When my daughter, who almost never asks for anything, asked to go to T-Rex for dinner yesterday, I shouted “Absolutely!”, hoping she couldn’t hear the “Hell No! We Won’t Go!” shouts coming from the Local #24 Taste Bud Union protestors marching on my tongue.
Delighting her (and ourselves) with animatronic predators of yore or an endless view of the Pacific Ocean on a sunny day is occasionally worth a meal of limp vegetables, wallpaper-esque cream sauces and bland exploding brownies (how its even possible to combine sugar, fat and chocolate and come up with something making celery look like a parade of flavors I’ll never know).
A teeny thing the waitress at Disney Spring’s T-Rex restaurant did last night has changed how I will approach the whole theme restaurants from here on out.
As soon as we mentioned being vegetarians, the waitress halted her recitation of the specials (all shrimp) and enthusiastically ran off to have the chef come talk to us.
The Executive Chef and sous chef (I’m assuming) were out within minutes genuinely interested in what they could make to delight us. With minimal guidance (“no mushrooms, I love a sage butter sauce, if you make us pasta please make it al dente”) the dishes that emerged were excellent. And I mean excellent as in as good as we’d expect at an upscale restaurant in Italy, New York or any other food capital.
Our first surprise dish was asparagus cut into ribbons atop a (white sauce) and balsamic reduction. Our entrée was a primavera linguine with fresh, firm haricot vert, broccoli, and peppers in a tomato pepper sauce.
Both dishes were the exact opposite of what we’d expected from a theme restaurant. For starters, the flavor derived from the main ingredients, not from the usual compensating trio of salt, grease or sugar. The vegetables were firm, perfectly cooked to be crunchy. The sauces were light. Not as ethereal as you’d expect from a Per Se but definitely closer to the delicate side of the continuum then the gloopy Mess Hall blob often served up.
The chefs came out twice to check on our meals and when my husband asked for another fork (yes, I cringed) he even happily obliged, as if he did not have 1,099 other meals to make that night.
It was then I realized why asking the chef to whip up a special meal is a win-win strategy at a restaurant that appeals to tourists (but isn’t a tourist trap). At those places where quality is more than a marketing slogan, the constraint is usually quantity: the executive chefs could not possibly have gotten their jobs without having made some seriously impressive dishes for the bosses—who likely know the difference between Per Se and Perkins.
Every once in a while I’m sure they are keen to practice their ingredient improv skills to great acclaim by an appreciative audience.
Here it was obvious quality was a priority. From the manager Ken, to our waitress who took initiative, to the two chefs (who are too shy to want their names mentioned here) we were treated exceptionally at every single step of the meal. But most importantly, the meal was truly outstanding.