Welcome back to Nine Dragons Restaurant in Epcot’s lovely China Pavilion! We’re visiting this Table Service restaurant for lunch.
It’s been a while since we’ve visited Nine Dragons. While we truly enjoy the beauty of this spot (and will provide a few more glimpses for you today), the food has never really elevated it to a “Must Go” spot. In fact, for some it has been a “Must Skip!” So, it’s time for another visit to see how things are faring, and what — if anything — has changed.
You’ll spot Nine Dragons immediately upon approaching the China Pavilion from Norway. I find nearly everything to be eye-catching in the China Pavilion. The outdoor colors of Nine Dragons echo those in the Pavilion’s entrance gate and the replica of the Temple of Heaven.
But we’re more interested by what’s inside, so let’s have a look.
There is a definite change in the color palette upon entering the space. Dark and ornately carved woods are dominant in the décor, but the restaurant is peppered with fun and colorful lanterns that keep things from feeling too heavy or overwhelming.
The large windows also provide natural light along with some great views of World Showcase.
Even if you aren’t seated near a window, some of the glass in the walls serve to let in some of that light, while also separating dining areas.
While we’re on the subject of seating, I know many people have found this restaurant doesn’t offer much in the way of elbow room in regards to space between tables. We arrived at a rather off-time for lunch (2:00 pm), when much of the noon-time crowds had dispersed. So, feeling overcrowded was not my experience, but the potential for it is something you’ll want to consider when choosing a time.
So, what about the dragons? They’re incorporated into several spots around the restaurant! You’ll find artistic dragons throughout the restaurant, from the beautiful green-glass wall at the check-in…
… to the ceiling in the same area.
And they can be spotted in the dark wood entrance and exit of the dining area.
You’ll also want to check out the wall nearest to the kitchen in the central dining area. Because seating in Nine Dragons is divided up into separate sections, you may miss it, so be sure to take a stroll at some point during your visit.
This wall is where you’ll find… what else? Nine Dragons 🙂 .
All nine of these glass sculpture dragons are truly beautiful; but out of respect for your time, I’ll just give you a glimpse of my top three dragons!
Okay, top four… because they are pretty cool!
All right, enough with the dragon-spotting… It’s time to eat, so grab a cool place mat and join us!
My friend and I went with the Appetizer Trio for starters (meant to serve two).
This allowed us to try each appetizer of the Cold Appetizers: Diao Yu Tai Cucumber Salad, Spicy Beef, and Fragrant Chicken (pictured from left to right below).
The Spicy Beef lived up to its name with the level of kick, and the meat was certainly fresh. While I was aware that this appetizer was served cold, upon tasting it, I couldn’t help but feel that it would be improved as a hot dish.
The real surprise was the Cucumber Salad. While it doesn’t include “Spicy” anywhere in the name, it was much hotter than the “Spicy Beef.”
I hadn’t thought much of the Cucumber Salad when I saw it listed on the Trio, but it was my favorite of the bunch. You have to be open to some serious spice, though, for this one.
I found the Fragrant Chicken to be neither fragrant, nor particularly flavorful, unfortunately.
While the Cucumbers and Spicy Beef were fine, my recommendation is to stick with the hot appetizers here, with which we’ve had better experience in the past.
Since I was still quite warm from my World Showcase stroll (it was a muggy day even by Florida standards — and that’s saying something), I opted for a cold entrée from the menu as well: the Chinese Chicken Salad.
Something in me is resistant to being at a sit-down restaurant and not having some sort of hot dish (Why? I have no idea…), so I ordered the Soup and Chinese Chicken Salad Combo, which includes your choice of Hot and Sour Soup or Chicken Consommé with Dumplings.
The Hot and Sour Soup again lived up precisely to its name. The chili heat seemed to intensify with each bite, which I really enjoyed, though it might not suit everybody’s taste.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Chinese Chicken Salad. I made a guess when choosing my dressing, and went with the Peanut-Coconut (the other choice was Sweet Ginger). As it turns out, this salad is one of the healthiest fresh options I’ve found on Disney property.
While not particularly exciting or unique — save for the dressing options — it was fresh and well-presented, and the golden raisins, walnuts, and bit of wonton crisps lent variety to both the texture and flavor.
Additionally, the dressing was served on the side, and I appreciated being able to put on as much or as little as I wanted (another bonus for anyone striving to stay on the healthier side of things). The Peanut-Coconut dressing smelled very much like a natural peanut butter, and I wasn’t sure how I would like it on my salad.
Fortunately, the flavor was mild enough that it gave just a hint of peanut taste while adding a nice creaminess to the salad. (I never did detect any hint of coconut.)
My friend ordered the Honey-Sesame Chicken with a side of fried rice, and kindly shared some with me.
The flavor was good, the meat was high quality, and I really appreciated that it was just salty enough without tasting like a pile of sodium.
The difficulty for me here was not the dish, which was well-prepared, but the price point. While it’s not a bad price for an entree at Disney — coming in at $16.98 — it’s far too similar to a dish I can find in other places for less. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare, but for some reason it’s difficult not to.
Since I went with a proper salad for my entrée, I was even more open to dessert than usual ;). Nine Dragons does have a Dessert Wines selection, but I decided to try one of the Specialty Cocktails from the regular menu as part of dessert, because several on the list sounded quite sweet.
I went with “Heavenly Clouds,” primarily because it had all ingredients that I like (Coconut Rum, Honeydew Melon Liqueur, Pineapple Juice and cream)… but also, yes, because I liked the name! Our server (attentive, friendly, and warm throughout the meal) had also mentioned that this was her favorite.
This cocktail was one of the two best surprises of the meal. You definitely have to like sweet drinks to enjoy it — and be prepared for more than a hint of that melon liqueur. I thought the fruity taste with the bit of cream was fun and refreshing.
The other great surprise was the most recent item from the dessert menu: Banana Cheesecake Eggrolls.
Made to serve two, this dish is also served with a scoop of your choice of ice cream, and we chose the always refreshing Strawberry Red Bean.
The egg roll shells came out fried to a wonderful golden brown. While neither I nor my friend detected a ton of cheesecake flavor in the pureed banana and cream cheese mixture (until the aftertaste), the soft, creamy and sweet banana balanced really well with the crisp, fried shells. While I’m not going to vouch for its authenticity, let’s face it: it’s fun!
Nine Dragons continues to present a bit of a conundrum when it comes to choosing Table Service meals at Epcot. The thing is, it’s difficult to recommend using a Table Service Credit on the Disney Dining Plan here when the entrée choices aren’t unique enough from what most people will be able to find near their homes for less cost (albeit, maybe not in quite-so gorgeous surroundings). This is especially true in light of having so many other standout choices at Epcot.
If you’ve been understandably on-the-fence with this one, maybe you’d enjoy stopping in at an off-hour for drinks and dessert or appetizers. It would give you a chance to experience the atmosphere – which is truly enjoyable — and find out what you think. My friend and I felt that we found a few nice surprises outside the norm and overall we enjoyed our most recent trip.
Have you dined with the Nine Dragons? Please let us know your thoughts with a comment!