I have noticed recently that one type of dining experience that seems to be gaining a lot of popularity is teppanyaki-style restaurants. Also referred to by some as a hibachi restaurant or Japanese steakhouse, these dining locations are best known for their food being prepared right at the table in a presentation that is just as much about entertainment as it is cooking the food. It seems as though teppanyaki restaurants are popping up all over the place, making what was once an extremely rare and unique dining experience much more commonplace and easily accessible.
Teppan Edo at Epcot's Japan pavilion in World Showcase is one such teppanyaki restaurant and the first one that I had ever visited. When I was younger we had none of these restaurants anywhere close to home and when my family came to Disney World this was a place we would eat at to experience something we could not normally find, quickly becoming a tradition to eat there on nearly every trip. Now that I am older, even though there are about three similar restaurants within easy driving distance of my home, I still enjoy going to Teppan Edo at Epcot, not only for the great memories I have there of past family vacations, but also for its delicious food and entertaining chefs. It may not be as unique as it once was, but Teppan Edo continues to deliver a special and memorable dining experience.
I do not want to bore anyone with a history lesson, but I feel that in order to fully understand the dining experience at Teppan Edo you need to have some knowledge of where it came from. To start, the word teppanyaki is derived from the Japanese words teppan, which means iron plate, and yaki, which means grilled, broiled or pan-fried. Here in America some people mistakenly refer to teppanyaki-style dining locations as a hibachi restaurants when in fact a hibachi (the Japanese word for "fire bowl") is a grill that utilizes charcoal.
Upon doing some research I was surprised to find that teppanyaki dining was not as old a tradition as I originally expected. In fact, the teppanyaki-style restaurant in Japan had its origins with the restaurant chain Misono, which introduced the concept of cooking Western-influenced food on a teppan grill in 1945. They soon found the cuisine was less popular with the Japanese than it was with foreigners, who enjoyed watching the chefs preparing the food as much as the food itself. As the restaurants became popular tourist spots, the chain increased the performance aspect of the chef's preparation.
With its fairly modern origins, the name Teppan Edo is slightly curious as the Edo period in Japan refers to a time frame running from roughly the beginning of the 1600's to the 1860's. Edo, however, was also the former name of the Japanese capital of Tokyo and it was during the Edo period that Tokyo became the seat of power for the country's rulers and grew to become one of the largest cities in the world and the site of a vibrant urban culture.
Helping to promote this culture was a company called Mitsukoshi, which opened its first retail store in Tokyo in 1673 and would later introduce the first westernized department store to the Japanese retail market in 1904. It is Mitsukoshi that brings this story full circle because not only do they have a store at Epcot's Japan pavilion reminiscent of their larger department stores in Tokyo, but they are also the owners of both restaurants located above the store, Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining.
The company's motto is "Service With Sincerity" and I found this to be very fitting because it aptly describes the dining experience that is found at Teppan Edo.
Simple and streamlined are two words that probably best describe Teppan Edo's décor. While there are actually very few decorative items throughout the entire restaurant, this does help give the dining room a more contemporary and modern feel. It is an atmosphere that relies more on color rather than theming and decoration to establish the restaurant's feel. The white walls and tables are like the canvas upon which the black wood and red cushions of the chairs really pop out. The red color especially adds a great amount of vitality and liveliness to the space.
The layout of the dining room is also very linear and symmetrical. First, guests must walk down a long, straight hallway where they are then seated in one of the smaller dining rooms to the side.
Inside these dining rooms, the tables are arranged in straight rows with the chairs, plates, and napkins all positioned in a similar linear fashion.
Combined with the color scheme, this layout really helps to give the restaurant a simple-yet-upscale design and feel. If someone were to just walk through Teppan Edo when it was empty of all guests, one would think that it was a restaurant geared more towards adults rather than families. However, atmosphere is based upon more than just décor and looks can sometimes be deceiving.
The straight lines and predominantly black and white color scheme of the restaurant may seem cold, but as soon as one walks into the dining room the atmosphere is actually one that is warm and inviting. This starts with the tables themselves, which seat eight people. Unless dining with a large party, this seating arrangement usually means that you will be dining with at least one other party. With all the seats facing towards the grill in the center, not only does this seating arrangement offer everyone at the table a great view of the food being prepared in front of them, but it also creates a more intimate feel and encourages conversation not only between those sitting at the table.
On some occasions I have been seated with families that were very outgoing while other times there have been families that did not really want to talk or interact. The party/parties that you are seated with does not make or break the experience of Teppan Edo, but it is definitely more fun having another party with you that will enjoy dining with.
The major component of Teppan Edo's atmosphere is the fact that your food is being prepared right before your eyes.
The chefs, however, are doing more than just cooking the food; they are really the entertainment for your meal. As they are cooking, the chefs will joke with the guests sitting at their table, perform tricks like flipping shrimp shells into their hats, and even use the food being prepared for entertainment purposes. For example, in the many times I have dined here I have seen chefs pour oil on the grill in the shape of a smiley face or Mickey Mouse, sprinkle a line of sesame seeds onto the grill and call it "Sesame Street," and, of course, make the signature smoking volcano out of the stacked rings of an onion.
Not only does the teppanyaki style of the restaurant make meals fun and entertaining for the entire family, especially for the children, but there is just something interesting (even artistic) about your food being prepared right before you. Not only are the smells of the cooking food amazing, but you also know that your meal is going to be fresh and you can see exactly everything that is going into it. Visually it is also very impressive with the mixture of colors of the vegetables and meats.
The overall atmosphere of Teppan Edo is one of activity and excitement, with many chefs at different tables preparing their food simultaneously there is a lot of action throughout the entire dining room. This also means that the restaurant can get a little bit loud with the combination of sizzling food, clanging cooking utensils, and the not-so-uncommon cheer or applause from various tables for their chefs. All this gives Teppan Edo a fun, festive feel that is a great place for families to dine. If you are looking for a quiet, more intimate meal at the Japan pavilion you may want to consider Tokyo Dining. The décor Teppan Edo may not be anything special, but that allows you to concentrate your attention on what really matters, the art and entertainment of the food being prepared by the chefs at your table.
Teppan Edo's menu is dominated by items cooked on the grill at your table, but it features a wide selection of items ranging from seafood to steak to chicken and even vegetarian selections.
The appetizers offered are prepared in a kitchen in the back as opposed to at your table. Among these appetizer selections are Wafu Ribs ($9.50) braised with sake, soy and ginger, the Tuna Salmon Sensation ($8.50) featuring raw tuna and salmon sashimi served with a sesame-saki-soy dressing, Assorted Tempura ($8.50) that includes lightly fried shrimp, chicken breast, and seasonal vegetables served with dipping sauces, Gyo No Negi-Maki ($8.50) which are beef-wrapped green onions served with hickory smoked sea salt, a Garden Salad ($5.95) with your choice of ginger dressing or a creamy sesame dressing, Edamame ($4.50) which are young soy beans, and Miso Soup ($3.00). I have been to other teppanyaki-style Japanese restaurants that include either a soup or salad with your entrée, but that is not the case at Teppan Edo.
The menu also features several different sushi selections. Among these are a Spicy Tuna Sushi Roll ($8.50) featuring a spicy tuna mix, cucumber, green onions, sesame seeds, seaweed and rice, a California Sushi Roll ($7.95) including avocado, cucumber, smelt, mayonnaise, seaweed and rice, a Grilled Crispy Sukiyaki Beef Roll ($8.50) with beef, sesame seeds, seaweed and rice. For those wanting to try more than one type of sushi there are the Sushi Roll Sampler ($7.50) that includes two pieces each of California roll, spicy tuna roll and sukiyaki beef roll as well as the Sushi Sampler ($9.50) with tuna, salmon, and shrimp sushi.
All entrée items on the menu are accompanied by vegetables with udon noodles and white rice. Sometimes at other teppanyaki-style restaurants you are offered the choice of either fried or white rice, but at Teppan Edo white rice is the only option. The entrée items are what will be cooked on the grill at your table and there are several options available. You can choose a single serving of Filet Mignon ($29.95), Sirloin Steak ($27.95), Hotate (cold water sea scallops, $29.95), Kajiki Maguro (swordfish, $26.95), Ebi (large shrimp, $25.95), Ton (pork loin, $23.95), Tori (chicken breast, $22.95), and Yasai (seasonal vegetables, $16.95).
Also available are combinations including Nihonbashi (sirloin steak and chicken breast, $28.95), Asakusa (sirloin steak and large shrimp, $29.95), and Ueno (chicken breast and large shrimp, $26.95).
The dessert options are very limited and include Soft Served Ice Cream ($4.50) in either chocolate, vanilla, or swirl, Green Tea Pudding ($6.95), and Chocolate Ginger Cake ($6.50). On a couple of occasions I have visited Teppan Edo on a birthday or anniversary of another member of my party and they actually received a complimentary piece of the Chocolate Ginger Cake. The flavor of the ginger is a little too strong for my liking even though the chocolate frosting is very smooth and creamy. For free on a special occasion it is worth a taste, but it is not something I would spend money out-of-pocket to try.
For my meal I decided on Ueno, the combination of chicken breast and large shrimp. To start, the chef first prepares the vegetables with udon noodles. The vegetables are zucchini and onions which are grilled and then mixed with sesame seeds and soy sauce and combined with the noodles. Even though this item is placed on your plate before the rest of the entrée, I like to wait to eat it until the chicken and shrimp are also done.
Both the zucchini and onions are grilled so that they are still a little crunchy and provide a nice contrast in texture to the softer noodles. I am not necessarily a fan of sesame seeds, but there are not so much of them that they really detract from the taste of the vegetables and noodles; the purpose of the sesame seeds is to provide just a little extra flavor and texture. The combination of vegetables and noodles proves to be a light and refreshing accompaniment for the chicken and shrimp.
Both the chicken and shrimp are cut into smaller pieces and are prepared very simply using just a little bit of oil, butter, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and some sesame seeds. This really allows you to enjoy the natural flavor of the chicken and shrimp. While the shrimp was very good and very fresh I was even more impressed with the chicken, which was extremely tender and grilled to a beautiful golden-brown color (and also comes served with mushrooms). One of the benefits of the food being prepared right at your table is that it is hot and fresh when it is served.
While the chicken and shrimp were good enough just to eat plain, the chef does provide everyone at the table with three different dipping sauces. First is a mustard sauce that is recommended for use on steak and chicken, next is a ginger sauce that pairs well with the vegetables, and finally a white sauce for the shrimp.
Of the three my favorite was the white sauce. The sauce is very rich and creamy (I believe it is mayonnaise-based) and it provides a refreshing, almost sweet contrast to the flavor of the shrimp; the two paired perfectly together. I also enjoyed the mustard sauce with the chicken, although this was much stronger in flavor than the white sauce. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart because it has a definite kick. I tried some of the ginger sauce with the vegetables, but I so enjoyed the way the vegetables were prepared that I preferred to eat them as-is rather than putting the sauce on them. Adding to this was the fact that I am not the biggest fan of ginger. I felt this sauce was a little too strong in flavor and actually took away from the taste of the vegetables.
One of the things I enjoy most about meals at Teppan Edo is that they are not only fresh, but they are also on the lighter side. As opposed other restaurants at Disney World which feature many heavier, filling dishes, Teppan Edo's menu features predominantly more healthy choices that leave you feeling satisfied, but not overly full. That being said, the serving sizes are very generous and my combination of chicken and shrimp along with the noodles and vegetables as well as the white rice was more than enough for a meal without even having an appetizer or dessert.
There are two components to service at Teppan Edo. The first is your waitress who is responsible for taking your orders and serving your drinks as well as appetizers and desserts should you order any. The second is the chef who prepares the food at your table. In all my times visiting this restaurant I have found the waitresses to be very courteous and respectful. The type of service they provide is very much a reflection of Japanese culture. I can tell that they care very much about providing guests with the best possible dining experience. One thing that is common with the waitresses, however, is that they tend to be very soft-spoken and this can sometimes make them a little difficult to understand what they are saying.
The chefs all basically have the same performance while cooking but they greatly differ in delivery and style. While I have never had a chef at Teppan Edo that I would call bad, there are certainly some that are far more energetic than others. I think that the chefs certainly do feed off of the enthusiasm of those sitting at the table and cater their performance to the type of guests that are there. If there are several small children at the table the chef will often pay extra attention to them. A chef cooking for a table with a younger crowd might interact differently with them than a chef at a table with all older guests.
Not to stereotype, but I have tended to notice the younger chefs to be far more enthusiastic and outgoing than the older chefs. This is not always the case, however. Just as with the waitresses, the chefs' grasp of the English language can sometimes inhibit communication, but I have had several that spoke English very well. If a chef does not speak very good English, they might not talk very much while preparing the food. While the performance of your chef is certainly not the be-all-end-all of your dining experience at Teppan Edo I have had some that have made the meal very memorable. An entertaining and engaging chef can make an already good meal even better.
Dining on a Budget:
It used to be that Teppan Edo had separate menus for lunch and dinner that featured cheaper prices for lunch, but this is no longer the case. Teppan Edo is not the cheapest restaurant in Disney World, but for that price the amount of food that you get is very generous and you are also getting the entertainment of the food being prepared at your table. To get the most for your money I would recommend getting one of the combination entrees because they let you sample a wider selection of offerings than just ordering a single item. If you are looking to save some money, my best advice is to skip appetizers and desserts. The amount of food you get with your entrée that it is more than enough to leave you satisfied at the end of your meal; you certainly will not leave hungry.
Teppan Edo is on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one dining credit. In addition, Annual Passholders can receive a ten percent discount on lunch Mondays through Fridays. The restaurant does not participate in Tables in Wonderland, however, and there is no discount for Disney Vacation Club members.
The Overall Experience:
Dining at Teppan Edo is more than just a meal, it is truly an experience. Not only are you getting good food, but you are getting the entertainment of that food being prepared in front of you right at your table. This combination of cooking and performance make for a really special dining experience that can be enjoyed by the entire family. This is the type of dining experience that is quintessentially Disney.
Even though teppanyaki-style restaurants are becoming more and more commonplace across the country, they still have a tremendous uniqueness factor. Teppan Edo is the type of restaurant that you are not going to eat at all the time and that is something that adds to its appeal. The fact that it is located at the Japan pavilion with servers and chefs actually from Japan lends added authenticity and a level of immersion into Japanese customs and culture that you do not necessarily get at similar restaurants. For this reason, even though I could just go to another teppanyaki restaurant a couple of miles away from my house, I still choose to go to Teppan Edo at Epcot because it provides a consistently fun and memorable dining experience from start to finish.
See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.
Check out Reader Reviews of Teppan Edo and post your own too!
The previous post in this blog was BOOK REVIEW: Disney Food Blog Mini-Guide to the 2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival .
The next post in this blog is Halloween Howls at Fort Wilderness.