Walt Disney World’s restaurant scene is constantly changing–evolving, declining, and reinventing itself. The last several years have seen the addition of several excellent in-park table service options, with great new dining in Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Magic Kingdom.
Considered by many fans as the culinary epicenter of Walt Disney World, World Showcase has always boasted a formidable and diverse dining lineup. It improved with the reimagining of Bistro de Paris into Monsieur Paul, which we raved about in our review last year. Now, there’s another new World Showcase restaurant that challenges its crown…
That newcomer is Takumi-Tei in Epcot’s Japan pavilion, a Signature Restaurant tucked away on the first floor of the Mitsukoshi department store. (Far right on the top photo.) If you weren’t actively looking for Takumi-Tei, you probably wouldn’t find it. Suffice to say, the restaurant is a hidden gem in both the literal and figurative senses of the word.
After months of rumors and construction, Takumi-Tei opened last year to minimal fanfare. It isn’t on the Disney Dining Plan, not even as a 2-credit option (and hopefully won’t ever be–it’s not a venue that lends itself well to the Disney Dining Plan). Perhaps consequently, Takumi-Tei hasn’t received a ton of enthusiasm among Walt Disney World fans.
We weren’t around when Takumi-Tei opened, and in the months that followed we were hesitant to give it a try over fears that the menu would change, rendering any reviews obsolete. We finally tried Takumi-Tei a few weeks ago with friends, and were so impressed that we immediately returned with another couple.
Admittedly, we are biased here. Regular readers of the blog likely know that we love Japan. In the last couple of years, we’ve spent several months in Japan. Most of that time has been in Kyoto, which is the ancient capital of Japan and the cultural heart of the country. Kyoto is also our favorite city in the world.
Much of Epcot’s Japan pavilion is modeled after Kyoto–either specifically (like Katsura Grill, which is modeled after Katsura Imperial Villa, an exemplar of traditional Japanese architecture and design) or in an evocative sense. Takumi-Tei falls into the latter category. Its menu is also somewhat comparable to what you’d find in the city’s Gion District or Pontocho Alley.
With that out of the way, let’s start with a look at the theme.
Takumi-Tei means house of the artisan, and the interior celebrates the relationship between Japanese craftsmanship and the natural world. Takumi-Tei’s food is inspired by the wonderful collaboration between nature and takumi, the artisan.
Upon entering Takumi-Tei, you walk through an entrance corridor that introduces the premise of the design via displays in the wall. Each of the 5 dining rooms is inspired by a natural element: water, wood, earth, stone or washi paper.
Essentially, it’s styled after a traditional Japanese restaurant, with nods to various influences and those motifs defining the look and decor of each individual room.
Japanese design often reflects strong connections to the surrounding landscape, both in terms of the materials used and how the structures work with the natural environment. For instance, Katsura Imperial Villa’s buildings are situated in a stroll garden with dramatic reveals as you walk the grounds, and meticulously-planned views from the structures themselves.
Takumi-Tei doesn’t have any views into Epcot due to its location, but it’s arguably better for that. It instead hangs its hat on using forms and materials to create a strong connection to nature. The self-contained serenity makes for a more transportive dining experience–you totally forget you’re inside a theme park.
One of the hallmarks of Japanese design is simplicity imbued with a sense of tranquility. We’re happy to report that Takumi-Tei absolutely excels at this. No matter how busy and loud Epcot is, that melts away when you enter the restaurant.
The interior provides a welcoming calm with a mix of textures and subtle touches work really well together. There’s no pretension, but the simplicity is deceptive. Upon closer inspection, details and careful design elements reveal themselves and the intrinsic qualities of the natural materials on display.
For example, several of the rooms have carpet that simulate the look of tatami mats, exposed beams mirroring their respective styles, and recessed lighting accentuating the aesthetic. The Earth Room features layers of strata in the walls, punctuated by rich wood-framed alcoves showcasing art pieces.
The Wood Room features literal wooden art pieces, which are themselves quite pretty. However, it’s the details here that define the space. The decorative ranma (transom) above the wall panels that itself showcases juniper trees.
The Washi Paper Room showcases beautiful panels depicting Mount Fuji during sakura season on what resembles decorated fusuma paper screens.
To complement the artwork, this room utilizes a lighter color palette.
My favorite area of Takumi-Tei is the Stone Room, which is highlighted by a gravity-defying karesansui, or Japanese Zen garden.
While this piece steals the spotlight, it’s the details like the simulated shin (formal) stone path on the ground that elevate the look.
Suffice to say, Takumi-Tei might not be the pinnacle of Imagineering’s themed design, but don’t let the simple and clean aesthetic fool you. There’s a lot of subtle beauty here. The elemental motifs offer a conduit for showcasing various aspects of traditional Japanese design, with each room having its own unique qualities and appeal.
Takumi-Tei is a pretty close approximation to what you might find in an actual high-end restaurant in Japan. Most importantly, the style works perfectly for the serenity of the venue. Viewed holistically, Takumi-Tei is a top tier Walt Disney World restaurant in terms of atmosphere.
A huge element of what defines the atmosphere at Takumi-Tei is the service. It’s a very different vibe from Victoria & Albert’s or even Monsieur Paul–and one we think more Walt Disney World guests will appreciate. Unlike other fine dining restaurants that can be stuffy, the service at Takumi-Tei is attentive, comforting, and heartfelt.
Omotenashi is the Japanese term for this, which means that service is honest and unpretentious, from the bottom of the heart. This is the guiding principle for Japanese hospitality with great attention to detail. (Read more about omotenashi.)
Even before eating anything, we were pretty well sold on Takumi-Tei. Fortunately, the food also thoroughly impressed…
For our first meal at Takumi-Tei, we did Omakase Tasting Menu in addition to a regular entree.
This review is already getting long and we have a lot to say about that quasi-kaiseki experience, so we’ll save that for its own post in the near future. Suffice to say, the Omakase experience was exceptional.
Our friends who dined with us the first time at Takumi-Tei ordered a couple of drinks to start the meal.
Above is the Kami: Roku Gin, Sayuri ‘White Lilly’ Nigori Sake, Calipco, Lychee.
Next, the Sakurajima: Kaiyo Japanese Whisky Sour with Smoked Cherrywood.
This drink is presented table-side in a glass case with cherrywood inside, and when opened, smoke billows out. During our second meal, someone a few tables away ordered this and that smoky smell wafted through the air over to us. It was delightful.
Moving to the appetizers, we begin with the Nikomi Wagyu: Roasted Bone Marrow, Braised Wagyu Shortrib, Yuzu Kosho, Wasabi Shiso Bavaroise Warishita.
This is phenomenal–we both agreed that it’s literally one of the best things we’ve ever eaten at Walt Disney World. The bone marrow provides a rich, creamy, and fatty flavor that helps enhance the shortrib. The type of Wagyu isn’t specified here, but it’s safe to assume that this is American Wagyu. Nevertheless, it’s tender and delicious–and taken to the next level by the marrow. We would’ve liked wasabi with a bit more kick, but how it’s presented will make this a crowd-pleaser. It’s an absolute must-order for anyone dining at Takumi-Tei.
Then there’s the Mozaiku Sushi: Tuna, Yellowtail, Asparagus, Tobiko, Red Shiso Rice, Lemon Grass Ponzu. We both love sashimi, but opted against ordering that.
Instead, we ordered this because it’s the most popular sushi on Takumi-Tei’s menu. Our expectations were low for this, and it didn’t even manage to meet those. The presentation is beautiful, but it’s otherwise just an average roll with meager portions of tuna and yellowtail. At least everything tasted fresh and reasonably high quality. The Lemon Grass Ponzu foam is actually the highlight here, with an addictive and gingery tang.
Moving along to our entrees, we first ordered the Ochazuke: Misoyaki Sea Bass, Karikari Sushi, Shirasu, Tsukemono, Toasted Nori, Shimeji Mushroom, Ocha Dashi Broth.
This sea bass is one of the best seafood dishes I’ve ever tasted. I was concerned that this would essentially be “fish soup,” but that (fortunately) was far from the case. Instead, the dashi broth gave the fish a deeper umami flavor, which was also given a nice assist thanks to its fatty quality. The shimeji mushrooms were also fantastic and further enhanced the dish. Highly recommended.
Next, the Kamo: Marinated Duck, Kabocha Squash, Edamame Beans, Japanese Mizuna, Cured Duck Egg Yolk, Grape Reduction.
During both meals, I was hoping to be the one to order this. Both times, someone else ordered it and raved about it. Everything about this sounds and looks fantastic to me, and hopefully after our next meal at Takumi-Tei, I can report back with a firsthand assessment.
For my second meal, I ordered the Tempura Ebi: Tempura Tiger Prawns, Crisped Silken Tofu, Green Tea-smoked Black Rice, Caramelized Togarashi Cream, Sea Beans, Shimeji Mushroom.
I’ve had a lot of tempura in my day–ranging from fast food (Tenya is one of my guilty pleasures) to Michelin-rated restaurants. I’ve never had tempura this dense. Part of that was the tiger prawns, which themselves were really thick (so no complaints there) and part was the batter.
The flavor was nonetheless delicious, and they were perfectly prepared…just different. I also didn’t anticipate having to remove the head myself, and didn’t appreciate that hassle. (Your mileage may vary on that–I seldom order lobster for this same reason.) Even though I liked the tempura, the green tea-smoked rice was the highlight–incredibly unique and the smokiness added a ton to the flavor. I personally wouldn’t order this again, but I wouldn’t recommend avoiding it, either.
We round out the entrees with Sarah’s pick for our second meal, the Tataki: Misoyaki Salmon, Citrus Curry, Asparagus, Baby Shiitake Mushroom, Black Sesame Tofu, Ikura.
Another winner on the seafood side of the menu. The sweet taste of the miso stood out, and worked well with the crispness and zest of the curry. The salmon was perfectly-prepared, too. The end result is a nicely-executed Japanese twist on a familiar twist. I think the sea bass is way more interesting, unique, and delicious–but this is a solid pick if you’re ride or die with salmon entrees for some reason.
We’ll cover the Shizuku (Water Cake) in the Omakase Tasting Menu Review, but you don’t want to order that.
Instead, choose one of the other desserts–both are flavorful and fantastic. Above is the Hachimitsu Castella: Castella Cake, Honey Meringue, Sesame Brittle, Hojicha Custard, Honey Caramel.
We absolutely loved this, and would rank it highly among all of the Walt Disney World desserts we’ve ever had. The sheer variety of textures, flavors, and consistencies is impressive, making the dish engaging and fun. The pumpkin, caramel, and soybean flavors are most dominant, and are spectacular together.
Kumo is the perfect way to end a meal at Takumi-Tei, and a stark contrast to the Shizuku. The Nikomi Wagyu for a starter, followed by the Ochazuke/Sea Bass as an entree, and this as a dessert makes for an unbeatable meal–arguably the best “regular” dinner you can have in World Showcase. With that said, there’s an even better option at Takumi-Tei, which we’ll cover in our next post about the Epcot eatery.
Price-wise, none of this comes cheaply. That “perfect meal” would cost nearly $100 (before discount), which is on par with other Signature Restaurants around Walt Disney World. The Omakase Tasting menu is more expensive than Monsieur Paul’s “Prix Fixe Menu Dégustation” while still being significantly less than Victoria & Albert’s. Nevertheless, it’s worth it–and that’s something that cannot be said of all Signature Restaurants at Walt Disney World.
Overall, Takumi-Tei is our new #1 restaurant not just in World Showcase or Epcot, but inside all theme parks at Walt Disney World. From the understated but serene atmosphere to the superlative service to the sumptuous cuisine, Takumi-Tei is truly something special. Suffice to say, this belongs on your short list for a date night dinner or special occasion splurge. It’s not even remotely intimidating, and deserves far more hype and accolades than it has received thus far.
Have you dined at Takumi-Tei? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Would you consider it one of the best (or the best) in-park restaurants at Walt Disney World? If you haven’t dined here, does this sound appealing to you or not? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!