The Satu'li Canteen is the new counter service location in Animal Kingdom's Pandora. It's a fairly large location with maybe 60% indoor air-conditioned seating and 40% outdoor (but fully covered) tables to choose from. While the menu (at first glance) may look large and exotic, this is mostly American cuisine with a few nods to Asian food tossed in here and there, and… there's "really" only two things on the menu, "stuff in puffy bread", and a "build-your-own bowl" option.The Ordering Format
The format here is very similar to other Disney counter service set ups… there's a large ordering cue, where you pay and pickup your food. There's two pieces of good news here… they seem to have found a system that works better for dealing with large volumes of guests, and you don't have to go to multiple windows to get different things.
If you're familiar with Cosmic Ray's
at the Magic Kingdom
there are different things to eat, at different windows. If you want a thing from each window, it's going to mean a lot of line-standing which is hard when you have a family holding a table, wondering where the heck you are. We see a similar setup at Animal Kingdom's
own "Harambe Market
The other issue I mentioned about "large volumes of guests"… if you've been to the Magic Kingdom's Pinocchio Village Haus
or Pecos Bill's
at a peak dining time, you know that it can get a little crazy. There are multiple lines behind multiple registers. It's a design and space issue to be sure, some of these locations were created 40 years ago when there were less people on the planet.
At Satu'li Canteen, they've built in enough room for a proper, single, large line… with metal guide rails and chains and whatnot. It's very much like an actual attraction line. At the end of the line, there's a single cast member that will direct you to which register number you should cue up behind, to place your order and pick up your food. It's a small thing, but it makes the process much easier for everyone.
After you pick up your food, it's off to the self-serve beverage and silverware station. Yes, real, actual, metal flatware which pairs well with the melamine (plastic) plates and bowls that all the food is served on! It is a really nice bonus for a counter service location to offer these things. It makes it easy to forget that it is still "quick service / counter service". At any other theme park, this would be a cheeseburger and hotdog stand… here, you start to think you're at an honest to goodness restaurant.My Food
As I mentioned at the top, if you carefully digest the menu, there really aren't too many variations here (which makes things go faster in the kitchen as well). On my inaugural visit to the new location, I decided to go with one of the "build your own bowl" options.
The BYOB concept is not one of my favorite, you'll get a couple of unique bites, but before long everything sort of starts to taste them same... because it all gets mixed together very quickly in that single bowl. Basically you get to pick one main protein (in Satu'li's case that would be chicken, beef, white fish of the day, or tofu), one "base" (or what goes under the protein), which would be either quinoa & vegetables, red & sweet potato hash, mixed rice, or romaine & kale… and then one sauce (onion chimichurri, black bean vinaigrette, or a creamy herb dressing). Presumably, everything goes with everything else, to make a total of 48 possible combinations… that… well… probably all taste about the same.
I opted for the Slow Roasted Sliced Grilled Beef with Red & Sweet Potato Hash and Charred Onion Chimichurri Sauce. There were great flavors here, there's no denying that. I really enjoyed the dish more, and longer than I thought I would. The potato hash made a great dense base for the potent (almost unnecessarily potent) chimichurri sauce (i.e. not flavor-full as much as onion-full).
The Slow Roasted Sliced Grilled Beef… this is where Disney Culinary's biggest archival rears it's ugly head… consistency. At least that's what I hope what's going on because the only other option here is, that everyone is getting the same beef that I received, and that wouldn't be a good thing.
For starters, the beef is $1.50 more than the chicken or tofu options, and there appears to be less of it, volume-wise. Beef however, is a premium protein, so that's not uncommon. The beef that I received did have a decent grilled flavor about it, and it is served pink... pink enough to get a "this item contains undercooked ingredients" warning on the menu boards. Depending on how you like your beef, that may be a good thing, or a bad thing. There was a fair amount of fat and grizzle in the portion I received, which is too bad, because there wasn't much beef there to begin with.
What I found to be a little unusual here is, that if you're going to put "sliced" in the actual description of the thing… it should be sliced correctly. There's only two ways about slicing beef, you go with the grain, or against the grain. Going with the grain is easier for the slicer. Going against the grain requires a sharper knife, but is much better for the consumer. A tough piece of meat will only get tougher if you cut with the grain. The beef in my bowl was haphazardly cut (or pulled with a chipper-shredder) more with the grain than not. There wasn't a single piece that didn't end up as a giant never-ending wad of meat-in-your-mouth after you've chewed through everything else. That… is not good.
The flavor of the slow roasted beef was quite good, as was everything else in the bowl. It was so good, that I'm not actually turned away from Satu'li… I just won't be ordering the beef again. That leaves me with 36 other possible combinations to try!
For dessert, I selected the "Food Coloring Oblivion", no… that can't be right… the "Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse". Honestly, after the strong Chimichurri Sauce in the build-a-bowl, the delicate flavors in this one must have been hard to detect, because it seemed to be more about a creamy texture, than actual flavor. Most of the flavor here was coming from the red berry coulis at the bottom of the bowl than anyplace else. Again though, it was creamy, served cold, and very pretty. I'll have to try the chocolate one next before deciding which of the two I like best.
The staff here was great, offering to take tray and even plates away when finished. The area was quite clean and everyone seemed to be staying on top of things. I should take a quick jog back to the gentleman that took my order at the register as well… I did grill him a bit about the options in the build your own bowl, and it did sound like he actually had tried everything, and answered all of my questions. So if you want to know something about one or more of the components, they can help describe what everything is.Overall
At the end of the day, I enjoyed my meal at Satu'li enough to want to go back again and try some of the other things on the menu. It's easy to forget that this is supposed to be "counter service" food. When keeping that in mind... they faired better than my prose might suggest.
I'd say if you're in the area and are ready for a meal, it's a great option (if you can find a seat, we're hearing it's quite packed at peak dining times). Just maybe stay away from the beef unless you're okay with a good bit of chewing.