The France pavilion at Epcot has reopened its boutique restaurant Monsieur Paul, which had been shuttered since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. It returns with a new concept that is ambitious both in scope and price, especially considering its location within a theme park.
It is presenting the “gastronomic meal of the French,” a festive meal that celebrates special occasions that in 2010 was inscribed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It doesn’t get much grander than that.
In more simplistic terms, it is a multi-course, prix fixe dinner that according to the dictates should begin with an apéritif, end with liqueurs and feature in between at least four courses – a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert.
That’s all there, and more, at Monsieur Paul. Plus the added fun of having fellow diners in shorts, t-shirts and the occasional Minnie Mouse headdress. A note on the restaurant’s web page reads: “Guests are expected to dress accordingly in attire that adheres to the restaurant’s sophisticated and upscale aesthetic. Please no swimwear.” So at least there’s that.
Actually, on the evening that my companion and I were invited to experience the dinner, most of the people dining were more properly dressed; any shorts hidden beneath the long flowing white tablecloths. After all, at $195 per person, plus a reasonable $65 for pairings (and never mind the park’s entrance fee), this isn’t a restaurant you decide to drop in to on a whim while strolling by. It’s a multi hour affair, something to be savored and enjoyed, and planned for.
(And in what must be a first for a restaurant inside the theme park, Monsieur Paul does not serve nightly, currently open Tuesday through Saturday.)
Leading the kitchen of Monsieur Paul is the pavilion’s former executive chef, Bruno Vrignon, who had been with the organization since Epcot first opened. He announced his retirement while the restaurants were still closed during the pandemic. He returned to assist with the reopening of Monsieur Paul, though he says it is temporary.
We began our evening with the proscribed apéritif, in this case Champagne, and an amuse bouche of sushi-grade tuna with gougères.
My starter was the Maine lobster with passion fruit vinaigrette, the emptied shell prettily placed on the plate with the claw meat in the middle.
My companion had the escargot cassoulette, an iridescent stew with watercress and potatoes, a wwelcome alternative to the more usual bourguinon.
For the fish course I had the sea bass in fish-shaped puff pastry, plated tableside with sea salt and a mignonette of black pepper, accompanied by roasted cauliflower with almonds. A sauce choron (béarnaise with tomato concasse) finished it off.
Snapper was presented with exquisite potato scales and a rosemary sauce on top of celery root and carrots.
A third fish-course option was ‘coquille St. Jacques served with maple butternut squash velouté.
For an intermezzo, a traditional trou Normand was presented, a pear liqueur – the pear inside the bottle – over sorbet. Trou Normand translates to the Norman hole and is thought to mean that ingesting the alcoholic beverage creates a hole in the stomach to allow one to continue with the meal.
Continue we did with the meat course, with roasted rack of lamb served with cabbage stuffed with mushrooms and chestnuts plus carrots, both whole and pureed.
And chicken fricassee with a creamy sauce of morels and black truffles, served with rice pilaf.
An assortment of five cheeses followed, from mild to sharp, representing various regions of France.
Dessert featured a showy sphère du chocolate au lait that melted when hit with a hot chocolate sauce, revealing chocolate almond cake inside.
A vacherin classique, meringue with vanilla ice cream, strawberry sorbet and raspberry coulis, offered a more traditional sweet.
Followed by assorted mignardises.
The upstairs space is more sedate and relaxed than the downstairs Chefs de France brasserie. And it has fewer tables than before, so it’s also more intimate.
Another welcome nod to “before times” is the return of French nationals to the serving staff. They bring a refreshing professionalism to the evening.
The Paul of the restaurant’s name, of course, is Bocuse, the famous chef who died in January 2018 and whose son, Jérôme, now runs the restaurant empire under his own banner. This gastronomic meal is a fitting tribute to the master. Whether it can be fully appreciated in a theme park setting will remain to be seen.