Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak, Gawker’s chief restaurant critics, recently ate, drank, and gasped their way through every international pavilion and theme park attraction at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. This is their review.
The Best Restaurant in the World
Teppanyaki with communal tables
Rich: Everybody, I mean everybody, working at Japan was so polite and kind that I actually worried about them. Outside Teppan Edo, while killing time until the appointed hour of our reservation, I bought green tea from a stand that was stocked with an array of Japanese delights.
“Do you like green tea?” asked the man who rang me up.
“Yes,” I replied. After all, it was what I was buying.
“Wow, thank you very much,” he responded. It was then that I realized that I was being helped by none other than the inventor of green tea! “I drink it everyday,” he continued.
“Me too,” I said.
He then asked if it was OK if he placed a sticker on the tea to signify that it had been purchased.
I debated in my head this for a while and then said, “I’ll allow it.”
I think I made his day.
Caity: While all this was happening, I sat down because my leg hurt!
Epcot Japan’s main dining attraction is a Benihana-style Teppanyaki restaurant. Inside Teppan Edo, our waitress, Ena, smiled so hard at the end of every sentence that I became sad. It made me think of this Wikipedia article I read on Smile Mask Syndrome. Ena was unbelievably excited to show us to our seats. She was beyond thrilled when I ordered a Diet Coke.
Rich: She reminded me of Paula Patton, for some reason, and the sadness behind her smile made me think of how Paula Patton must have experienced the world during her breakup with Robin Thicke.
When Ena brought us our drinks, she bowed and said, “Thank you very much.”
Caity: Any time, Ena.
Rich: The pleasure is mine.
Caity: When you placed an order for scallops, it was the happiest day of Ena’s life. THEY’RE. HER. FAVORITE.
Rich: Ena has great taste in seafood and the items that she carries.
Because Teppan Edo is basically Benihana, we sat with other people—a family of what I believe were French Canadians.
Caity: The food, for my money, is not quiiiite as good as at Benihana. The chef patter is a little better.
Rich: But it’s a script! If you looked to the table on your right, you’d get spoilers: The oil poured on the grill in the shape of a Mickey Mouse; the clanging banging utensil tricks; the onion choo choo.
Caity: I don’t mind repeats. There are only so many things you can do with a rapidly cooking onion, and anything they did with one is much more than I’d do at home.
One of the French Canadians at our table was the coolest teen I’ve seen at Disney, and possibly in my entire life, which is why I was so relieved when something embarrassing happened to her. She looked to be about 15, and was wearing a newly-purchased black kimono with red and pink flowers on it. (All of the waitresses and female shopkeepers in Epcot Japan wear kimonos, by the way.) She had on dark wine colored lipstick, and no other make up. Hair in a low ponytail. A very intimidating child.
Rich: Her mom was aging extremely well. Really confident in her age but looking great. She could have been a Real Housewife, or at least a Mob Wife. The grandparents seemed miserable, especially the father.
Caity: At first, I did not realize the mom and kids (the aforementioned teen and a mischievous boy) and the elderly couple were all part of the same group. I thought the mother had ordered a bottle of wine for her to drink alone—or maybe give to her young children, European in the Canadian fashion.
Rich: Who says women can’t have it all?
These people were TERRIBLE at using chopsticks, as Ena gently exposed in a brief tutorial.
Caity: Just think of them as two tiny baguettes, guys.
In addition to my order of scallops that changed Ena’s life permanently for the better, I got the “Spicy Sushi Roll,” which was just spicy salmon and tuna in a roll with cucumber. Perfectly inoffensive and exactly what I asked for.
Caity: I asked for no appetizer. But what I got...was a memory! I tried sushi for the first time ever at Epcot Japan, and I loved it.
Rich: You’re living the life of an 11 year old. Baller.
Caity: I may have looked like I was on a honeymoon with my obviously gay husband, but I felt like a cool French Canadian girl on vacation with my family. The spicy sushi roll tasted like soy sauce (yum), because I put a ton of soy sauce on it (yum yum).
Rich: Yeah, that’s the secret.
Caity: I did not realize that sushi was merely a way for me to maximize my soy sauce intake.
Rich: At long last, you have unlocked an ancient Japanese tradition.
Caity: In retrospect, I wish we had told Ena it was my first time eating sushi. She would have fallen down.
Rich: She would have died. That actually would have killed her. She would have died as she lived: smiling so hard she was frowning.
I also got a Green Tea Martini, which I suspected I didn’t like very much, but it was so small that I ordered another to make sure. (Turns out I didn’t like it very much.)
Caity: I got an iced Japanese drink called Diet Coke. I think I had three or four. Trying new foods, such as a basic sushi roll, works up my thirst.
For my meal, I ordered the same thing as nearly everyone else in the restaurant: hibachi shrimp and steak.
Rich: That was another spoiler from the table across from us: all shrimp and steak everything always.
Caity: We must have heard over a dozen people order it. I don’t care! I love to play the favorites. When I watch the Olympics, I root for America.
Rich: I blended in like a local, ordering the exotic scallops.
Caity: Perhaps the most bizarre thing about Teppan Edo, apart from the fact it is almost identical to Benihana, is that the side of rice everyone receives by default contains beef.
Rich: That is weird. Just fry some rice, damn! I received white rice, after Ena thoughtfully inquired about my dietary restrictions immediately after we sat down.
Caity: I would have preferred beef-less white rice myself, but what they served was fine. A strange choice, given that the beef flavor was almost undetectable, but fine.
In addition to beef by default, Teppan Edo had two other things I have never seen at Benihana: a female grille chef and….an American one. Our chef, Kenta, introduced himself as being from Dallas, Tokyo.
He was quite clearly American, though fluent in Japanese. He was funny and charming and good on the fly. I later pieced together that he was born in Tokyo, and raised in Dallas.
Rich: His sense of humor was more cynical than most that you’d experience from behind such a grill. He decided the young boy was his least favorite.
Caity: If Seth Rogen were skilled in the Japanese art of Teppanyaki, he would be Kenta. He asked if anyone was there celebrating anything special and seemed disappointed when no one spoke up. I told him we could lie, and he immediately boomed “Happy birthday! Extra cabbage!”
He dropped a two pronged fork on the floor at one point. It was O.K.! It made Ena smile manically.
Rich: My favorite joke of Kenta’s was “low sodium” (pours soy sauce close to the noodles that were lying on the grill) and “high sodium” (lifts arm up to pour the soy sauce from an elevated point). Unlike the onion volcano, I’d never experienced that one before. I have been thinking about it a lot since I saw him do it.
Caity: I’d heard that joke, but I’d never met Seth Rogen, so it was still great for me. Another thing Teppan Edo does differently than Benihana is a style of plating I will call Noodlepalooza. Whereas Benihana gives you a big pile of grilled vegetables alongside your entree, Teppan Edo covers them in a thick blanket of noodles. Teppan Edo also provides three sauces, one-upping Benihanas two (mustard and ginger, plus a tasty but pointless mayonnaise concoction), and serves them in a single tray, instead of Benihana’s separate dipping dishes.
On the sauce front, Benihana clearly has Teppan Edo beat. The ginger sauce tasted good, but was too watery to stick to anything you dipped in it, and the mustard had no kick. Also: there was no way to pour only the delicious ginger sauce over your enormous bland pile of noodles without also coating them in mayo and mustard.
Rich: I liked the noodles O.K. It was like vegetable lo mein made with soba. Greasy, but not disgustingly so. I would have liked a bit more flavor, yeah, but that’s life at Epcot for you.
Caity: I didn’t really mind them, but I would have preferred more vegetables, unadorned.
Benihana is one of the only places on earth where I eat vegetables, and not because I order them. Epcot just isn’t big on vegetables.
Rich: Generally, you have to be proactive about your vegetable intake at Epcot. Kind of like in life.
As Kenta grilled the meat and fish, he would give each of us small portions of the other’s order. I liked that. “Yes, I WILL have some of Caity’s shrimp, and thank you for saving me the hassle of asking her for some and reaching over to her plate.”
Caity: When he gave you some of my shrimp, I was like:
but when he gave me one of your scallops I was like:
“This is nice :).”
Rich: The scallops were leaking their milky fluid long after they’d made their way from the grill to my plate, which I didn’t love, but they were good. The shrimp were even better.
After all the food was dished onto everyone’s plates, the communal conviviality vanished, and we were two separate parties once more. It was at that point that the cool French Canadian teen knocked over her soda, everywhere. I felt bad for her when that happened, but it also underscored my position as the coolest teen at the table. As they say in Canada: “That’s vie.”
For dessert, I got the “Chocolate Ginger Cake.” I was expecting something a bit like gingerbread with chocolate mixed in. It didn’t look like that (it looked beautiful, with distinct layers of cake, mousse, and icing), but it tasted pretty close. The ginger flavor was not overwhelming, which was just what I’d hoped for.
Rich: I got the smallest sliver of Green Tea Cheesecake, something I do not have the technology to make in my own kitchen. It was rich and perfect.
Caity: Just like you.
When Ena brought us our bill, she also placed a small pink origami rabbit on the table. “I made you origami,” she said. She did not make the French Canadians origami, perhaps because they had spilled Diet Coke.
Rich: Clearly, Ena reserved her hardest, most cringing smile for us. Made me feel special.
Caity: I also suspect she really did hand-make our origami, as we passed several more similar (but not identical) tiny pieces of origami at a hostess stand on the way out. Feeling emboldened by our first free gift, I asked a hostess if we might have one of those origami too. A dark look passed over her face and for a second I thought she might say no; then I realized she was just concerned that I did not know how to pull on the origami dragon’s tail to make its wings flap. (I didn’t! Thank you for showing me!)
Rich: She thanked us for taking her origami.
Caity: In Epcot you can just straight up point at something, ask if you can have it, and they will thank you for taking it.
Rich: That’s vie.
Is Everything OK?
Questions About the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Rich: I would go back to see all those old smiling faces that I grew to love and be concerned about.
Caity: I would go back to visit Ena because I get the impression she would really LOVE that!!!! Then I’d take her out to Benihana and say “See? Isn’t this a little better?”
Is it a good first date spot?
Rich: Yes! It’s basically dinner theater that you’re allowed to chat during. It’s actually THE most perfect place for a first date that we’ve ever visited, now that I think about it. Caity, can I be your obviously gay husband for real? Will you marry me?
Caity: Yes I will but only because I want my best friend in the entire world (Ena) to be there when I am proposed to. The pacing of a teppanyaki restaurant is not suitable for a first date. You eat your food in a constant stream of segregated nibbling. Now I nibble my vegetables for 5 minutes. Now I nibble my shrimp for 5 minutes. Now I nibble my rice for 5 minutes. Now I nibble my Diet Coke for 5 minutes.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Rich: No. It’s a communal experience. I know it’s a big country, but it’s a small world after all and you could get seated at the same table as someone you know or a tattletale. Then what?
Caity: Yes. This is exactly the kind of splashy, flashy restaurant in Epcot where I would expect someone to take their mistress.
Is it a good place to bring the cryogenically frozen corpse of Walt Disney?
Rich: Yes. I would take him and gladly accept my ration of his order, and then eat the rest of his when the chef wasn’t looking.
Caity: No. Would you take a snowman to a piping hot oven store?