LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Epcot debuted in 1982, the World Showcase pavilions pioneered the idea of global cuisine as a theme park attraction in itself, and expanded fine dining in Central Florida.

Now for the park's 25th birthday, Epcot is unwrapping the biggest makeover in World Showcase history, with grand new dining experiences that truly raise the bar with exciting restaurants, diverse menus and redesigned settings to wow guests with something fresh and different.

Here's what's on the front burner:
# Patina Group's Tutto Italia Ristorante just opened in the Italy pavilion. Another new restaurant in the same space is planned for late 2008.
# In October, the Japan pavilion debuts Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo, a dramatic redevelopment of their dining rooms.
# China's Nine Dragons Restaurant closes in early 2008 to create a new dining room with five cooking stations, reopening in late 2008.
# By summer 2008, a new tequila bar opens adjacent to San Angel Inn Restaurante in the Mexico pavilion, and the outdoor Cantina de San Angel expands, with more seating and a new menu.

Collaborating with chefs and restaurateurs from around the world, such as France's celebrated trio of Paul Bocuse, Roger Verger and Gaston Lentre at Chefs de France, and Joachim Splichal's just-opened Tutto Italia Ristorante, the Epcot restaurants are premiere attractions at Walt Disney World Resort. From a spirited mariachi band and mole poblano in Mexico to belly dancing and spicy bastilla in Morocco, World Showcase offers gustatory globe-trotting -- all in easy walking distance.

"There's not another theme park in the world with such diverse dining adventures," said Rilous Carter, general manager of Epcot Food & Beverage. "The idea is to immerse our guests in traditional cultures, but with contemporary experiences."

As Epcot celebrates its silver anniversary, the Walt Disney World culinary team is unwrapping all-new dining concepts, and expanding and renovating longtime favorites. And menus are being rewritten with lighter, fresher, more healthful cuisine.

"World Showcase is timeless, and continually evolving with more interactive experiences," said Dieter Hannig, vice president of Food & Beverage New Concepts. "As our world grows smaller, Epcot grows more exciting, more authentic. The dreams and ideas are endless."

Explore Italy's Cuisine at Tutto Italia Ristorante

In the Italy pavilion, Tutto Italia ("everything Italian") Ristorante is the newest restaurant for California-based Patina Group. Showcasing cuisine from different regions of Italy, the newly outfitted restaurant features a bustling open-kitchen kitchen and a menu with freshly made breads and pastries, handmade mozzarella and pasta and an array of Italian wines.

"My inspiration for Tutto Italia was the incredible variety of cuisines that I have enjoyed during my visits to Italy," said Chef Joachim Splichal. "I wanted to distill that experience and create a restaurant with some of my favorite dishes."

Meals start with a complimentary starter, or assaggini, that includes vegetables, bruschetta, crostini and olives served with bread. Special features include the "Abbondanza Family Table" with family-style platters for sharing at lunch and dinner. Tutto Italia also has an outdoor kiosk and a gelati cart.

Tutto Italia Ristorante is the latest addition to Patina Group's portfolio of nearly 30 restaurants and its first in Florida, with plans to open another restaurant in the same space at Epcot by late 2008.

All-New Dining at Japan

Just unveiled on the top floor of the Japan pavilion is the all-new Tokyo Dining, and beautifully redesigned teppanyaki dining rooms, renamed Teppan Edo.

"This is not a renovation, but a complete redevelopment," said Yutaro Iwamura, director of business for Mitsukoshi USA. With sleek interiors and stylish new costuming for chefs and servers, both restaurants infuse authentic Japanese hospitality with a dash of hipness.

The popular teppanyaki rooms feature show-style cooking and upscale cuisine such as Wagyu and Kobe beef, along with traditional teppan dishes. Tokyo Dining (formerly the tempura bar and adjoining lounge) is a 140-seat dining room with a centerpiece "show stage" where diners can watch the sushi chefs in action. Nearly 50 varieties of sushi and sashimi and six varieties of sake are on the menu, along with tempura and grilled steaks and seafood.

Japan is one of several operating partners at Epcot who make the dining experience magical.

"These operating participants bring expertise and authenticity to Walt Disney World," said Keith Bradford, vice president of Operating Participants. "Particularly in World Showcase, these professional restaurateurs bring a diverse perspective to the park experience."

China's New Exhibition Kitchen

In China, a new Joy of Tea outdoor cart features hot and cold teas, trendy frozen green tea concoctions and alcoholic drinks such as plum wine and wine green tea slush. The pavilion's Lotus Blossom Caf has been renovated and features a new menu that includes Beijing barbecue chicken, sesame chicken salad and rou jia mo, a popular Chinese sandwich made with sliced beef stuffed in toasted wheat-flour flatbread.

China's Nine Dragons table-service restaurant will close in early 2008 to make way for an innovative dining room that will feature five cooking stations where guests can interact with chefs from China. Scheduled opening is fall 2008.

Changes All Around World Showcase

In the Mexico pavilion, a 50- to 60-seat tequila bar, including a history of the beverage, replaces a retail shop adjacent to the restaurant, opening in summer 2008. Also in summer 2008, the pavilion's waterfront Cantina de San Angel is expanding with more seating with optimal views of World Showcase, and will offer a new menu.

Plans are under way to expand outdoor seating at the popular Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room, with covered waterfront dining that's optimal for viewing the nightly "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth" fireworks show.

The expanding roster of international chefs joining the Epcot culinary team includes Chef Damien Besson, who comes from Chef Paul Bocuse's L'abbaye de Collonge in Lyon, France. And Artur Bukalo, a native of Berlin, Germany, is the new chef at Germany's Biergarten Restaurant.

While restaurant menus are redesigned to reflect tastes and trends, there's special emphasis on fresh, seasonal creations, said Epcot Executive Chef Christine Weissman. And like the rest of Walt Disney World Resort, trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils are being phased out of all restaurants.

"Our guests know more than ever about food and wine," said Weissman. "They are health-conscious and looking for new taste sensations -- our fun challenge is to exceed their expectations."

Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

Adding even more diversity to the mix for dining experiences is the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, in its 12th year. The six-week-long festival adds more than 25 international marketplaces with tapas-sized tastes of food from around the world, from the Dominican Republic to Turkey.

The Epcot festival has grown dramatically, attracting a diverse audience of more than 1 million guests each fall, from wine connoisseurs and epicures to neophytes primed to boost their wine IQs. Beer aficionados can raise their steins at several tasting locations.

"There's no other festival environment in the world like ours," said festival manager Nora Carey. "From the picturesque World Showcase Lagoon to the authentic architecture that showcases many cultures, it's an ideal backdrop for the exceptional culinary and wine-related talent of Walt Disney World Resort and for the great celebrity chefs and wine connoisseurs who join us each year."

Source: Walt Disney World