EPCOT'S Global Dining Scene

Many people visit Orlando's theme parks before or after a cruise, but not all realize there are great alternatives to fast food at reasonable prices. The ethnic restaurants of Disney World's EPCOT attraction are not only economical but also a fun way to begin--or wind down--after your cruise.

I recently visited EPCOT to discover what each of the foreign-theme pavilions has to offer. Even a foodaholic like me could not sample every menu, but I must admit it was fun trying. Besides, I told myself, it's a long walk around the "World Showcase Lagoon," and the calories would burn off.

The Mexican pavilion's San Angel Inn is one of the most beautiful eateries. With a huge mural depicting the Mayan ruins in the moonlight, it gives diners the feeling of eating outdoors amid cooling tropical breezes. The menu is a la carte, and the chef's suggestion is the Mahi-Mahi Al Chopotle, a grilled and marinated filet over a bed of diced chayote and carrots, topped with mushrooms, guajillo pepper, chipotle pepper and parmesan cheese sauce. The lunch price is $16.50; dinner is $19.95. The featured drink, of course, is the Margarita San Angel Inn at $7.25.

The Restaurant Akershus lunch buffet at the Norwegian pavilion is, in my opinion, the best bargain. The Koldtbord (cold selections) includes smoked salmon and mackerel, roast beef, ham, and a variety of cold salads and cheeses. Hot dishes feature baked salmon, venison stew, Norwegian sausages and roast pork. All-you-can-eat lunch from noon to 4:30 p.m. is $12.99. The $18.95 dinner buffet is from 4:30 to 9 p.m. There is also a children's menu of hot dogs, grilled cheese, and assorted sandwiches for $5.95 at lunch; $7.95 at dinner.

Another great value is China's Nine Dragons, where unlimited servings of the "Taste of China" lunch sampler cost $14.75 for adults and $6.25 for children ages 3-11. Shrimp and pork spring rolls, wonton and hot and sour soup, stir-fried shrimp with cashews and honey sesame chicken, all served with steamed white rice, are just a few of the items offered. Dessert is red bean or ginger ice cream. The dinner specialty is the "Nine Dragons Sampler" for two at $42.50. Generous portions include Chinese hot tea and fortune cookies. Many other items are available a la carte.

At the German pavilion, the Biergarten hosts an Oktoberfest buffet of everything from sauerbraten to sauerkraut, with Beck's Beer and Valckenberg wines the drinks of choice.

Italy's L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante makes diners think they are actually in Venice at a quaint outdoor eatery. For lunch, the fried calamari with a spicy marinara sauce is only $6.50, but the favorite is Stuzzicarolo--a rustic assortment of imported Italian gourmet cheeses and sliced meats, including prosciutto, bresaolo, mortadella and soppressata. This generous platter, priced at $23.95, serves two to four people. Pizzas, $9.95, are all made in-house. Prices on everything increase at dinner. Lasagna is $16.95 and a grilled veal chop with a Chianti and black truffle sauce is $33.95. And what would an Italian dinner be without wine? The list is extensive, and prices vary.

At the USA pavilion, The Liberty Inn features (of course) American favorites: burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and apple pie.

All of the restaurants are decorated in the style and culture of their countries, and the servers, all natives, dress in authentic costume.

Japan's Mitsukoshi Restaurant cooks steak, chicken, and seafood before your eyes. The Tempura Kiku features sushi, seafood, batter-fried meat and vegetables. My favorite dish there was the Misoshiru--a soybean soup with tofu and seaweed, only $2.25, followed by Hatamoto--shrimp and chicken, including mixed green salad with ginger dressing, grilled veggies and steamed rice, all for $11.75. The same would have cost $19.95 at dinner. The specialty house drink is the Tachibana--a concoction of light rum, orange curacao, mandarin orange and orange juice for $5.50.

Morocco's Marrakesh Restaurant features authentic architecture, carvings, tiles, paintings and crafts from twelve centuries of Arabic art. The Berber Feast is the lunch special. At $18.95 per person it includes Jasmina salad, brochette of chicken, roast leg of lamb meshoui, vegetable couscous, and fresh fruit salad. Dinner features the Marrakesh Feast for $27.95--Beef brewat rolls, lemon chicken, beef shish kebab and couscous with seven vegetables and assorted Moroccan pastries.

Chefs de France offers a delightful lunch, beginning with appetizers like escargot, $7.95; quiche Lorraine, $9.50; and grilled salmon, $15.95. House wine averages $5.95 per glass. The dinner feature is soup, chicken cordon bleu and crème brulee for $24.95.

The lunch at the United Kingdom's Rose & Crown spotlights the famous British dish -- Fish and Chips, prime cod cooked in batter and served with traditional English chips, $13.79. For dinner, the English Pie Sampler is a popular choice, including chicken and leek and pork and cottage pies, served with pureed root vegetables, priced at $15.99. Another popular item is the Yorkshire Fisherman's Basket--cod strips, salmon cake, and prawns, dipped in batter and served with chips and sweet chili slaw for $18.99. A favorite dessert is the Lemon Posset--chilled lemon cream topped with seasonal berries, $3.99.

The menu of Canada's Le Cellier restaurant features mostly beef dishes with a few fish and chicken items. Typical lunch fare: Herb-crusted prime rib sandwich with red onion jam, $14.99; cast-iron seared lake trout, $10.99, and sweet potato ravioli, $13.99. For dinner, a seven-ounce filet mignon is $23.99; grilled double lamb chops, $25.99; and one of the more popular dishes is the Maple Ginger Glazed Salmon served with candied pecans, watercress, and roasted sweet corn, $18.99. Le Cellier is also known for the 100 Years of Magic Chocolate Cake, $5.99 per slice.

All of the World Showcase pavilions include gift shops, historic exhibits, and occasional musicians. Mexico and Norway have thrill rides. China and Canada both feature a Circle-Vision 360-degree film. The USA pavilion spotlights "The American Adventure," where Ben Franklin and Mark Twain present an inspirational story of America and its people.

Hours for EPCOT's World Showcase are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

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