Monday, December 3, 2012

Dinner at Be Our Guest Restaurant: The World's Fanciest Cafeteria?

The main dining room of Be Our Guest.

The other night, I was fortunate to join friends for dinner at the opening of the Be Our Guest Restaurant in the new Fantasyland expansion. The experience was a mixed bag:  Hits and misses with the food, enthusiastic service, and a beautiful setting mean that overall, I can see good things for the future of this restaurant.  Still, writing about it has been difficult, in part because we've been waiting so long and our expectations are perhaps a bit high, so bear with me while I try to accurately relate our first meal at this fantastic new addition to the Magic Kingdom.


Petals fall from this holographic rose in the west wing.

Service:

Service was efficient and friendly, if a little slow. Keep in mind this was the first night the restaurant was opened for advanced dining reservations, so the crowds were higher than they had been. As such, I would expect a few bumps. What I loved was that every cast member we interacted with, even those just waiting at the door, were clearly thrilled to be working there.  We've heard that competition to work at Be Our Guest was fierce and it's clear they've got some great people on staff.


Atmosphere:

It's hard to get a handle on just how pretty the main "ball room" is when you visit Be Our Guest, especially on a first visit when you're trying to take everything in. In a word, it's massive, which huge chandeliers that draw the eye upwards and frescoes on the ceiling.  A large bank of floor to ceiling windows occupies the end of the room. If you look closely, it appears the be snowing outside with mountains in the distance.  Two additional, smaller dining rooms flank the sides of the restaurant.  Gleaming marble floors, columns, and elegant carved furniture all tell you that this is more than just your average Disney restaurant.

The dessert cart circles the room like a shark.
A shark you're very happy to see.


If there's a problem with the main dining room, it's nit picky, but here it is: It's designed to replicate the ball room in the film and as such, it's huge. When you add table after table, it starts to resemble the world's fanciest high school cafeteria. What it desperately needs is something to break up the monotony of all those tables. It's minor, but table cloths would go a long way to making the tables look more elegant and high centerpieces would break up the room. The real solution, smaller sections of booths and tables, would of course defeat the purpose of the room. As it stands, it's still gorgeous--make no bones about it. But the overall effect is lost in a jumble of tables and chairs.

If you're planning a romantic night or just prefer a more elegant atmosphere, try the West Wing, which is dark and mysterious, with a holographic rose and a torn painting of the Beast. The Rose Gallery is also pretty, but we've been told it won't be open for dinner.  Since seating is first come, first served, you will have to ask to be seated in either room and you may have to wait.  As an alternative, ask to be seated near the windows at the far end of the ball room where the seating areas are smaller and more intimate. This area felt a lot like Blue Bayou in Disneyland.


The Rose Gallery.

Finally, keep in mind that the main dining room and the west wing are very dark. If you have difficulty seeing, now isn't the time to forget those reading glasses!


Each place setting comes with a rose-shaped napkin.

Food:

While our issues with service and atmosphere were minor, food was a very different story. Initially, when I thought about writing this review I wanted to stress that it was a new restaurant and that we shouldn't judge it too harshly, but a friend reminded me that they've been serving guests for weeks now--plenty of time to work out the kinks.  So bear with me while I wade through the good and the bad.

The idea here is French cuisine, but there's little that will remind you of dining in France since Disney strives make meals accessible to even the pickiest palates rather than going for authenticity.  Our group didn't mind this, as the menu was varied enough (despite being limited) that we were happy with the selections. Appetizers include French onion and potato leek soup, steamed mussels, and salads. Roast chicken, salmon, and steak round out the entree options with a substantial Ratatouille for the vegetarians.  Desserts were served from a pretty cart that rolls around the room.

We started with rolls and that wonderful European-style butter that Disney serves in most of its restaurants.  The rolls were warm with a crunchy exterior, a nice touch with the soups we ordered on this cold day. Both the French onion and the potato leek soup were good.  I could have made a meal out the soup and the bread and been very happy.

Next up, the entrees. All the adults settled on the poultry or the beef. The Rotisserie Cornish Hen is swerved with seasonal vegetables. It's a solid meal, but nothing spectacular.

Rotisserie Cornish Hen with Seasonal Vegetables.

We'd heard a lot about the steak and the flavor was delicious but the they were all improperly cooked. I ordered my steak medium and it came out well-done and proceeded to get more and more dry. It's too bad because the flavor was very good and at the right temperature, this steak would have been excellent.

Steak with pommes frites and seasonal vegetables.

The fries come with the steak are probably the best you'll have in any theme park and the dipping sauce, a truffle mayonnaise that's incredible. Even the kids at the table liked it. Speaking of the kids, one little boy's steak had to be sent back and we replaced it with the grilled chicken over pasta with veggies. This is a nice healthy change from some of the kids menus we've seen.


Kids meal with grilled chicken, pasta, and broccoli.

The dessert cart circled the room many times and naturally piqued our curiosity. I'm happy to say we were all happy with our choices, which ranged from cupcakes to cream puffs.


Cream puff.

A lot of times cupcakes made in big batches are visually appealing but dry and tasteless. These were all consistently good, especially the chocolate and the strawberry. I wouldn't hesitate to order dessert here again and at $3.99, it's an inexpensive treat.



Final Thoughts on Be Our Guest:

As I said, this restaurant was difficult to write about. All the anticipation only made it that much more difficult.  I love Disney and I try really hard not to offend Disney fans, but at the same time, I'm going to give an honest opinion. The fact is, the food was really inconsistent at Be Our Guest and the enthusiasm of the servers and the beauty of the room doesn't make up for that.  Some restaurants open at Walt Disney World and they're good from day one. Via Napoli comes to mind. This isn't the case here, but I'm willing to give it another chance.

Expect to pay around $45 per person for a drink, appetizer, entree, and dessert.   Given the prices and the fact that it's only one table-service credit on the dining plan, this meal is a very good use of your dining credits. I suppose the real question is, is it worth paying for it if you're not on the dining plan? I'm really happy that I went and I would not hesitate to recommend Be Our Guest to visitors. It's gorgeous and we've waited a long time for this.  Just go in knowing that you're there for the overall experience and that the food is secondary--at least for now.

If you'd you to hear our live review of Be Our Guest, please check it out here on the Mouse Chat site. You can listen there or on Itunes.

As always, special thanks to Donna and Bob Angelo for the pictures. I'm so glad I was able to visit Be Our Guest for the first time with both of them. You can follow Bob's Disney updates on Facebook here.