Katsura Grill is a counter service restaurant in the Japan Pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase at Walt Disney World. The menu here is quite expansive, and consists of teriyaki, udon, sushi, curry, and various combos. For an ostensibly Japanese restaurant, many of these options are fairly approachable and will appeal to a broad selection of guests. In other words, it’s fairly Americanized. You aren’t going to find poisonous fugu fish that will leave you with 22 hours to live if you eat it.
We tend to eat at Katsura Grill a lot. Here’s why…
The biggest reason is ambiance. Katsura Grill is named after Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto. This 17th-century imperial villa features meticulously-manicured gardens and teahouses, along with culturally-significant architecture. We have spent a decent amount of time exploring Kyoto, and this is one of the typical design styles of the area. Katsura Grill and the surrounding area is very reminiscent of places that can be seen in Kyoto.
For me, “understated beauty” is one of the hallmarks of Kyoto, and what makes it such a special place. Few elements of the city can be described as lavish or over-the-top, instead opting for a minimalistic design approach with attention to detail being key. Gardens are carefully designed, sand is carefully raked, and trees are meticulously trimmed. If you don’t take the time to stop and really investigate the scenery, you might leave underwhelmed. Those who do slow down, relax, and allow themselves to be enveloped in the surroundings are rewarded.
Such is the case, albeit to a lesser degree, at Katsura Grill. It’s tucked away from the rest of the Japan pavilion, located in an unassuming building with gardens and water surrounding it. Now, this isn’t to say that these gardens are designed and maintained with the same meticulous scrutiny as those in Kyoto, but the idea that this is a place to slow down and relax is the same. Aside from the contemporary interior of the restaurant (something that doesn’t exactly scream Kyoto, but I assume Imagineering went this route to make it seem modern), this location feels like it could be a restaurant located in a quiet area of Kyoto.
This evocative beauty of the area is, I think, the main reason to eat at Katsura Grill. If you eat here, you must eat at the tables outside by the flowing water and under the lanterns. While the food is passable to good, this setting is the key to Katsura Grill. If you find yourself wanting to scream “SERENITY NOW!” as throngs of strollers bump into your ankles while you navigate the parks, this is the place for you. It’s a great change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Walt Disney World, tucked away from the crowds in a little corner of the park that’ll let you multitask, getting your zen on while you eat.
Even though there are few direct visual similarities–more like common motifs–Katsura Grill reminds me a lot of the grounds around the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, which is one of my favorite places in Japan. Pictured above is one of the buildings from those grounds (not the Silver Pavilion itself).
Katsura Grill’s menu is posted in the open area of the Japan pavilion, before the steps leading up to the actual restaurant. I’m not sure if this is to draw guests up to the restaurant who otherwise may be unaware that it’s there, or if it’s to give advance notice about what’s on the menu to those who may not be interested in the cuisine. Probably a little from column A, a little from column B…
We’ve tried all of the categories of the menu here except the curry. You’re going to see photos from a whopping two different menu items in this review, which may call that claim into question, but the lack of photographic variety is for a good reason.
The first reason is that this is a place where we like to go when we meet people–the outdoor seating is conducive to long, conversational meals–and I’m reluctant to look crazy and take photos of my food in front of others. The second reason is because we often grab food here and take it over to the second story of the department store to eat while waiting for IllumiNations, and the lack of light over there makes food photos incredibly challenging.
The final reason is that, on my last 3 visits to Katsura Grill, I’ve tried to order entrees that combine multiple items on Katsura Grill’s menu for the sake of variety in this review. As a result, on all 3 visits, I’ve ordered the Tonosama Combo, thinking that I didn’t order it the time before. Yep, I’m a dolt.
The silver lining here is that the Tonosama Combo, featuring chicken, beef, and salmon teriyaki, is a decent meal.
The chicken and beef are my favorite parts of the combo, with the chicken being tender and the beef having a nice sukiyaki preparation. I’m not sure whether it’s cooked in soy sauce and/or sugar, but it has a solid flavor to it, without tasting over-prepared. In my experience, the salmon has been a bit rubbery; it’s not bad for counter service, but if I were ordering this for a purpose other than a restaurant review, I’d definitely get the Shogun Combo, which is the same thing, but without the salmon.
There’s also sushi here, and it’s okay. It tastes like upscale supermarket sushi, I think. If you’re craving sushi, it’ll do the trick, but it’s nothing special. I think the Nigri was a pleasant surprise, but it’s all fairly basic.
I’ve also had the udon here several times, and have always enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of tempura, but I’ve found that by the time I eat the tempura udon here, the tempura is super soggy and not too appetizing, so I’d recommend skipping that one. Instead, go for the beef udon, which I think is one of the better items on the menu. It’s still not amazing, but it’s pretty good.
Overall, I know this isn’t the most glowing review of Katsura Grill, but overall, I think it is a pretty good restaurant. In isolation, it’s tough to really get excited about any single menu item (heck, everything is so forgettable that I have ordered the exact same thing on 3 consecutive visits without remembering), but the food is decent on the whole. I’ve never really been blown away by anything here, but I haven’t been disappointed, either. It’s one of those middle of the road places that offers something slightly different from the norm (albeit heavily Americanized) and doesn’t really leave a lasting impression either way. The food isn’t the main reason to eat at Katsura Grill, but rather, the respite from the crowds that the location offers in a peaceful, outdoor setting. This makes it a great spot for those who need to decompress from the crowds, as well as those who really like Japanese-ish cuisine.
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