I think a proper challenge for any resident of Orlando (or perhaps adventurous tourist) is to dine at all of the pavilions located within Epcot’s glorious parade of countries, the World Showcase. It’s an expensive proposal (Mickey’s a cute mouse, but he loves money), but not impossible, especially if this lofty gastric quest is portioned out over an extended period of time. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, satisfying an itch for a theme-park-exclusive challenge and to wave an extended middle finger toward my personal foodie fraidy-cat nature. While I’ve visited a few of the countries in the past for eats, I’ve never actively pursued them all. It’s time to change that. The first stop was the famed Le Cellier, located inside the Canada pavilion.
The marketing materials list Le Cellier as “a setting inspired by the wine cellars of the grandest Canadian château-style hotels: Le Château Frontenac and Fairmont Château Laurier.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but the restaurant is perhaps the most coveted of all the World Showcase eateries. I was dying to finally learn why.
The great trick of Le Cellier and its tight reservation limitation is found in its size. Le Cellier is Le Tiny, resembling a generous hotel continental breakfast area -- hardly the open-wide grazing fields most Disney restaurants allow for. Thankfully, the décor and design of the area is magnificent, with a moody, deep oak appearance, illuminated by numerous “candles” (hundreds of fake flickering lights). It’s a rustic look meant to conjure the ambiance of earthy Canadian living, where people are friendly, hearty, and pronounce simple words funny. Being a near-lifelong Minnesotan, the amber outdoorsy/burial chamber vibe of the establishment was like greeting an old friend -- I was practically dry-humping the burly chairs and brass knobs. I was that excited.
The server was a clean-cut, embryonic Great White North citizen who only made a halfway decent pass at explaining the concept of Le Cellier, where the dining floor is apparently divided up into Canadian provinces and territories. He didn’t sell the fantasy with nearly enough zeal, leaving me in a state of confusion about the overall goal of the dining experience. Clearly the shadowy room (it's incredibly dark in there) was intended to tell a story, but it never came to light. Hopefully a return trip will clarify any Imagineer intention.
Le Cellier is a steakhouse, which is perhaps another reason for its popularity. Unlike the Morocco or German pavilions, Canada offers easily recognizable dishes intermixed with the chichi foodie thrill rides; a two-sided menu that keeps visitors in a state of posh eatery bliss and offers less refined palates an opportunity to heartily enjoy various (unfussy) grilled meats.
I wasn’t puffed up with an ideal amount of ordering gallantry the day I visited Le Cellier, clinging pathetically to familiarity by ordering the Grilled Steak Burger -- let’s face it, steakhouses do hamburgers wonderfully. I’m told steaks too, “but that’s another story…” I was curious to see how well the Disney chefs could pull off the simple life, and, boy howdy, they certainly did.
Before the main event, Le Cellier provides breadsticks to chomp on while eyes wander the walls on a hunt for design detail. One of which was a pretzel breadstick, making my dining companion hilariously excited. It was a swell change of pace from the hunks of Pepperidge Farm that are traditionally offered before meals.
Topped off with a house-made onion ketchup and cheddar cheese, the burger came to the table looking like a champ.
While constructed with the most basic of tools, the Steak Burger was a triumph, answering a prayer for grilled flavors and a rich meaty aftertaste. If these were basic theme park ingredients, Le Cellier turned routine into a delightful tasting experience, topped off with a small portion of thickly cut fries that were swarmed with salt, necessitating a few taps on the plate before consumption. A dry, flaccid pickle also joined the plate party and didn’t get much attention. If I may further the social gathering analogy, it’s as if the pickle brought a six-pack of Zima and wore a Nickelback shirt to the festivities. Nobody wanted to hang with the pickle.
My companion ordered the Maple Barbecued Chicken Sandwich, topped with Black Diamond cheddar (prompting me to hum the iconic KISS tune to myself) and pancetta. The sandwich was a moist concoction benefiting from an unusually massive chicken breast and the smoked punch of the pancetta. I fell in love with this menu item as well. Again, it was an unassuming food item given surprising life by kitchen wizards and a few faux-Canadian touches meant to please rubes like myself.
To complete the Le Cellier experience, dessert was in order. While I pushed for the Maple Crème Brulee, we decided on the Chocolate on Chocolate Whiskey Cake. Good heavens, what a great compromise. Expecting a sad lump akin to the cakes one finds at a hotel brunch buffet, the dessert finishing move presented to us was clearly a cut above the norm. Moist, ice cold (I loathe warm cake), and standing proud near a pool of “Honey-Thyme Anglaise and a Chocolate-Vanilla Walnut Sauce,” the cake was smashing success. Topping the heavy chocolate mound was a decorative Mickey jawbreaker, which we were warned not to eat by the server in a skittish manner that suggested a few dental-centric lawsuits were pending.
For the record, the jawbreaker tastes awful.
Boasting a gorgeous interior and exterior, Le Cellier was pretty much everything I was hoping for from this popular restaurant. Granted, this lunchtime excursion is hardly representative of the firepower the Canadians are holding behind the maple leaf, but it was a truly wonderful introduction to the joint, making the finest, most impeccably themed World Showcase pavilion shine all the brighter.
Some more pictures from the property…