View Full Version : A Tale of Two (French) Restaurants (long)

OKW Lover
05-25-2010, 06:13 PM
It was the best of meals, it was the worst of meals. (With apologies to Charles Dickens) I couldnít help but think of the Charles Dickens story, A Tale of Two Cities after dining in the two restaurants in Epcotís France pavilion. To be fair, ďbestĒ still leaves room for improvement. Similarly, ďworstĒ still leaves room for further deterioration.

As many of you know there are two different table service restaurants in Epcotís France pavilion; Bistro de Paris (aka the upstairs restaurant) and Chefs de France on the ground level. Of the two, the Bistro is more up-scale in both food and price. Chefs is a more ordinary (but still beautiful) restaurant.

Both restaurants offer a regular menu and a Prix Fixe menu. For those that donít know, Prix Fixe is the term for a fixed price meal that includes a choice of appetizer, main course and desert. Typically a Prix Fixe menu will include your choice of 3 appetizers, 3-4 main courses and 3 deserts. Some will also offer wine pairings for an additional price.

By chance, rather than by design, Valerie and I ate at both the Bistro and Chefs on our trip to WDW in January. On Saturday, the day we arrived, the two of us had dinner at the Bistro de Paris. Three days later (yes, thatís Tuesday) we were joined by John and Christy Stangler for dinner at Chefís de France.

The two dining experiences couldnít have been more different. OK, thatís a bit of an exaggeration. Both menus are in French, with English subtitles. But, considering that our tables couldnít have been more than 40í apart horizontally and vertically, there was a huge difference in the food, ambiance, price and service.

Lets start with the best of meals - Bistro de Paris
Val & I were staying at Beach Club Villas on Saturday and we decided to see if we could get a reservation on short notice at a nice place in Epcot or nearby. Ordinarily we would have immediately picked Yachtsman Steak House. But we already had reservations there for Monday night. Time to branch out. We had done Bistro before but it had been a couple of years ago. We enjoyed it then so we decided to see if we could get reservations there on short notice. Sure enough, we wound up with a 6:30 reservation at Bistro de Paris.

We arrived a bit early for our reservation, getting there shortly after 6:00 pm. Check-in at the podium was swift and we were invited to sit in a very nice, but small, waiting area. About 10 minutes later our name was called and we were led upstairs.

For those who havenít been to Bistro, the room is absolutely gorgeous. But I did think that they could have done without the abundance of large wine bottles (apparently empty) around the restaurant. Otherwise, this is an elegant setting. Oh, and apparently there are many folks who believe the ďdress codeĒ doesnít apply to them at the Bistro as well. While most of the patrons were fairly well dressed, we also saw a large number of folks in jeans (not designer versions, but dungarees instead), short shorts and abbreviated tops.

But ďWhat about the actual dining experience?Ē you ask. Marvelous. Our waiter quickly introduced himself, presented the menus and wine list and asked for our drink order. At that point, Val & I did not know what we were going to eat so we just asked for water while we studied the menu. While we did this the waiter brought our water and an assistant waiter placed a freshly baked mini-baguette on our bread dishes. We perused our menus at leisurely pace, having a great deal of difficulty deciding on what to eat. In the end, we both opted for the Prix Fixe menu, with the wine pairings. Before our appetizers, we were brought a complimentary Amuse Bouche (a ďsmall biteĒ intended to whet the appetitie), but sadly neither Val nor I made a note of what this was. I do recall that we enjoyed it though!

For appetizers, Val ordered the sauteed tiger shrimp with tandoori spices, fennel and micro greens salad. She was very pleased with her choice and graciously offered me a taste, albeit a small one, of one of the shrimp. It certainly was good. I ordered the escargot, which were described on the menu as snails and mushrooms cassolette with garlic butter and croutons. That probably sounds better in french. For some reason though, I was expecting the more traditional presentation of the escargot swimming in a pool of garlic butter. As actually presented, it was more of a snail soup with the escargot in a somewhat milky broth. Nonetheless, it was excellent. But you really need to like escargot for this one. Most people I know simply order escargot as an excuse to have lots of garlic butter. If thatís you, you will be disappointed in this dish.

On to the main course. Valerie ordered the pork tenderloins stuffed with mushrooms and wrapped with bacon, while I ordered the beef tenderloin. Both were beautifully presented and we both shared a taste of the otherís food. To be truthful, Val made the better choice on this course. Her pork tenderloins were simply delicious. Not that my beef tenderloin wasnít good though, because it was, its just that herís was so good. When we go back, thatís what Iím ordering the next time. Oh yes, the assistant waiter came back during the meal to place a freshly baked dinner roll on our bread plate to go with the meal.

Now, I just mentioned that Val made the better choice of entree, but for desert, we agreed that I got the better choice. Val had the warm chocolate and almond cake, crispy, fluilletine and white chocolate mousse with praline sauce. It was very good. I had the creme brulee sampler which was actually an assortment of creme brulee type dishes. There was a traditional creme brulee, a creme brulee ice cream, and a rice pudding with a very sweet creme brulee type flavor. Very small portions, but very satisfying.

Sorry not to mention the wine pairings. We unfortunately did not make a note of the wines because I was planning on bringing home a copy of the menu anyway. However when we left, we forgot to save a menu. Suffice to say that the wines were paired well with each of the courses we ordered.

Now youíre probably wondering how much this cost. Yes, it certainly was an expensive meal. The Prix Fixe menu is $59, or $89 with wine pairings. We have the Tables in Wonderland card so we got 20% off, but even so after tip the meal was approximately $200 for the two of us. We added a bit onto the 18% standard tip because of the good service we got at this restaurant. Not cheap, but certainly a memorable meal.

Now, on to the worst of meals - Chefs de France
Val & I had met up with John and Christy for dinner on Sunday night at Celebration. We had a great time talking with them and at the end of the night we made loose plans to stay in touch and perhaps meet up again while we were there. It turned out that we didnít have anything special planned for Tuesday night so, after checking with them, we made a 7:30 reservation for Chefs de France. I should mention that Val & I had recently had lunch at Chefs. We ate there with Mike, Christie and Ian during the DAP trip in December and had been very favorably impressed with the lunch offerings.

We arrived about 15 minutes early at this restaurant and gave our names at the podium. There was a large crowd of folks waiting to dine there and it appeared to be a bit disorganized. I was not at all sure we were going to hear them call our name. However, after waiting for about 20 minutes our name was called and we were led to a room in the atrium on the right of the restaurant. The restaurant was very busy but we were greeted reasonably promptly by our waiter who took our drink orders while we looked over the menu. In my opinion it took a little too long for the drinks to actually arrive, but we were just getting started and were chatting at the table so it really wasnít too bad. In the end, three of us decided to go with the Prix fixe menu and John decided to order off the menu.

Although it goes against my grain, we gave our waiter our appetizer and main course order at the same time. I normally donít do this because it so often results in the main course coming about 2 minutes after the appetizer is served so it sits there cooling while we finish our appetizer. In this case however, that was not a problem at all.

For appetizers, we each ordered something different with John passing on an appetizer. Christy ordered the French Onion Soup, Val ordered the Salade au bleu (Romaine hearts, blue cheese dressing, bacon, walnuts, croutons) and I ordered the lobster bisque. I enjoyed the lobster bisque, but it was by no means as good as the version served at Yachtsman Steak House (where we had eaten the night before). Valís salad was rather tasteless, apparently because they had forgotten the blue cheese dressing. Christy shared her French Onion Soup with John and they both thought that you can get a much better French Onion soup at Panera. Service at this point was a bit slow and non-attentive.

For the main course; Val ordered the half all-natural roasted chicken with rissole potatoes and grilled tomato. Christy and I ordered the Beef Short ribs braised in Cabernet with pasta, pearl onions and mushrooms, while John ordered the Skewered scallops, mahi mahi and black tiger shrimp served with mediterranean herb coulis, grilled tomato and black pearl rice.

I mentioned above how I typically do not order my main course at the same time as my appetizer. I neednít have worried. It took an inordinately long amount of time for our main courses to appear. While they were presented nicely (once the assistant waiter figured out who got what), the meals themselves turned out to be a disappointment.

Valís chicken was rather bland and the vegetables had apparently been cooked for a month and a half. Both Christy and I felt that our beef short ribs were passable, but should have been better. Perhaps if the chef had used a bit of seasoning (oh, say some salt and pepper maybe) it would have helped. But even stranger was Johnís meal. He picked at it rather quietly and had a couple of shrimp left over when he was done. At this point a lady at the next table leaned over and asked what he had thought of the dish. He said it wasnít very good as it didnít have much taste. The lady had asked since she had the same meal and was wondering if it was just her. So, this wasnít an isolated experience.

Well, on to desert. For the three of us that had the Prix Fixe meal our choices were Creme Brulee, Profiteroles or chocolate-mousse cake with vanilla ice cream. Val & Christy had the cake, while I went for the creme brulee. Normally Iím hard pressed to pass-up anything chocolate, but the creme brulee that I had on Saturday night was still on my mind so I decided to go for that. After another long wait, our deserts arrived and again, we were disappointed with them. The creme brulee was nearly tasteless, to the point where I didnít finish it. Christy and Val both tried a bite and agreed that somehow this simple dish had been botched. With Creme Brulee typically one of two things can go wrong; either they burn the sugar (rather than merely melting it with the torch) or they let it sit after having torched it to the point that the crust becomes soft. However, in this case neither was the problem - it was just a blah, flavorless custard that couldnít be saved by a sweet topping. OK, so Iíve gone on a bit too much about creme brulee. What about Valís chocolate cake you ask? Another disappointment. For a supposed chocolate-mousse cake this was dry and had precious little chocolate taste to it. Val was kind enough to give us all a taste and we were all sorry that she did.

The bill for this meal (without wine) for Val & I was significantly less than the Bistro at $80 after TIW, but including tip. Because of the poor service, we did not add anything beyond the standard 18% that gets automatically added.

Overall, this meal was puzzling. As I said at the start, weíve eaten at Chefs for lunch and been very happy with it. That we could have such a poor experience at dinner just doesnít make sense. But, given the comments from the table next to us, it wasnít just an isolated event. John posed a good question, is this really French cooking? As he says, the French usually cook with a lot of sauce and cream and we didnít see anything on the menu like that. It just seemed very Americanized, but with French names. Perhaps they went too far in dumbing down the food at this place. Iíll look forward to hearing other reviews of dinner at Chefs, but for now its off our list.

05-26-2010, 12:44 PM
Question: at Bistro, did you guys have 3 courses or 4 courses? (Not including the amuse bouche.) I count three, but if I remember right, we had 4 courses with the prix fixe.

05-26-2010, 03:18 PM
Great reviews!

OKW Lover
05-26-2010, 05:18 PM
Question: at Bistro, did you guys have 3 courses or 4 courses? (Not including the amuse bouche.) I count three, but if I remember right, we had 4 courses with the prix fixe.

It was 3 courses at Bistro.

05-29-2010, 05:35 PM
I have to agree with you on the differences between Bistro and Chefs de France. We got the joy of eating at Bistro after the Princess Half. Its a night and day experience. Loved amouche and just slow pace of dining.

OKW Lover
05-29-2010, 07:26 PM
I'm hoping that our meal at Chef's that night was just an off-night. We've eaten there for lunch several times and have always been happy with it then.

We were really struck by the real contrast between the two places.

05-29-2010, 09:44 PM
You have the exact opinion on the creme brulee at Chefs as me. Actually, I wrote a review about the tasteless dessert just yesterday.

05-29-2010, 11:00 PM
I haven't gone to Chefs in a while, but I think typically it's been "just ok" for me. I did go to Bistro last October, and I enjoyed my meal there. I posted the review and food porn in the Gluttoberfest review. I liked that they had some tableside "bells and whistles" in addition to the food.

And if you read my link, you'll also might be laughing at the passive aggressive conversation I eavesdropped on going on next to my table. :laughing:

OKW Lover
05-30-2010, 06:35 AM
I've been meaning to read some of your reviews for a while - I think I'll go do that now!

05-30-2010, 09:00 AM
While we have not yet had a chance to dine at Bistro, we have had the same experiences at Le Chefs. We had dinner there a couple of trips ago and were completely underwhelmed and could not for the life of us figure out what made people so ga-ga over it on the boards. I had the short ribs and DW had steak and both were bland, unoriginal, uninteresting, and barely passable. We both enjoyed the onion soup and bread, and our dessert was ok but not great (apple crepe). All in all it was a most forgettable meal and we had zero desire to go back. We've had better food at Sunshine Seasons. We broke down on our last trip and tried them for lunch and had a wonderful meal. However, I did have the creme brulee with lunch and found it to be the same: zero flavor. How can a "French" restaurant possibly serve creme brulee that is completely flavorless? The texture was fine, the crust was properly burnt, but the custard itself had zero taste - it was just bland egg custard with no sugar or vanilla flavor at all. I did enjoy the lobster bisque (will have to try it at Yachtsman next time we are there - I passed on the opportunity a couple of weeks ago) and the ham & cheese sandwich was outstanding. I still doubt we will return for dinner any time soon - if ever unless they make major changes - but we would gladly return for lunch.

Robert P
06-03-2010, 02:50 PM
Thank you for that comparison, and for both reviews. You have echoed my sentiments exactly regarding Chefs.

06-03-2010, 07:29 PM
It was 3 courses at Bistro.

That's disappointing. In February '09 we had 4 courses: http://www.disboards.com/showpost.php?p=30376190&postcount=59

And I personally love lunch at Chefs, but it's weird, something happens between lunch and dinner there. I've heard a lot of complaints about dinner, but never lunches!

08-28-2010, 02:16 AM
I was in Chefs in may for lunch and thought it was excellent. I had the french onion soup and the ham and cheese sandwich.

But I'm bumping this up because I'll be at Bistro in another two weeks and the reviews on this place are scant. But I'll be bringing a camera when I go ;)

OKW Lover
08-28-2010, 06:53 AM
Funny you should mention Chef's at lunch. We've done that before and been very happy with that meal. That's one of the reasons I decided to write this review - the experience was so different. We're still scratching our head about how different dinner at Chef's was.

08-31-2010, 08:21 PM
We also had dinner at Chefs last December and had some of those same dishes. The prix fixe menu: bleu cheese salad/bacon walnuts/croutons was good; roast chicken was fair/potatoes inedible-overcooked by about two days; the creme brulee-good texture but little flavor-husband didn't eat his and he never turns down dessert. I had to insist on another roll at the start because mine was impossible to cut or break open. Tables were jammed together and we were expected to climb or slide down a banquette seat past an empty table to get to ours which we refused to do.(Too old for that, ha) Waiter was actually pretty nice but very hard to make him understand us. Good thing I knew a tiny bit of French. I will try Chefs again because some people have loved it but not this next trip. If you have ADR's just be prepared and order carefully. Also, I'm afraid some people are intimidated because it's Disney. Just know you can send something back, or ask for a steak to be cooked more, ask for a different side, etc. YOU are the guest!

08-31-2010, 09:44 PM
oy! now I'm worried:scared1: I have Chefs booked for dinner on our upcoming vacation because my DBF sisters are coming and they specifically picked this restaurant to want to go to (it is their first trip) Since I wanted to share the Dining experience I let everyone coming pick their own place so this will be a new one for us and I have an open mind but so many similar bad reviews has me rattled...I hope it turns out okay and everything is edible. I'd hate to think I am going off my strict healthy diet for less than stellar food...

09-01-2010, 12:20 AM
Just changed my reservation to lunch lol! I read good things about lunch and I am just not willing to take the chance with dinner;)

09-01-2010, 10:39 AM
Just changed my reservation to lunch lol! I read good things about lunch and I am just not willing to take the chance with dinner;)I think you made a good decision.

09-01-2010, 01:52 PM
This pretty much echoes my experience with Chefs. I have never tried lunch, but after a truly lackluster dinner with some arrogant service issues, I have never felt any urge to try another meal there.

09-11-2010, 08:02 PM
We are trying Chefs for the first time on our upcoming trip. I am sad to read that so many are unhappy with it! We DO have a lunch reservation, so I hope that helps... but still... very disappointing! I was looking forward to it a lot.

09-12-2010, 06:52 PM
This is good info to know. We ate at Chefs for dinner and thought our food was bland and underwhelming as well. Maybe we will give it another try at lunch time.