accents blend well with the overall atmosphere. Everywhere mosaic tile & sea glass inspired accents can be found, that always give me an Ariels' grotto feel. There is both chair & booth style seating, of which I prefer the booths. The chairs remind me of school-basic and hard. The chair seating is arranged right next to the tank, and the booths further back. While you can see the aquarium very well from any seat in the restaurant, because the restaurant is tiered, sitting right next to the glass is a lot of fun. It's such a thrill to have a sea turtle swim over or see a shark go by, or even a diver during feeding time. Although as I write this-I just struck me that there's a macabre humor to having fish watch you dine on fish...heh. In any case, it really is a treat and if you are lucky enough to get seated next to the tank you will really enjoy it. You can ask to be seated next to the tank, but often they will not accommodate special requests like this because...well...EVERYONE wants that. Sometimes you can offer to wait longer for a "window seat" but there are no promises. Fair warning for folks like me who get cold easily, bring a sweater or something to throw on, it can get very cool in there and you don't want to spend your meal shivering. Other than that, is it a lovely dining atmosphere, both for it's decor as well as the spectacular aquarium view.

Service: Being a different style of dining, the Coral Reef is a bit below par with the other in-park sit down restaurants. Meaning that with limited space & high demand, service is more of a "Turn & Burn" style. This is a term restaurant staff uses which means-get 'em and get 'em out. I am not saying that your service will be bad, Disney is still Disney and prides themselves on customer service, but the pace will be much faster. In this particular restaurant we have gotten the full spectrum of servers. Some were extremely pleasant and accommodating, while others were either too busy to give effective, good service or didn't care to. Also, unlike other Epcot restaurants, where the waitstaff fit into the theme & entertainment value of the restaurant, the Coral Reef depends on their fish to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to entertaining you. So the servers sort of leave you to your own devices. Kind of like putting your kid in front of the TV for 20 minutes so you can get the laundry done. Again-I'm not saying you won't get good, dependable, average service at the Coral Reef (not saying you will either), I'm just saying after dining there a few times, not one of my servers or their service stood out as being particularly wonderful.

Menu Selection/Approachability: The Coral Reef does a good job of blending the familiar with some more adventurous ingredients but it I have to say I am a bit disappointed in the somewhat limited selection of seafood & fresh fish. In trying to work safe selections into a fairly small menu, slots that should be taken up with fish choices like Halibut, Red Snapper, Cod or even some sort of shellfish are instead filled by chicken, pork  and strip steak. I get that they have to have at least one vegetarian option and at least one beef option, but if I am going to eat at a ocean-themed restaurant-I expect more fish. But for groups with non-seafood eaters, the menu does allow for everyone in the party to find something. The appetizer selections are approachable, as are the desserts.

Execution/Food Quality: One of the positives for the Coral Reef is consistency. If you like a dish and if they have it when you return for your next vacation, chances are it will be just the way you remembered it. This is something I personally really like about a restaurant. Also the food always tastes fresh and I don't ever notice a fishy smell which signals less than fresh seafood. We have never had any issue with improperly cooked fish, but have had issues with steaks there. Plate presentation is rather simplistic, and for some dishes like the Sea & Land appetizer and the NY strip steak, a bit too simple for me. Again, perhaps they are hoping you're too busy looking at the shark swimming by to notice. The appetizer selection is a very nice mix of items and probably my favorite part of the menu. Dessert is limited, but what they do make-they do it well and there's something to be said for that. Overall the flavors are light and items are prepared well, but can be a bit boring. I think they would do well to bring back items such as the blackened catfish to the menu to liven it up a bit, but I think most people can find something to their liking on the current menu.

Value: With an average appetizer price of $10, average entree price of $24, and average dessert price of $8, the Coral Reef is a much more affordable option than other WDW restaurants that offer fish & seafood. Portions are a bit on the small side, but not so small you don't feel you are getting your moneys' worth. Also a lot of the similar dishes at other WDW restaurants are priced much higher so the Coral Reef can be a price conscious alternative. I think that it would be worth it to give this dining option a try at least once. The dining experience is quite unique and the food is consistently good.

And lastly I am giving the Coral Reef a transportation rating of 2. A quick ride on your resort bus or monorail will put you at Epcots front gates. Once inside the park walk to the center of the park then hang a right through Innovations and the Character Spot. Go right again toward the Living Seas with Nemo. If you are facing the The Living Seas, the restaurant will be tucked away to the right. Ask a CM if you are having trouble, but it's fairly easy to find.

My final word on the Coral Reef is it provides a reasonably priced, well executed meal. The menu is a bit tame for me, but perfect for slightly less adventurous eaters who want to have a one of a kind experience and reasonably priced meal. I would definitely consider giving it a try at least once.

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