We’re dining “Under the Sea” today at Epcot’s Coral Reef Restaurant!
And if you’re wondering if it was all part of my plan to insert that song in your head for the rest of the day, the answer is “Yes.”
(Insert evil laugh here. 😉 )
Coral Reef is one of only two Table Service Restaurants in Epcot’s Future World (the other being Garden Grill), and the only one open for lunch, which is the meal we’re having today. But first things first: in order to eat at Coral Reef, you’ve got to find it. Just head to “The Living Seas…” whoops! I mean, “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” Pavilion.
And once you get your fill of the birds chanting “Mine, Mine, Mine,” just hang a right…
… and head as far as you can towards the back. (The outdoor sign will help, too.)
So, now we’ve found it! Let’s head in…
As per usual with Disney dining, there are some fun details to take in here, starting right at the entrance.
The dining room is well-concealed for the “big reveal” to come, but touches in the check-in area (which expands into a fairly large hallway) give several indications as to what awaits you once you dine.
What are those lights, anyway? Jellyfish?
But as fun as it always is to check out the little things, the truth of the matter is that everyone is here to see one, single, MAJOR “detail.” The aquarium!
Yep — the dining room has giant picture windows that look right into the massive Living Seas aquarium. It’s like you’re dining in a submarine.
And here’s an interesting thing about Coral Reef: in most restaurants, several of the tables for two are often tucked on the outer perimeters, and sometimes that can lend to a feeling of being a little removed from the atmosphere. At Coral Reef, many of the tables for two receive “front rows seats” for the big show. Our table for two was right next to this table for four.
Our server presented Fish Guides to us, so we could identify some of the marine life swimming by.
Being that close contributed just a little extra to an already unique experience. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…
Though I gotta say, this felt almost a little too close for comfort…
In all seriousness, I did use the zoom a bit there 😉 , but not much! Overall, it truly is beautiful, and certainly makes for a memorable experience.
And most tables at Coral Reef have a pretty decent view of the “show.” Most will experience stadium-style seating, with the booths being rounded out to face the the aquarium (though there are also more standard tables for smaller parties as well). One criticism would be that the tables really are packed in there, to maximize the number of diners at each seating. Some tables might be a little close for my taste.
One last bit of atmosphere: when I mentioned “Under the Sea,” I was only being a teeny bit facetious :). If you look up at the ceiling, blue-green light reflections give the fun impression that you are dining under water.
And with the scene set, it’s time to dive (completely intentional water-themed restaurant pun!) in!
Our server brought us nicely warm bread and butter with black sea salt to enjoy while looking over our menus.
You know we’re always down for apps…
First, we selected the Coral Reef Sriracha Shrimp.
The shrimp were nice and plump, and I loved the kick of the sriracha chili sauce over the tempura batter. I’m not even as big a shrimp fan as my husband is, but we both agreed these were delicious.
The rice noodles under the shrimp are mainly just a super crunchy garnish, but more than anything I enjoyed the appearance of them. For whatever reason, the translucent, almost “bubbly” appearance of the noodles just fit somehow in the underwater setting.
You may recall that we recently sampled the octopus dish at Le Cellier, and since it’s becoming more of an option at Disney World restaurants as of late, we figured we should give the Charbroiled Octopus a go here, too. At Coral Reef, it’s served with Mediterranean Potato Salad and Grilled Lemon.
I’d never tried octopus before, and found that the flavor was surprisingly mild without being bland and not overly “fishy.” I really don’t want to use that word twice (it’ll come up again later), but that really is the best way I can think to say it. I also liked the bit of char. The texture was tender and I’d describe it as meaty — somewhat like a scallop, though I did find it a bit chewy as well.
I would totally get the shrimp again, but for me, the Octopus was a one-time thing. I have no problem with the preparation, but personally speaking I couldn’t get past the vision of the suction cups 😉 . Still, if Octopus is a bit of an adventure that you might be up for, I think this is a solid place to give it a try.
When it came time for entrees, our terrific server said the Seared Mahi Mahi continues to be one of the two most popular entrees at Coral Reef.
I’d enjoyed this dish here once before, and on this visit I found the Seared Mahi Mahi to be a consistently good choice again. The fish is flavorful and very tender. I love the accompanying jasmine rice with cilantro, but it’s the tropical flavors of the coconut-lime sauce that really put this over the top for me. All the flavors and seasonings just come together really well.
After enjoying the Sriracha Shrimp, the shrimp that accompanies the Mahi Mahi definitely seems like more of an afterthought, and is not a highlight of this dish. Overall, though, I think the Mahi Mahi remains a great option for those who don’t have a huge fish palate, but would like to give the seafood a try here.
Before moving on to my husband’s entree, I should mention that the other dish that ranks up there on the “Top Two” list for entrees is the Grilled New York Strip Steak. The photo below is NOT from our most recent visit (and the sides are a bit different now), but since my husband and I went seafood heavy on this most recent visit, I wanted to share this pic to put landlubbers at ease that there are options for you at Coral Reef. (The steak is very good. It’s not an afterthought on the menu.)
To see a full review of the visit that included the New York Strip, just click here.
My husband chose the Seared Rainbow Trout, served with a warm salad of white beans, arugula, tomatoes, and bacon, dressed with Aged Balsamic Vinegar and brown butter.
Unfortunately, this dish didn’t fare as well as the Mahi Mahi. My husband describes it as “overly-fishy” (there’s that word again!), and while you obviously expect and even anticipate a fish flavor (what with it being fish and all 😉 ), it struck him as a bit too strong, and not as fresh. He also thought that the texture was somewhat tough.
He wasn’t a huge fan of the bean salad, either. To be fair, he doesn’t tend toward bean salads, but he wasn’t anticipating that it would make up such a huge part of the dish.
Fortunately, dessert was up next and Coral Reef serves one of his favorites in all of Disney World…
… which is the signature Chocolate Wave served with Raspberry Gelato.
You may recall that the last time we tried this dessert, it unfortunately didn’t live up to expectations. I’m happy to report that on this most recent visit, the Chocolate Wave was back on its game!
I should note that there was no “lava” (or melted chocolate) oozing out of it. But it was served piping hot and had that delicious, fudge-y, not-quite-cake-yet-but-not-entirely-melted inside texture (if that’s a thing 😉 ) that pairs so nicely with the crisp outside and makes for a truly decadent finale.
And with that, it’s time to say goodbye to our friends…
As always, I still tend towards World Showcase for my favorite Table Service restaurants in Epcot for cuisine. But I think Coral Reef is a good candidate for the try-at-least-once list, and for some, it’s made its way to a tried-and-true tradition.
I like seafood, but it’s not my favorite. Still, dining while viewing the aquarium is just plain fun, and the decor is total retro-Epcot. Have yourself an Old School EPCOT night — and if you’re visiting Coral Reef in the next few days after this is published, be sure to top off your visit by being one of the last riders from now until forever on The Maelstrom (it’s last day in operation is October 5th), for a real “back-in-the-DAY” experience.
Have you dined at Coral Reef? If so, what did you think? Please let us know with a comment!