With this week's opening of the new Fantasyland, dining options have expanded for guests at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom theme park.
Be Our Guest Restaurant is an expansive and well-coiffed French eatery based on the animated movie "Beauty and the Beast," and Gaston's Tavern is a small walk up eatery with no alcohol despite its name.
Be Our Guest is a trailblazer for Magic Kingdom: It is the first restaurant in the theme park's 41-year history to serve beer and wine at dinner and the first to offer quick service at lunch and a traditional sit-down meal in the evening.
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Earlier this week, I dropped by Be Our Guest for a quick look and lunch. The experience unfolds in true Disney story form. Guests see a castle high in the hills above the countryside as they pass through an old gateway to a stone bridge and through massive wrought-iron gates flanked by six beastly figures.
Lunch guests enter through the Armor Hallway, lined with suits of armor, and continue to the Beast's Parlor, where they are handed a plastic red disk with a rose design on top. Diners take the disk to one of five self-activated terminals and order their meals on a touch-screen and pay as directed.
Be Our Guest has three dining rooms that seat a total of 546 guests for lunch and 340 in the evening.
In the Rose Gallery, life-size figures of Belle and the Beast swirl atop an elevated giant music box in the center of the space. (This room is closed in the evening to accommodate the kitchen's expanded needs for traditional meal service.) In the dark West Wing, a bell jar holding an enchanted rose is the focal part. In the Ballroom, the 20-foot ceiling is painted with fluffy clouds and cherubs, and the windows reveal a light "snow" falling on the French countryside.
For lunch, we choose the Ballroom. Guests place the plastic rose on the table and fetch self-serve beverages from the drink station and cutlery from a nearby cart. The rose has a sensor that guides a server pushing a large cart filled with your food order to your table. We had barely sat down from the beverage run before our food arrived. There were a few cart traffic jams and the wheels on the hard floors add to the restaurant's noise level. (Parental warning: Hold on to your children's hands as you enter the West Wing. Food carts emerge from a dark corner and several servers had to break for oncoming small-fry traffic.)
We sampled the croque monsieur ($10.99), a classic French sandwich made with ham, Gruyere cheese and a creamy béchamel sauce. It was a fine ham and cheese sandwich with pommes frites (French fries), but it lacked some of the traditional elegance one expects at French cafes.
The braised pork ($11.99) lived up to its menu hype as a comforting version of coq au vin, a classic dish cooked in wine. The slow-cooked meat was sweet and tender and was served over mashed potatoes with onions, carrots, bacon, mushrooms and slender haricot vert, a variety of green beans.
The crock of French onion soup ($4.99) had a delightfully full-flavored beef broth.
For dessert there is a selection of indulgent cupcakes and cream puffs. My guest and I shared the moist lemon meringue cupcake ($2.99), a confection with a nicely restrained sweetness but a too-light touch on the citrus.
I am looking forward to returning for dinner for a full review.
However, at a media preview earlier this fall, I sampled the dinner menu's pan-seared salmon on leek fondue served with creamy saffron-crushed potatoes ($20.99). The fish was spot-on medium rare and the flavors and textures exceptionally balanced — a good indication of things to come.
The dinner menu also includes the iconic French beer Kronenbourg 1664, Belgian brews and 20 wines, almost all available by the glass. Alcohol is not allowed outside the restaurant.
Be Our Guest's menu, including the full beer and wine list, is posted at DisneyWorld.com.
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Be Our Guest
Where: Fantasyland in the Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park, Lake Buena Vista
When: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:45 p.m.; dinner 4-9 p.m.
How much: $14.99 and under at lunch; $15-$35.99 at dinner
Extras: Beer (from $6.25) and wine (from $8) during the dinner service, vegetarian options, children's menu
Credit: All major
Reservations: 407-939-3463 or disneyworld.com/dine.