Takumi-Tei Chef’s Table: New Best Meal at Walt Disney World?

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Takumi-Tei at Epcot's Japan PavilionCatching many folks by surprise, Takumi-Tei, the newest signature dining location operated by Mitsukoshi in Epcot’s Japan pavilion of World Showcase opened this week for a “soft-opening” period. The restaurant will open in full with reservations on July 16, but we were able to check out the prized Chef’s Table experience just a few days into operation. In short, we all found it to be one of the best dining experiences at Walt Disney World (watch out, Victoria & Albert’s) – check out the rundown of our meal below, and as always, click each photo for a better look at the magic!

Ambience

The five natural elements influencing the theme of each dining room at Takumi-Tei include waterEvery meal at Takumi-Tei starts with a brief introduction to the restaurant’s concept, via the entrance hallway; here, you’ll encounter the five natural elements celebrated by Japanese craftsmen: earth/clay, water, paper, stone, and wood. The restaurant’s five dining rooms each honor one of these elements in their theme, with distinct decorative accents on the walls (and even the accent colors of the dining chairs!), with the chef’s table located in the private Water Room.

Our dining experience took place entirely in the Water Room, a positively relaxing respite from the chaos of the theme park just a few walls away. Between the tempered, soothing soundtrack of traditional Japanese music, the feature waterfall lapping at the rocks at the head of our dining table, and the visual flow of the room (sleek and modern with touches of nature), I was lulled into a state of tranquility right from the outset of the meal. The custom dining table, which seats eight, carried through the terminus of the waterfall’s resulting creek, with inset Japanese maple leaves adding a pop of color to the otherwise muted palette.

The Chef's Table, located in Takumi-Tei's water roomThe chef’s table experience is traditionally offered for parties of 6 to 8, but because it’s still early days, an exception was made for our smaller group. We were greeted by our outstanding server, Shoko, and then assisted throughout the meal by several others. We had visits from the restaurant manager and the general manager during the course of our meal, as well, with each course presented and explained by the chef. From a service perspective, this was Extra with a capital E – absolutely fitting for the quality of the meal. Shoko and her team were doting without being cloying; I never felt like I was being watched, but every need we had, from drink refills to the pacing of the meal, was perfectly managed.

Kaiseki

The Chef’s Table experience at Takumi-Tei is billed as a nine-course kaiseki experience reflective of the traditional Japanese multi-course meal, generally viewed as very fancy and upscale, akin to many haute cuisine dining experiences you’d find elsewhere. Kaiseki meals are marked by their dedication to hospitality, honoring the guests dining, that also honors nature with local, fresh, seasonal ingredients and flowers and natural elements incorporated throughout. Traditionally, kaiseki were meant as the meal served prior to a tea ceremony (also the case here), building to one of Japan’s utmost traditions.

This all probably sounds incredibly austere and intimidating to those who’ve never had this experience before, and truthfully, you feel the sincerity and importance of the meal at nearly every moment. But – and I say this with the utmost respect to Victoria & Albert’s – it is the exact opposite of Victoria & Albert’s brand of “stuffy” and “uppity”. I never felt like our meal at Takumi-Tei was being fancy for fancy’s sake – it was a true reflection of the respect the chef paid towards her ingredients and guests; a momentous meal meant to celebrate so much. The food is certainly fussed over, but much like the service, it never felt over-the-top or as if they were putting on airs to impress. Don’t fear the fanciness here – I think it’s a truly accessible way to try one of the world’s most revered dining experiences in the comfort of a theme park.

The Meal

Our menus for the evening, customized for the party with our namesEvery diner at the Chef’s Table is presented with a customized menu, which was artfully packaged for us as we departed. Each course of the meal was presented, as mentioned, by our chef, explaining the ingredients and meaning behind each dish. Out of respect for the meal, I did not take notes during each course, as I usually would with a meal this complex, but we were allowed photos, and below, I’ve done my best to explain each course served.

Our sealed menus, presented to us at the end of the eveningOne of our group chose to partake in the beverage pairing ($100), while another sampled a carafe of sake recommended by our server. Each guest choosing to drink sake was afforded the opportunity to select a cup of their choice – a really great touch on the service side that was completely unexpected. I sampled two of the menu’s non-alcoholic beverages along with our meal, both of which featured fresh juices and were suitably light for a long meal after a hot summer day in the parks.

Otoshi

Otoshi - salmon roll with crispy salmon skinOur first course was an amuse-bouche that the menu mentions will rotate daily – on our particular day, we met a salmon “roll” with crispy salmon skin. Incredibly crunchy, the noise of eating each piece of salmon skin pierced through the serene atmosphere of the room and broke the ice a bit, all the while introducing a slight brininess to the otherwise sweet and delicate salmon that really awakened our palates as we embarked on our meal.

Mozaiku Roll

Mozaiku rollA small sushi course, this mosaic-esque square roll filled with small portions of tuna, yellowtail, asparagus, and red shiso rice, topped with tobiko (flying fish roe) was served atop a lemongrass ponzu foam emulsion. The red shiso rice enveloping the asparagus in the corners of the mosaic gave the dish a slight anise flavor, but overall, the fish here was a little lost – light in portion, it was tough for even the strength of the tuna to shine over the brightness of the lemongrass ponzu sauce. Our group thought the sauce was excellent, but should’ve been used as an accent atop the roll, rather than a base – the mosaic is beautiful, but the true fish flavor would’ve shown a bit more.

Hama No Kani

Hama no Kami - Crabs on the BeachBilled as “crabs on the beach”, this dish is meant to evoke crabs crawling through the sand of a beach. The plating on this dish absolutely stunned our table – the simple visual of the crab claw peeking its way through the glass-encased sand was just beautiful. Ponzu-poached crab sits alongside a claw and a tiny soft-shell crab (“crab snack!”, exclaimed Shoko, who also told us you can buy these in Mitsukoshi by the bag – tempting!), sitting atop frisee dressed in leek gel, heirloom tomato, watermelon A closer look at Hama no Kami, Crabs on the Beachradish tsukemono, and dotted with sesame pollen atop a plum wine reduction. There’s a ton going on in this dish, but each ingredient playfully juxtaposes a natural sweetness inherent to their core with a preparation highlighting another facet of their personality. Everything here was best when consumed together, as you’d expect. The plum wine reduction brought a deep caramel-like note to the base, while the frisee with leek gel added pepperiness, with the brightness of the pickled watermelon radish and acidic tomato singing in harmony with the sweet and delicate crab.

Misoyaki Ochazuke

Misoyaki Ochazuke - green tea dashi poured over Misoyaki sea bassThe last of our seafood courses, this comfort “soup” course really blew me away with complexity hidden in its simplicity. In this dish, we were presented with misoyaki glazed seabass, sitting atop karikari sushi, shirasu (small whitefish), tsukemono (pickled radish), toasted nori, shimeji mushroom, all topped with an ocha dashi broth (green tea and fish stock combined in harmony, poured tableside). The soup aspect of this dish is steeped in tea flavor, with mild earthy notes elevating the flaky, mild seabass and the umami bomb of the misoyaki glaze and nori with the shimeji mushrooms. The crunch of the karikari sushi and sesame bits added a bit of textural variety to an otherwise smooth-eating dish. Of the seafood courses, this was the most interesting to me – it took great effort to elevate a simple soup dish to something far more complex than a menu read of “fish in broth” would indicate.

Kamo Rosu

Lifting the cloche on the Kamo Rosu duck dishOur first meat dish of the evening centered around marinated duck breast, sliced and served atop kabocha squash puree, edamame beans, Japanese mizuna (similar to mustard greens in flavor), cured duck egg yolk, and a grape reduction.  Served under a glass cloche, enveloped in smoke, the aroma absolutely permeated the room long after the smoke had dissipated, though it only offered a slight kiss of the flavor to the duck itself. The duck breast was well-seared, perfectly paired with the sweet grape reduction, squash puree, and the peppery greens. I was very impressed with how pungent the duck egg yolk crumbles were on this dish – the creaminess brought to the plate from these tiny bits of yolk really brought each bite together.

Hashiyasume

Hashiyasume - cucumber gelee with pickled ginger sorbetPrior to the main event, we were served a palate cleanser consisting of cucumber gelee with plum sauce and pickled ginger sorbet. These were strong, refreshing flavors paired together that left as quickly as they arrived – a perfect interstitial in the meal.

Wagyu Tabekurabe

Wagyu, two ways - On the left, American Jackman Farms Wagyu, on the right, Japanese A5 wagyuThe final entrée course is really the star of the show – top-grade Japanese A5 Wagyu strip steak paired with Jackman Farms American Wagyu strip steak and a variety of accompaniments. On our secondary “salt block” plates, we saw roasted cippolini onion, curried potato, seasonal mushroom (morels, for us – everyone agreed these were the best thing on the plate!), yuzu kosho, fresh grated wasabi, and an Arima Sansho pepper reduction. The Jackman Farms wagyu, a Florida local specialty, was the pinnacle of what we think of as “steak” – wonderfully charred, with a strong flavor that paired well with the curried potatoes and cippolini onions. The Japanese A5, though, was the true star – intricately marbled with fat, melting like butter with every bite, it was simply divine on its own, but really outstanding when paired with the yuzu kosho and wasabi both cutting through the richness of the beef. The peppercorn sauce was more sweet than savory, which helped keep the dish from veering into the “salty” range. The pure extravagance of the A5 and real grated wasabi (reserved for special occasions) alongside the previous Morel mushrooms (highly coveted by chefs, and rightly so) really marked this dish as one to remember.

Suiren Dani

Suiren Dani - Japanese Water CakeReminiscent of water lilies, this dessert featured the uber-trendy Japanese water cake, topped with rose soaked in sake syrup, kuromitsu (a brown sugar syrup), kinako crumb (a graham cracker-esque crumb made from roasted soybean flour). The water cake itself doesn’t have much of a flavor (which is the point!), but the sheer novelty of the cake’s beauty and wonder really does the trick. The kinako and kuromitsu are the predominate flavors, with a play on salty-sweet at the fore. I loved that this dessert was not cloyingly sweet, a perfect grace note to a vast and varied meal.

Tea Ceremony

Tea CeremonyThe last event of the Chef’s Table meal, nearly all of the servers in the restaurant, it seemed, came to join our dining party during the ceremony. Our tea master explained the tradition of the tea ceremony and its 1,000 steps, and was also kind enough to note that they’ve simplified it a bit to reflect the original traditions and meaning for this experience. We watched as our server carefully scooped the matcha into cups, added a splash of hot water, and whisked to froth it properly. Then we were taught how to properly honor the tea before drinking, before finally taking a sip of the ceremonial-grade matcha. Served alongside dragonfruit and beet mochi stuffed with red bean paste, this was a delightful end to our meal, with a tempered sweetness that offset the earthy matcha well.

Final Thoughts

Table setting for the kaiseki mealOverall, our meal at Takumi-Tei lasted just about two and a half hours – for nine courses, this seemed very reasonable. The price for all of this? $180 each (plus tax and gratuity, of course). All things considered, this was – and I’m whispering this so no one at Disney hears me – a great value for a meal of this quality at Walt Disney World. It is far and away a better value than its closest counterpart, Victoria & Albert’s, with a similarly high level of doting service and a far less stuffy atmosphere, to boot.

Each course escalated in intensity from most mild in flavor to boldest, crescendoing at the wagyu course before de-escalating to the subtle grace notes of the water cake and the closing tea ceremony. At its core, this food is very accessible to even pickier eaters – Takumi-Tei is a steakhouse, after all, and Japanese food’s traditional focus is on quality ingredients shining in relatively simple preparations. Most dishes have traditional analogs within upscale American cuisine – steak and potatoes with roasted onions is literally the centerpiece of the menu, after all.

Epcot's Japan pavilionOne thing to note – all of these dishes are available in full or as part of courses within the main dining room. The omakase seven course experience in the main dining room features a largely similar menu, with just a few additions rounding out the Water Room chef’s table experience. The manager of the restaurant did mention to us that should we return, they would make an effort to not repeat dishes for guests (unless they want the same meal!) – this ensures that this is a repeatable high-quality experience, and not just a one-off for you.

All in all, I can’t wait to return to Takumi-Tei, both for a meal in the main dining room, and for another chef’s table experience. It was the perfect blend of education and entertainment – immersion in a cultural experience that didn’t feel like a chore; the perfect blend of classic Epcot ideals presented in culinary form.

 

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