I have had the opportunity to dine at nearly all of the restaurants in World Showcase, but there has been one that has continually eluded me. With all the various cuisines and dining options available throughout World Showcase the idea of dining in China has always been low on my priority list. After all, Chinese restaurants are so common and I could even have Chinese food delivered to my own house rather than going to Epcot. When dining at Disney World I tend to prefer the types of dining experiences that are less common, but recently I finally decided to give Nine Dragons at Epcot's China pavilion a try.
I realized that, even though I have had Chinese food at numerous locations, I should not be so quick to group Nine Dragons together with all of them. Italian restaurants are just as common as Chinese restaurants and yet I still greatly enjoy Via Napoli for its authentic pizza and hibachi-style Japanese restaurants are becoming much more prevalent but I still continue to dine at Teppan Edo. I hoped that the same would hold true for Nine Dragons.
One of the primary goals of World Showcase is deepening Guests' understanding and appreciation of the countries they are visiting. World Showcase is a place to educate and entertain, somewhere Guests can experience first-hand the cultures, histories, sights, and sounds of eleven different nations. As such, every aspect of these World Showcase pavilions helps to offer insight into their country's culture and people; their attractions, shops, and restaurants all have different stories to tell. With Nine Dragons this story starts with the restaurant's name.
The name Nine Dragons is very fitting because both the number nine and dragons have special significance in Chinese culture. In China, dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers such as control over water, rainfall, hurricanes, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck. Throughout the country's history, the Emperor of China has used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.
The number nine is likewise special in China, as it is the largest possible single digit, and is considered to be an extremely lucky number. Dragons are frequently connected with the number nine. Dragons are usually described as having nine characteristics: its head is like a camel's, its horns like a deer's, its eyes like a hare's, its ears like a bull's, its neck like an iguana's, its belly like a frog's, its scales like those of a carp, its paws like a tiger's, and its claws like an eagle's. Chinese dragons also traditionally have 117 (9x13) scales and have nine offspring. Throughout China, Nine Dragons Screens (walls with images of nine different dragons) are typically found in imperial palaces and gardens. Thus Nine Dragons at Epcot is firmly rooted in Chinese history, culture, and traditions which is reinforced even more with the visual imagery used throughout the restaurant.
Visually, China has one of the most beautiful pavilions in all of World Showcase. The architectural beauty and attention to detail is truly breathtaking. Thus, you begin to be immersed into Chinese culture before even setting foot inside any of the buildings. A lively color palette of red, green, blue, and gold really make the buildings stand out and then all the tiny details lend an added sense of authenticity.
Some people may pass these buildings by without giving them a second look, but if you really take your time you can fully appreciate all the craftsmanship that went into their design. One of my personal favorite touches is the figures on the corners of the roof:
The interior of the restaurant is a blend of traditional and contemporary and dragon imagery is carried throughout. This is evident from the moment you enter the restaurant and are greeted by a beautiful glass mural depicting two dragons chasing a glowing pearl.
Even more impressive is when you look up and see the decorative artwork on the ceiling featuring a golden dragon motif. The intricate details in this are truly something to behold.
Even the woodwork continues the dragon imagery and serves to highlight the skill and craftsmanship of the Chinese artisans who created the works.
Along the one of the walls of the dining room is a display featuring a variety of delicately crafted glass artwork, all of which pays tribute to the more classical Chinese style.
Despite all these traditional Chinese touches, the dining room has more of a modern feel. Sleek and streamlined, the dining room itself is a nice reflection of modern-day China where old and new, classic and contemporary, blend together harmoniously. The tables are all aligned in straight rows, but I felt as though they were placed very close together. I dined here at lunch when it was not very crowded, but I can imagine it might feel slightly tight and cramped during the busier times of the day.
The dining room itself is very large, but it is divided into a series of smaller sections by rosewood wall panels.
One of my favorite aspects of the décor was the restaurant's lighting, which provides a modern spin on classic Chinese lanterns. The lanterns add a splash of color to an otherwise restrained color palette. Also, the more subdued lighting adds a touch of intimacy to the dining room.
Another nice aspect of the dining room is its huge windows overlooking the World Showcase promenade and lagoon. If you are dining here I would definitely recommend requesting a seat by the windows. It is a great place for people watching during the day and at night would offer a nice, although somewhat obstructed, view of Illuminations.
Overall, the detail and theming of Nine Dragons exceeded my expectations. While the contemporary touches give it a more upscale feel it is still a calm and relaxing setting to enjoy your meal. If you are looking for a more quiet dining experience I would definitely recommend going for lunch rather than dinner, but it is an atmosphere that can be enjoyed by families with children and adult couples alike.
Nine Dragons features separate menus for lunch and dinner, but both are very similar with just a couple of dishes that are exclusive to dinner. The appetizers are divided between hot and cold. The Cold Appetizers include Cucumber Salad ($5.98), Fragrant Chicken ($5.98) served with a fragrant green onion dipping sauce, and Spicy Beef ($8.68) tossed with a cilantro-chili dressing. For those who cannot decide on just one, there is the Appetizer Trio ($11.98) that features all three.
Hot Appetizers feature several traditional Chinese favorites in addition to some less conventional items. For the traditional there are Pot Stickers ($6.98), which are sautéed pork and vegetable dumplings, as well as Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls ($7.98). For someone looking for something a little different there is the Walnut Shrimp Toast ($7.98), which is actually classic Chinese snack. Other appetizers include Shrimp and Taro Lollipops ($9.98) that present a playful take on a traditional dim sum favorite and General Tso's Chicken Dumplings ($10.98) which provides an innovative twist on a classic, featuring steamed dumplings drizzles with a tangy Chinese Red Sauce.
While many of the entrée selections are the same for lunch and dinner, the prices are different. For the following entrée, the first price listed is lunch and the second is dinner. Among the entrees featured are Honey Sesame Chicken ($16.98, $18.98), Sweet and Sour Pork ($15.68, $16.98) served with lightly spiced spinach noodles, Peppery Shrimp with Spinach Noodles ($17.98, $21.98), Kung Pao Chicken ($15.98, $17.98) accompanied by peanuts and dried chili peppers, Canton Pepper Beef ($15.98, $18.98) stir-fried with onions, green, and red peppers in a savory broth, Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish ($21.98), Nine Dragons Fried Rice ($15.98) stir-fried with shrimp, chicken, ham, eggs, vegetables and touch of chili spice, and Chinese Chicken Salad ($12.98) featuring savory sliced chicken, mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, golden raisins and walnuts with your choice of sweet ginger or peanut-coconut dressing.
Among those entrees available just for dinner are Spit Roasted Beijing Chicken ($18.98) served with a side of smooth mashed taro, Shrimp and Steak ($26.98) featuring grilled shrimp and steak served with bok choy and drizzled with sweet lightly spiced Chinese red sauce, and the Zha Jiang Noodles Sampler ($19.98) which allows you to mix and match your noodles with fresh vegetables and two classic sauces: sweet and savory minced pork and spicy diced chicken.
The dessert choices are somewhat limited and include Coconut Rice Pudding ($7.98) topped with cinnamon and wonton crisps, Chinese Ginger Cake ($6.68), and two choices of ice cream, either Strawberry-Red Bean or Caramel-Ginger ($3.98).
For an appetizer I was very tempted to try the Pot Stickers, but I have had these at so many other Chinese restaurants and wanted to try something a little different and instead opted for the Walnut Shrimp Toast. When it was served to me it did not look at all like I was expecting. I had thought it would be similar in appearance to a bruschetta, with thin slices of toasted bread topped with shrimp and walnuts. Instead the bread was cut much thicker, although it was still nice and crusty.
What was very surprising was that I did not immediately notice any shrimp. However, I quickly found that the entire top of the toast was coated with a finely-chopped layer of shrimp which at first glance had actually looked like cheese. While it may not be the most visually impressive appetizer it was very tasty. I really liked the combination of the shrimp and walnuts, which presented a nice contrast in flavor and texture and yet went together really well. The toast came served along with sweet and sour sauce for dipping which provided even extra flavor.
For my entrée I chose the Sweet and Sour Pork. I really liked the presentation of the dish, simple yet effective. The bold reddish-orange color of the pork really popped on the white plate. The pork was lightly battered, cut into small, bite-sized pieces, and was very tender. Looks can be a little deceiving. Because of the small pieces of pork and the large size of the plate it first looked like the portion size was not very big, but when I actually started eating I was surprised to find there was much more food than first appeared. I found the sweet and sour sauce to be slightly more on the sweet side and had a fairly thick consistency, which I really enjoyed. Accompanying the pork were cubes of pineapple, which added a light and refreshing flavor to the dish the complimented the pork extremely well.
Also served alongside the pork were what the menu called lightly-spiced spinach noodles. I think the lightly-spiced is a little of a misnomer because the noodles had a ton of flavor. If you are not a fan of garlic you would probably not care for these noodles because that was the predominant flavor along with a slight hint of crushed red pepper. These noodles had a definite kick to them and they presented a nice contrast to the sweeter-flavored pork.
Overall, it was a very good meal that offered something a little different from what I normally order at Chinese restaurants.
I think the service at Nine Dragons can best be described as courteous but quiet. My server was certainly attentive to all my needs and quickly responded whenever I needed anything, but she was also very reserved and almost shy. I think this can be attributed more to cultural differences than anything else. This is one of the things that I enjoy most about dining in World Showcase. It does not matter what country you are dining in, the servers there will be natives of those countries. This makes them more than just waiters and waitresses, but rather cultural representatives who, along with the atmosphere and the cuisine, help with the overall sense of immersion into that particular country. At other restaurants around World Showcase I have had great conversations with my servers about their homes and have been able to gain a little more insight into their various cultures. I was not able to have that same type of interaction at Nine Dragons, although I did find that my server's English was very good and easy to understand (which is not always the case when dining in World Showcase).
Dining on a Budget:
When it comes of dining at Nine Dragons, I would definitely recommend going there for lunch rather than dinner. Not only is the restaurant less crowded, but the menu is largely the same and the prices a little less expensive. Some dishes, like the Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish for $21.98 and the Nine Dragons Fried Rice for $15.98, are the same price for both lunch and dinner. However, others like the Honey Sesame Chicken, $16.98 for lunch and $18.98 for dinner, are a little less expensive.
Another good value, for both lunch and dinner, is the Treasures of the Dragon prix fixe menu. The lunch option is $29.68 and includes an option of Hot and Sour Soup or Chicken Consomme for an appetizer, Fragrant Five-Spiced Fish, General Tso's Chicken, or Beef Sichuan for an entrée, and Chinese Ginger Cake, Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream, or Caramel Ginger Ice Cream for dessert. The dinner option is $33.68 and includes a Chinese Dim Sum appetizer featuring pot stickers and vegetable spring rolls, an entrée option of either General Tso's Chicken, Fish Sichuan, or the Happy Family Duet, which is comprised of stir-fried slices of beef and chicken with water chestnuts and vegetables alongside spicy and tangy shrimp, and either Chinese Ginger Cake, Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream, or Caramel Ginger Ice Cream for dessert. These prix fixe menus are a good way of sampling a greater variety of the countries cuisine. While you do not save a ton of money, it usually works out as though you are getting the dessert for free as oppose to ordering each of the items separately off the menu.
Nine Dragons is on the Disney Dining Plan and is one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant does participate in Tables in Wonderland with members receiving its 20% discount. Annual Passholders can also save 10% on food and non-alcoholic beverages Monday through Friday during lunch hours. Disney Vacation Club members receive the same 10% discount for both lunch and dinner.
The Overall Experience:
Nine Dragons definitely exceeded my expectations. It is more than just your typical Chinese restaurant that you might find in your home town and get take-out or delivery from. Everything from the atmosphere's fine details and intricate craftsmanship to the cuisine and even the service all helped to immerse you into Chinese culture. While the menu did feature many traditional Chinese dishes that are common on the menus of many other restaurants, I was also pleased to see that they had some less-conventional items as well.
All that being said, there are so many restaurants in World Showcase that there are quite a few that I would choose to dine at before going back to Nine Dragons again. I am not saying that my meal here was bad. In fact, it was quite the contrary. It just does not have the same level of uniqueness that makes some of the other World Showcase restaurants so special and popular. If I am making the trip to Epcot, I have several other restaurants that I like a lot more than Nine Dragons. I am certainly glad that I tried the restaurant because it was something new and different for me, but it will probably be some time before I dine there again. If you have never tried Nine Dragons before, it is certainly a possible alternative if you are not able to obtain reservations at some of the other World Showcase restaurants.
See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.
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