Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vanishing Walt Disney World, #7

The focus of World Showcase and one of EPCOT Center's most key attractions, in 1982 as well as now, was to be its' diverse group of eateries gathered around that big lagoon and presented under the auspices of being representative of some kind of cultural gathering. The names were big: three famous chefs of France, Japan's largest department store, and that famous (to Americans) Italian eatery, L’ Originale Alfredo di Roma.

Alfredo di Roma had always been a contested eatery along the lagoon, some patrons finding it excellent and others thinking they'd rather go to an Olive Garden. The food was Italian rather than Italian-American, and perhaps presented to please a palette more Mediterranean than most people patronizing the eatery. For example, the famous dish of the place, the Fettucine Alfredo, is usually presented in America as pasta tossed in a heavy creamy cheese sauce. Most Americans' experience with authentic Fettucine Alfredo was probably at this establishment, which is simply butter and cheese tossed with hot pasta. The palette may have been more subtle, but tourists are not known for their love of subtlety. Alfredo di Roma closed September 1 of last year, and one more element of the original EPCOT was gone. Here's some photos taken on August 30, 2007:

A busy waiting room // One of the smaller dining rooms

The overfilled main hall

The legend of the golden fork and spoon, wall hanging in waiting room

Badly placed tables ruin the illusion.

Waiting for the last day....

I dined at Alfredo's once, in 20o5, and found the experience a mixed bag. Although the food was memorably positive and prepared with excellent presentation, the dining hall was loud and cramped to excessive capacity with tables. Tables were placed against walls in ways which did not flatter the beautiful wall murals, and the presence of a roaming band did not help the congestion. In much the same way Disney has crammed the sedate San Angel Inn full of tables, Alfredo di Roma was a nice eatery which left a less favorable impression of being stuck in a crowded subway car.

A more recent departure has been the Nine Dragons restaurant at the China pavilion, which closed on May 30 to renovate the eatery to present a more modern view of China and Chinese food. Unlike Alfredo di Roma, which was at least contested, nobody seems to have liked Nine Dragons much, most describing the food as mediocre and overpriced (a quick glance at the menu shows an abundance of food like General Tso Chicken at triple price you'd expect for what is, realistically, fast food type dishes. Of course this isn't uncommon, let's not forget Chefs de France's $22 lunchtime hamburger). But the interior of the eatery was cozy if a bit plain, with lots of dark carved wood divider screens and big windows which were one of the prime viewing locations for Iluminations for 26 years. One of the memories I have of my first EPCOT visit is of those big dark carved wood panels, and although in the interest of full disclosure I have not eaten there in the past few years, I have made several of their dishes and found them to be reasonably good. One of the tricky balances to maintain is the identity of World Showcase pavilions' simultaneous nod towards the traditional and the modern, which is why we now have a big modern Tokyo-style sushi bar inside a 16th century palace. If the tip towards a more brightly lit, "streamlined" 2008 appearance in EPCOT restaurants is deemed grating, we should also remember to look for the earmarks of 1982 elegance on all these original establishments, from the dark woods, lush interior plantings and gestures towards a quiet atmosphere. In short, these places were more opulent than authentic even when new. Here's what Nine Dragons looked like in February 2008.

Detailed ceiling in the entrance area.

The cozy interior one late afternoon day.

Time marches on....


L'il Phoenix said...

Now if only they'd make the Japanese food more authentic. Benihana-style teppan? COME ON.
My favourite restaurant at EPCOT is the Moroccan place with the show. It's secluded, a nice place to sit down, and the entertainment is great! Not to mention the delicious food...

Chuck Snyder said...

Nine Dragons wasn't open (or even yet built) in 1982. It came later. The area where it now stands was nothing more than a grassy little hill.

FoxxFur said...

Well that's strange, but right you are. Actually there was a path through the hill, but regardless... the Pavilion began originally at the department store.

Phoenix - I don't mind the Teppan tables, since they coexist with a more traditional sit-down eatery where you can get more traditional foods. You still can't get really exemplary sushi and neither place can hold a candle to Japanese eateries I know of in Orlando, but they are catering to tourists who may or may not have wanted to dine there in the first place.

Biblioadonis aka George said...

We ate at Alfredo's in 1994. We loved it.

In 1997, you could feel the difference.

By 2001, it wasn't the same.

Disney continued to crowd the restaurant with more tables.

On a much more related note, I do agree with the idea of hunting down some of the remaining touches and pieces of the original Epcot. You could turn it into a special tour!