Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The San Angel Inn

Note:  This restaurant was visited on 13 May 2012.  The review was originally written later that afternoon.

This time we're visiting the San Angel Inn, at the Mexico Pavillion in Epcot.

The San Angel Inn
This time out, its just Nathan and myself.  It was a bit overcast when we left the house, and while we drove to Epcot in the rain, it had cleared up as we reached the restaurant.  Once again, this is a restaurant located inside the Epcot park.  As such, you're going to need park admission in addition to the cost of the restaurant.

For those of you who haven't ever been to Epcot, the San Angel Inn is located inside the big Aztec pyramid at the Mexico Pavillion, a part of World Showcase.  Once you're inside Epcot, walk under Spaceship Earth, then continue through Future World to Showcase Plaza.  From Showcase Plaza take the left-hand path.  The first pavillion you reach will be the Mexico pavillion (you can't miss it because of the Aztec pyramid).  Enter the pyramid and head all the way back, through the art exhibit and the marketplace, until you see the sign for the San Angel Inn.

The Mexico pavillion.

And the big Aztec pyramid.  The restaurant is inside.

A closeup of the frieze on the front of the pyramid.

Mexican art exhibit.

Mexican art exhibit.

The marketplace inside the pyramid.  The entrance to the San Angel is way in the back there.
Before I get on with anything else, let me warn you about the one thing I didn't really like about this place:  it's dark.  I don't mean "romantically dim".  I mean dark.  I know that some restaurants keep things shadowy for effect, but this is utterly ridiculous.  Except for the lamps on your table, there is absolutely no light in this place.  None.  It doesn't come off as romantic... it comes off as cave-like and a little creepy.

Now, there are other atmospheric elements, like the crickets chirping, and the Mexican music playing in the background, and the Aztec temple-inside-a-temple, and the volcano, and the boats from the "Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros" (a boat-ride attraction located near the restaurant) going by, but the entire thing is really ruined by the fact that you have a hard time seeing three feet in front of you.

This picture was taken without benefit of any lighting other than the table lamps.  See what I mean about dark?
The pyramid inside a pyramid, and the volcano.  Very atmospheric.
So we checked in at the entrance to the cave and was handed a buzzer.  I'd just enough time to sit down on the handy bench before our buzzer went off and we were escorted to our table.  This table, I have to say, was tiny.  It sat just two people, and was dominated by the centerpiece (consisting of an oil lamp that lit up only the small area around the table and a beautify, flowery plate on each side; this beautiful plate was removed almost as soon as we completed our drink order).

The table arrangement.  It was a really small table.

The beautifully painted plate that would be whisked away as soon as my drink order was finished.
Not only was the table small, but it was in close quarters with about sixty other tables, all the same size, and all arranged shoulder-to-shoulder with one another.  In point of fact, the entire restaurant was crowded.  I'm not talking about the "wide-open spaces packed with people" crowded like with T-Rex.  No, I'm talking about the "let's try to cram as many people into as tiny a space as possible" crowded.  I can understand wanting to gather in as many diners as possible, but when I have to sit with my midsection pressed against the table and still get jostled by another guest in the same precarious position behind me, perhaps it is time to thin out the tables.

Our server, Pedro, refused to allow me to take his picture, more's the pity.  He took quite a long time to make his way to our table.  And unfortunately, after a very pleasant first exchange, in which our drink orders were taken, he seemed to disappear for almost the entirety of the meal, much to the chagrin of our empty drink glasses.  Pedro was done with us, and had wondered off into some other story, not interested in seeing ours to a climax.

Rather, our drinks were taken care of by the beautiful and vivacious Jessica, who also brought us our food once it was ready.  These actions were taken care of quickly, with a maximum efficiency and pleasant attitude (a far cry from the borderline antisocial Pedro, who barely said five words to us while taking our orders).

I'm not sure what the system in place is for servers at the San Angel, but apparently the person who takes your order isn't the person who brings it.  This seems odd to me, but there it is.

Pedro did manage to make an appearance later, though, when it was time to pay the bill.  But I digress.

The beautiful and vivacious Jessica.
Interesting enough, she was not from Mexico, unlike most of the cast members working at the restaurant.  She was actually from Los Angeles.  And was Dominican.  Yes, I asked.
But enough about the darkness and the small tables and the being crowded one on top of each other.  You're wondering about the food.  I know you are.  I can hear you out there muttering, "Just get on with it already!".

A complementary paper funnel filled with house-made tortilla chips and two different types of salsa was delivered to the table along with the drinks.  The chips were chips, and the salsa varied between "Wow, that's spicy.  Tastes good, but spicy! and "Holy hell, what are they trying to do, kill us?" in flavor.  Overall, though, they were okay.

The edible salsa, though, was pretty damned good.  It was spicy without dominating the tomato-cilantro flavors that made it so good.  Now, this was the "Mexican" style salsa, in which all ingredients are pureed together, rather than the "chunky" salsa that is so popular in America right now.  But hey, you're in a Mexican restaurant, do as the Mexicans do.

Complementary house chips and two different kinds of salsa.
The salsa on the left was spicy and had a great flavor.
The salsa on the right could have been used as a paint-remover, and was, at least to me, utterly inedible.
To begin with, Nathan and I started with the Tlacoyos de Chilorio.  This appetizer was composed of a pair of corn cakes topped with black refried beans, pork chilorio (a pork dish made by first boiling the meat in water and fat and then frying it with chiles and spices; it makes a great filling for tacos, burritos and tamales), queso fresco, sour cream, and green tomatillo sauce.  Nathan and I thought it could have been salted a bit more, but the lack of it did not in any way detract from how good these tasty little cakes were.

Tlacoyos de Chilorio
For the main, we both picked the Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo (chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce). The plates arrived very quickly. The enchiladas were accompanied by poblano rice (an orange rice pilaf flavored with smoked poblano peppers), and black refried beans. Everything was delicious, well-cooked, and the flavors blended amazingly well.
Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo
Chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce.
Dessert was Mexican flan.  I've never been sure exactly how Mexican flan is different from flan from other parts of the world.  This flan was okay.  Not fantastic, not amazing, just okay.  It suited the purpose, and cooled our mouths down from the beating it took from the poblanos and the jalapenos and other peppers in the main meal.

Basically, we're talking about a slice of custard cake with caramel sauce.  Ours came garnished with granola spinkles and a strawberry.

Mexican flan.
For the two adults, who ordered basically identical meals, the total bill was $54 and change.  I'd give the San Angel Inn three and a half stars out of five.  Despite the service difficulties and the cave-like darkness, I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who likes Mexican food, and to be honest, this is likely the second best dining experience I've had so far at any Disney restaurant, up to and including Le Cellier.

We're going to start changing things up in the future.  We've been doing a lot of Epcot restaurants, and from here on out we're going to try to hit more hotel restaurants, not to mention the restaurants in the other theme parks.

And yes, I've noticed the fact that Nathan and I tend to order the same things when we go our to eat together.  It seems weird to me too.

Next month:  The Brown Derby, at Disney Hollywood Studios.

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