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Chefs de France
Review by Debra Martin Koma, Senior Editor
Occasionally, I have to revisit Walt Disney World restaurants that I haven't been to in a while. Yes, I have to force myself to go out to eat -- it's all part of the job, ma'am.
So on a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I decided to stop in at two World Showcase restaurants that I hadn't dined at in a long time -- the San Angel Inn in the Mexico pavilion, and Chefs de France, in the France pavilion.
I had in fact only dined at San Angel once before, and that was for lunch. My 14-year-old son, companion for the trip, has recently become a typical teenager, willing to eat anything and everything in sight, so he was keen to try a Mexican dining experience, even though he's never been a fan of the South-of-the-Border cuisine before.
The night that we ventured to the restaurant, in its very romantic setting inside the Mexican pyramid, was during the very busy end of summer and the free Dining Plan that you've probably been hearing so much about. We, however, were cash-paying customers - not on the Dining Plan, which we let our server know right up front.
We'd been hearing things about decline in quality and service since the inception of the Free Dining program, so we were a bit wary as to what we would experience. Our server, however, soon put our fears to rest. She greeted us cheerfully, although it was clear she was waiting on a number of crowded tables around us, and brought us our drinks quickly. We ordered the Nachos (tortilla chips topped with red sauce, melted cheese, chorizo, jalapenos, tomatoes and sour cream) for $8.25 as an appetizer and then sat back to watch the smoldering volcano and the hubbub around us. We waited, and waited, and waited some more, beginning to worry that perhaps our service wasn't going to be so great after all, but then the nachos arrived, all hot and gooey cheese and crunchy corn tortillas with a generous sprinkling of spicy jalapeno peppers and tomatoes.
I was afraid that our entrees would arrive on top of the appetizer, but our server made sure that we weren't rushed and paced the dishes accordingly. When our entrees did arrive, we were delighted with them.
The Mole Poblano ($19.99) came with a grilled chicken breast atop what was nearly a stew, really, of small chicken chunks, carrots, and chayote chiles, in a slightly spicy sauce of poblano peppers, spices and just a whisper of chocolate. The large chicken breast was a bit on the dry side, but the flavorfulness of the dish nearly made up for that shortcoming.
My son tried the Chef's Suggestion Brocheta de Mariscos ($22.95). Small but tender grilled, marinated scallops were alternated on a skewer with chunks of moist mahi mahi, green peppers, and onions. On the side was a zucchini boat stuffed with a mix of diced potatoes, spicy chorizo sausage and melted cheese, and it all was served on a bed of tender Spanish rice. Even my son, who is not a fan of overly spiced foods, deemed the dish a winner.
For dessert we split (OK, my son ate most of it) the Flan de Vanilla, a creamy custard resting in a very sweet syrup, and generously dusted with roasted almonds ($5.75). It was a perfectly light and delicious way to end what was, overall, a very satisfactory dining experience. In a nutshell, we'd eat here again.
The next evening, we went around the World (World Showcase, that is) to have dinner in France, this time joined by my husband.
Again, we found the restaurant to be amazingly crowded -- even with reservations we had quite a wait, and we overheard the greeter turning away many disappointed diners who had not called in advance.
Once we were seated, however, we were treated like royalty. Our server asked us as we sat whether we were on the Dining Plan, and we of course told him we were not -- whether this influenced his treatment of us, I can't say, though, because he seemed to treat all the customers at his stations with the same pleasant, low-key manner.
each began our meal with a starter, with my husband choosing the dish
I knew he would - the Cassolette d'escargots de Bourgogne au beurre
persille ($9.95). That's right, he had the snails. The dish, with the
little individual compartments for each of the escargot, featured six
of the little creatures from Burgundy, baked in a parsley-garlic butter
blend. Although their texture is quite chewy, they don't have much taste
themselves -- but the sauce packs quite a potent garlicky wallop.
The Tarte a la tomate et fromage de chevre ($9.25) (that's Tomato and goat cheese tart, to you and me) is the French take on a pizza. The dollops of white chevre on the bright red tomato sauce made a lovely presentation, and the tart itself was long on flavor.
My Salade de chevre chaud ($7.95) had gorgeous fresh greens, hearts of palm, radicchio and tiny red tomatoes, but the tiny square of baked cheese left me craving more. They could have been a little more generous with the chevre for nearly $8.
The quality of our entrees was equally mixed. My son's Demi poulet fermier a la broche, pommes puree au basilic et tomate braisee ($23.95) was well-prepared and savory, although not unlike the chicken we grill ourselves at home. The healthy portion of farm-raised rotisserie chicken was moist and nicely accompanied by a side of basil-flavored mashed potatoes and a braised tomato.
The Brochette de fruits de mer ($26.95) was also a nicely prepared dish. Sole, salmon and scallops, took their places on the skewer that was plated atop a rich lobster sauce. The dish was perfectly accompanied by a faintly oniony leek flan. My cod stuffed with lobster mousse (the Cabillaud en croute de legumes $25.95), was a lackluster dish, however. The pale tomato and zucchini slices that served as garnish were just as tasteless as the bland white fish itself. Served with spinach (before the E. coli scare) and an unpleasantly acidic tomato coulis, this entree left much to be desired.
After a somewhat mixed dining experience, we opted to view IllumiNations instead of trying dessert, and found the gratification for our sweet teeth later in the evening at the BoardWalk's Seashore Sweets shop.
Sometimes this job isn't all it's cracked up to be.