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Guest Review: Bistro de Paris in Epcot’s France

Join me in welcoming R. A. Pedersen with an in-depth review of dinner at Bistro de Paris in Epcot’s France Pavilion!

I’ll give you fair warning – as an Epcot historian I can’t help but link this review to the history of the park as a whole. I’ll try to keep it light though, perhaps an anecdote you can tell over candlelight between courses during your next visit.

Bistro de Paris Story and History

There’s a bit of humor and history in the name of the Bistro de Paris at the France Pavilion in Epcot. In French culture a “Bistro” is more typically a small, less formal establishment than a standard restaurant. A good comparison would be along the lines of an English pub; in fact, the hearty bar food would be quite comparable to the sort of cuisine they serve: typically casseroles and simple comfort foods.

So why is the high-end restaurant in the France pavilion, the darling of the famed Chefs de France (Paul Bocuse, Gaston Lenotre, and Roger Verge), called a bistro?

Bistros in France were carved out of the basements in apartment buildings in order to feed the masses. Essentially the space was created from nothing to fulfill a need — and so goes the story in Epcot as well.

The France pavilion opened in 1982 with a small pair of restaurants amid its mansard roofs: the lower-level Chefs de France, and a connected exterior sidewalk café, Au Petit Café. Additionally guests could grab a croissant or baguette from the bakery section of Chefs de France via a grab-and-go area configuration with glass cases. This setup was not adequate to meet demand.

The restaurants of the France pavilion would be fully booked by noon via touch-screen reservations at the WorldKey kiosks located in the post-show area of Spaceship Earth. At that point, reservations were only allowed to be made same-day in-park a the WorldKey Information Service kiosks, and they still sold out within hours of opening.

The press and critical reviews had lauded the French and Italian pavilions as having the best food in the park and dining at one was seen as almost requisite for the EPCOT Center experience. The popularity obviously noted, contracts were drawn up and both pavilions and their sponsors committed to expand their dining offerings.

At this point the histories really diverge –- the Italy pavilion sponsorship becoming rocky because of the lack of follow through, while the France pavilion made major changes to its offerings. Italy could have simply expanded in one of the open spaces in its pavilion plot. The France pavilion, on the other hand, never had much space to spare. Where to go, but up?

Offices above the Chefs de France restaurant were vacated and the Bistro de Paris was born –- of found space and necessity –- and the Chefs de France restaurant itself expanded outward consuming and enclosing Au Petite Café. The bakery was also relocated to become the free-standing Boulangerie Patisserie at the rear of the pavilion, allowing Bistro de Paris to create a dramatic spiral staircase entry.

Stairway to Bistro de Paris

Atmosphere

While the French pavilion as a whole is meant to evoke La Belle Époque — or “the beautiful time” –- of a romanticized Paris at the turn of the century, the Bistro de Paris takes on the most subtle of design styles popular at the time. It’s a very restrained art nouveau look, with subtle calls to the flower petal motifs and whiplash style distinct to the movement.

Art Nouveau Style Staircase

In fact the interior is so regimented and utilitarian aside from the accents that it seems almost neo-classical with art nouveau thrust upon it. It is well handled, though, the color scheme staying light. If they had gone with dark wood and heavy fabrics it would actually look much more akin to the namesake bistros in France.

Bistro Dining Room

It’s also quite small. Being re-utilized space, the waiting area only has four chairs. If you have a party of five, someone is going to be standing. Only for a moment though, as the restaurant is not known to overbook and seeks to quickly seat patrons.

Fun with flash after the restaurant has cleared out.

For our 8pm dinner my party-of-two was brought to a small table both in a corner and aligned with the windows overlooking World Showcase lagoon. It seemed the 8pm-ish reservations were the parties put at the windows in anticipation of the fireworks to come later in the evening. We counted ourselves quite lucky for that unplanned perk.

Table with a View

The rest of the restaurant really doesn’t have a view out the windows –- they are small casement windows not purpose-made for sweeping views of the lagoon. Rather, they were likely designed just to provide some natural light in the previously housed offices while being minimized in size for a bit of forced perspective on the façade. It’s a bit dim –- witty in the use of space, but dim nonetheless.

Lighting at the tables in the evening is almost entirely by candlelight atop the tables with sparse frosted fixtures giving just a slight boost to the glow. While this was far from conducive to photography (short of blinding other patrons excessively with flash) it did create a nice mood.

Candlelight

Lighting

Luckily the last review of Bistro de Paris on this blog by AJ was attended earlier in the day with daylight streaming in. The interior has changed little if at all since that review was written so I’m quite relieved someone was able to adequately photograph it.

You’ll likely notice the tables are quite close, but not uncomfortably so. You can spy on other diners though; in my case Tom Bricker and his other half were just finishing dinner as I was seated nearby.

Why hello there Tom!

The smallness of the space would be more apparent if the atmosphere wasn’t so subdued from the usual bustle of Walt Disney World. There are no screaming children here, no one’s talking on their cell phone, and everyone’s afraid to take flash photos because they think they’ll look a bit crass.

It’s not stuffy at all though, just a smidge more refined than the usual theme park dining experience. Nothing shows up with forks you can’t identify for use. No, that’s reserved for spoons.

Eats

Being my first experience at the restaurant I decided to go full-gusto into it and went with the Prix Fixe menu of three courses along with the optional wine pairings. At $95 it’s not a bargain, but not above what I’d expect to pay for a nicer meal with alcohol in a theme park.

Sample Bistro de Paris Menu Hangs Outside the Restaurant

Compliments of the chef we were treated to an amuse-bouche (literally: to amuse your mouth) of Parmesan soup along with a mini French baguette. It’s strange to describe a cheese soup as light, but it was.

And though I dread culinary foam as it rarely looks or tastes good, it was a nice touch atop the soup and aided the airy texture. It was almost like a well-frothed cappuccino made of cheese.

Amuse-Bouche

This is where the odd utensil comes in. A tiny spoon with a swirly handle came with the little shot of soup. To further complicate the issue the small porcelain soup dish had a little appendage on the rim much akin to a tiny petal handle. It even had a handy thumb indent.

Was I supposed to grip it and power down the soup, or was I supposed to daintily slurp it from the pretty spoon that held less than half a teaspoon of contents at a time? I tried both methods in the thankfully dark environment and no one seemed to notice or care that I was obviously doing it wrong at least 50% of the time.

Complimentary compliments dispatched, my actual appetizer (prelude, if you’re feeling French today) arrived the moment I had given up on trying to figure out the soup: Serrano ham, celery root remoulade, and artichoke hearts paired with Bourgogne, Mâcon, Bouchard Aîné & Fils, 2008.

Serrano Ham

Pretty isn’t it? There’s a crusty sort of bed of some bread-crumb item down at the bottom topped with the celery and then the salad of ham, field greens, and very thin slices of beet.

As a person who hates celery I was not expecting to like this menu item –- rather I went into it fully expecting to nibble the ham off the top. Instead I was quite surprised and devoured all of it. I’m not even particularly fond of field greens.
The celery remoulade had a consistency I’d liken to a good tuna fish sandwich –- it held together and the pieces were so finely chopped that it avoided big-honking-chunk syndrome. Well balanced and enjoyable.

As for the wine, it complimented both the precursor soup and prelude well. It was light with a fruity aroma and what I’m told were “hints of citrus, mint, and honeysuckle in the nose.” As for the palate it was enjoyably crisp, and apparently has notes of grass and flower with what some call a seductive “spontaneity” –- whatever that means. I enjoyed it.

Plates cleared, forks replaced, and it was time for the Grilled Beef Tenderloin with mushroom “crust’, Bordelaise sauce, and mashed potato. The accompanying wine for the course was Bordeaux, Clarendelle, by Haut Brion, 2005.

I don’t like red wine. I’ll put that upfront right now so you can judge me quietly from a distance. However, I enjoyed this wine. I’m not sure if it was the “long finish” or the “velvet tannin,” but I distinctly did not hate my first experience with the Clarendelle.

Grilled Beef Tenderloin

As for the beef –- cooked medium –- it was rather enjoyable. As you can see, I didn’t really wait to take the photo and was fully enjoying my dining experience enough to forget about blogging for a moment.

Aside from the fact that it was beef and cooked properly, there’s not much you can say about beef. It tastes like beef. The crust and sauce did compliment well and weren’t too heavy or overpowering.

The potatoes were the disappointment, if anything. They were served on the side in a small separate dish. They seemed like an unnecessary afterthought and I barely touched them. You can make out the frilly doily beneath the potato cup in the photo — it’s mashed potatoes, no amount of lace is really going to class it up or make it remarkable.

And onto dessert, where I had completely forgotten to take a photo because between the main course and dessert, Illuminations up and happened. Right outside my little window –- as if it was just for me.

IllumiNations

Seriously, what dessert could compare to that? Regardless, the Warm Chocolate and Almond Cake with feuilletine, vanilla ice cream, and praline sauce was enjoyable. AJ had the same dessert when she was at the bistro so there’s not much to add other than that feuilletine essentially is the little crispy bits sort of like crushed ice cream cone. Bakery shards really, not to be confused with the praline, which is more a sugar-based candy construction.

Chocolate Souffle

There was noticeable discord in the final wine pairing: Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut. As a champagne itself: delish. Served ice cold and bubbling happily. Against a very sweet chocolate based dessert? It became bitter in contrast. Alas, the world cannot all be perfect.

The consensus at the table was that a rather sweet dessert wine, perhaps even a five point royal tokaji, would be in order. But that’s not exactly French so perhaps either order the cheese plate as well, to cleanse the palate, or just down the flute of champagne before touching dessert.

Overall

A wonderful adult experience amid the princess-dress up-playtime that the Walt Disney company seems to want to market the whole Walt Disney World resort as exclusively being. There was a time where higher-end dining was more prominent in the resort, with a stricter dress code (and Bistro still has one); but it’s accommodating to the modern tourist as well. Seriously, who packs a suit jacket to go to Walt Disney World? No one; that’s why they changed the rules. But if you want to escape and a feel a bit pampered with some slightly froofy but accessible food, it’s really an experience.

The prices? Eh, it’s a little much for what it is. In fact, between October and February the price on nearly every menu item had gone up. Some entrees have gone up as much as $5 with only minimal changes in the preparation and presentation. The wine pairing works out to $12 a glass.

Going into the experience being unaware of the old pricing, realizing it only during this write up, I don’t think I was sticker shocked or disappointed. The other substitutions and changes made to the menu seem like positives to me; you can peruse it yourself and decide if you agree. If anything, there’s aspic — a long forgotten ingredient that was still popular in the 70’s you could find on many menus at Walt Disney World when it opened. It’s like nostalgia in gel form.

View of Fireworks

Even if you don’t care about the history, refuse to heed the mostly glowing reviews, and know nothing of namesake chefs who operate the location, there’s still much good to be had in what it offers. It’s the mildly hoity-toity French dining experience you want it to be without as much pretense as some other restaurants with similar cuisine.

Even compared to Chefs de France downstairs the palate is more refined and the atmosphere more restrained. Boisterous and bustling it is not, and after a few days getting jostled around in queues that can be a much appreciated respite.

R. A. Pedersen is the author of The Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia with a long-winded interest in all aspects of theme parks, sometimes even their food. After all, with long hours in the parks for research one has to eat and one might as well eat well.

Have you had a dining experience at Bistro de Paris, or are you headed there soon? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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15 Comments

  1. Frank Stefanec says:

    >>WorldKey kiosks located in the post-show area of Spaceship Earth<,

    OMG…. THAT takes me back. I remember hustling to the back of Spaceship Earth to make face to face dining reservations with a Cast Member. HAD to eat at Alfredo's back then.

    Thank's for the trip back.

    Frank

  2. marcellina says:

    I always wondered why it was called a Bistro … I knew that a bistro was really more of a casual dining establishment so this confused me! Thanks for the explaination and GREAT review!

    BTW, yes.. thanks for the vid of the WorldKey kiosks! so fun! I remember the first time we did it as a family, I was probably 10, and I remember shy-ly standing behind my mother as she talked to someone on the screen and standing to the side thinking “is that REALLY a real person?!” lol.

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed the review! It was terrible terrible hard work having to be there and eat that food and drink that wine, but somebody had to do it ;)

  4. John B says:

    I ate at Bistro for the first time last April. LOVED it. A couple things to point out:

    1. When I went, it was loud and rowdy. Maybe because it was at 5:30pm during Spring Break? Regardless, don’t count on a more upscale dining experience every time.

    2. When you get the fixed price menu, the items are a bit smaller than if you order them from the regular, a la carte menu. You get a bit less food, but it’s still cheaper than ordering individually (depending on what you want). My server told me this.

    3. The creme brulee dessert here is incredible. It’s by far the best dessert I’ve ever had, anywhere. It’s a tasting of like 4 different creme brulee’s and the absolute best was the “flan” type one — seriously!

  5. Alan says:

    A great review and a great trip down memory lane. I truly miss the Au Petite Cafe. I remember sitting there on a pleasant Nov. afternoon, on our honeymoon, thinking that nothing could be better. I hadn’t realized why it disappeared and now Mr. Pederson’s review explains that. Walt Disney World has grown and improved so much, especially over the last twenty years or so, but I know, deep inside most of us yearn to revisit it as it was at the time we fell in love with it. And that afternoon, I fell in love with it.

  6. NT3 says:

    Out of curiosity…do they dim the lights and pump the music from Illuminations in during the show like they do at California Grill or Narcoossee’s?

  7. Aaron C says:

    RA-

    I admire your work. Well done.

  8. Sherri Erwin says:

    Love the history with the review. Bistro de Paris is one of our favorite restaurants.

  9. Tom Bricker says:

    Sarah and I look THRILLED to be there in that photo, don’t we? ;)

    Humorously enough, I’m working on my review of this email right now, as well. I had the exact same meal (course for course, right down to the amuse-bouche) as you, minus the wine pairings.

    I was quite a bit more impressed with the meal than you (all beef was NOT created equal), but I think you’re on the money with most of this. The potatoes at Bistro didn’t come close to comparing with the truffled potatoes we had the next night at Hollywood Brown Derby. Overall, I’d rate it as my top theme park restaurant at WDW. I was that impressed with it.

    I think the price increases occurred as a result of the Disney Dining Plan (blame everything bad on it, right?), as this is Bistro’s first year on it, and it would have been a very low-priced signature restaurant without increasing prices. Just a guess, but it would make sense given the trend of other restaurants’ menus when they’ve gone signature.

    We felt quite under-dressed at Bistro given the attire of the wait staff. I knew it was fine dining, but I didn’t quite expect it to be “so fine,” given that it’s in Epcot. Next time we’ll pack some nicer clothes!

  10. Sandra says:

    Thanks for the review of a place I doubt I’ll ever get to dine–not with Mr. Chicken Nuggets along anyway. I always enjoy learning about the background of things at WDW–we’re big fans of the Imagineers Guides for that reason.

    I think the puzzling flatware you encountered was a bouillon spoon. The little bowl or cup has what’s called a lug handle or thumb tab. In the olden days, bouillon was served in two-handled bowls and it was perfectly correct to lift the bowl by the handles and sip. But with only one handle, I don’t know if this is what they had in mind in this case! French Onion Soup and other hearty soups, stews or potpies, particularly those that get a quick finish under a broiler to crust that cheese or toast the bread, often have lug handles, for easier lifting and serving I would imagine.

  11. Shayne says:

    Thanks so much for the informative, detailed review and the trip down memory lane. I remember that we would rush to the WorldKey kiosks as soon as we arrived at the park to make our dinner reservation. And we still laugh about the first time we realized that the person we were seeing could see us too!

    We haven’t eaten at Bistro de Paris since our honeymoon in 1999. We enjoyed it back then and really want to go back. I think I’m putting this on the list for our adults-only trip in October!

  12. Becca says:

    Yum! We haven’t really considered Bistro, because we had a fairly negative experience with Les Chefs, and were wary of paying *more* for the same. The food sounds delicious, though! Maybe for a future trip without a toddler in tow ;)

    Interestingly, the French word for appetizer is actually entrée. I suppose they used prelude so as to avoid confusion!

  13. Galloping Gourmand says:

    Never even considered eating here. I always thought that for the price, now $60 per if you want a full meal, you can get a better deal on better food. After reading yours and other reviews I’m even less inclined to try it. A main dish should not be able to be described as “rather enjoyable” with a “disappointing slide.” The wine pairing at a french restaurant should make the food sing and not cause a disconnect.

    Hey, remember when touch-screens were so rare they were only found in futuristic theme parks and people would line up just to play with the reservation system? And car phones were actually wired into the car? And what’s up with these kids and their dub-step music? Bah, get off my lawn!

  14. Julie says:

    Great review. Thanks for the history of the restaurant! Bistro is a great gem for a slow and relaxed dinner. We always enjoy the experience.

  15. [...] de Paris has quite an interesting history. In his review of Bistro de Paris on the Disney Food Blog, published EPCOT Center historian R.A. Pederson details this history. I can’t do history [...]

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