Coral Reef, Disney’s Epcot, Orlando

My husband and I shared a memorable dinner at Coral Reef when we visited Orlando together several years ago. We ate at a low table right next to the giant tank that is part of the Living Seas exhibit. After our starters came (I had ordered a particularly fabulous duck confit salad), I was involved enough in my plate to ignore the goings-on in the aquarium–until my husband called my name and gestured towards the end of our table. There was a diver right on the other side of the glass, and he was looking at me and waving. I waved back. He rubbed his tummy and pointed at my plate, so I picked up the plate and offered it towards him. He waved again and swam off. And I continued on with the rest of my dinner, irrationally happy about the encounter with an anonymous SCUBA diver at my table.

I was eager to bring my son back to Coral Reef, because he loves aquariums and I knew he’d get a kick out of this one. Unfortunately, he’s best off when seated at a booth (he thinks he’s too big for a high chair, but he hates booster seats and in a booth at least we can wedge him between us and he won’t be able to jump up and down)–and Coral Reef’s booths are all at least one row away from the action. We managed to make the most of it, and when the diver showed up tonight he was accompanied by about 5 other divers–so I took my son up to the glass to wave at them. One with a particularly macabre sense of humor sported a pirate hook at the end of one arm and held a sign reading “Arr!” with the other hand.

As for the food, it has been some time since I ate in this restaurant, but I thought the dining choices were a lot tamer than I remembered them being in the past. Steak with mashed potatoes and broccolini? Check. Caesar salad? Check. There are some seafood dishes on the menu, and my husband and I ordered two of them for our entrees. (The little boy was clearly not in the sort of mood that would have allowed us to choose two courses, alas.) I had mahi-mahi with a cashew-studded rice pilaf, which was a little oversalted but otherwise acceptable. It was crowned with a pineapple relish and surrounded by a beurre blanc. My husband ordered the blackened catfish, which had a tomato compote of some sort on top and a bed of cheesy grits underneath. His catfish was excellent, and it heartens me to see catfish on any menu–it’s such a worthwhile form of seafood. I was sorry I hadn’t ordered it myself. I had a margarita that looked and tasted like the ones that one gets at any chain restaurant, but the decor was so retro that I couldn’t bring myself to look for a serious glass of wine.

The dining room itself hasn’t changed at all in the years since I’ve dined there, and, well, it’s starting to show. I do like the booths, which are curved banquettes with a very 1950s supper club vibe. The sparkly mosaic tile decor is looking a bit aged, as are the jellyfish lights in the hallway leading into the dining room. This also strikes me as one of the most child-populated of all the Disney fine dining restaurants, so be prepared if you enjoy a quiet meal–this is not your spot. (On the other hand, parents of 2 year olds who want a decent meal won’t have to worry if the kid starts shouting, “Ooh, turtle!” when one wanders through the tank.)

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