The nightly fireworks shows return to Walt Disney World on July 1, but if you can’t witness them at one of the parks, you should definitely try to see them at Illume, the gorgeous new rooftop venue at the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek. From the moment you step off the express elevator to the ninth-level restaurant and lounge, everything is a WOW.
Beginning with the view. Step out on the terrace and you can start identifying the Disney landmarks. Walk to the far end and you’ll have a full 180-degree vantage, east to north to west.
The wowness doesn’t end with the view; it’s extended through the inventive cocktails and Asian-inspired menu overseen by chef Myra Buerkle. David Tsan, formerly with Kabooki, is the sushi chef.
Illume doesn’t want to peg itself as a Japanese restaurant. I don’t know why. That’s pretty much what it is, and a damn fine one at that.
My companion and I were treated to a sampling of the menu recently, starting with the Sakana Fritters, little fish balls, breaded and steamed, served on a slaw of mango and topped with lemon aioli. They tasted like spherical crab cakes and were delicious.
We also nibbled on the Bao Pei, steamed buns with smoked pork belly drizzled with hoisin sauce and a yuzu mustard aioli, topped with a bit of cabbage slaw and peanuts. The bao buns were nice and soft and the meat perfectly tender.
The dish listed on the menu as Madai Picchu is being renamed Sequoia after the Japanese whitefish. It featured striped bass sashimi served next to a puddle of aji amarillo sauce dotted with chili oil and pineapple chunks and radish slices on top, garnished with fried lotus root. The fish was cool and refreshing and the chili oil gave the sauce a pleasant little kick.
We sampled two rolls. The first was the Gyu No Kani, which really ought to translate to surf and turf (it doesn’t). It had lump crab meat, cucumber and scallions rolled inside the vinegared rice and a bit of beef tenderloin on top. Some hoisin barbecue sauce, truffle sauce and a black garlic aioli. I liked the different textures.
The Sunset @ Rooftop is a spicy salmon roll with avocado inside and salmon roe on top with some rice pearl sprinkles.
We also had the Yakitori-style Skewers, both salmon and beef, grilled and served over sauteed sugar peas and accompanied by a bowl of impossibly fluffy rice topped with bits of bonito flakes.
For dessert there was Hibiscus Lemongrass Gelato, cool and refreshing, and Matcha Green Tea Tiramisu topped with dark chocolate.
The next time I visit I’m going to Uber or get a room so I can sample all of the fun cocktails, including the Firebird, a martini of Japanese vodka with sake, cantaloupe and green tea syrup served in a whimsical chicky chalice.
And Magritte’s Pipe, an even showier presentation of Japanese whiskey, amaro Montenegro, demerara syrup and tobacco bitters.
There are no conventional tables and chairs but rather scattered groupings of lounge-like seating, inside or out, with low tables. My friend and I chose to sit at the bar. We found the staff to be welcoming, gracious and knowledgeable.
So it isn’t a conventional restaurant experience, but ultimately it is so much more.