Disney has some amazing dining experiences in its parks and resorts. One doesn’t necessarily think of fine dining when a Walt Disney World vacation is mentioned, but there are many places that will satisfy even the most die-hard of foodies in your travel party. One of my favorites is the California Grill located at the very top of the Contemporary Resort’s tower. It offers unparalleled views of the Magic Kingdom and all of the Walt Disney World property paired with a fresh and creative menu, and impeccable service. Here are 8 things I think you will love about your dining experience at California Grill:
8. The Open Kitchen
Not every seat in the restaurant has a good view of the kitchen, but those that do are in for an entertaining treat. I always find it interesting to watch the hustle and bustle in the kitchen with its perfectly timed rhythm to prepare and plate dishes for the dining room. With a wood fired grill California Grill’s kitchen adds another kinetic element to hold your attention. Particularly for home chefs this is a great feature to the restaurant.
California Grill offers a Sunday Brunch option in addition to its dinner seatings. “Brunch at the Top” offers complimentary mimosas and live music. A great menu features pastries served at the table, a self-serve selection featuring charcuterie, salads and sushi, your choice of entrée and dessert. Another fun twist is a Bloody Mary bar. And all of this while overlooking the Magic Kingdom park during the day time while you can watch the park come to life.
California Grill is well known for its hand rolled sushi offerings. Many people make a meal out of ordering several of the rolls and sharing around the table rather than ordering an entrée. While the menu varies seasonally the current offerings feature a California roll (Jumbo Lump Crab, Avocado, Cucumber, Shrimp Tempura), a Truffle Scented Tofu roll (Avocado, Jicama, Quinoa, crispy Fingerlings, Silken Tofu, Truffle Emulsion), and a New Moon Roll (Maine Lobster, Avocado, Barbecue Eel, Rice Pearls, Gochujang Dragon Sauce). Sushi fans—California Grill should be on your must eat list.
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5. The Menu
Chef de Cuisine Dennis Thompson came to California Grill in 2016 after beginning his Walt Disney World career at the California Grill, then moving to Jiko and Narcoossee’s. Thompson presents a fresh and seasonal menu that will vary each time you dine at California Grill. You will find appetizers, including flatbreads, from the wood fired oven. Of course the sushi mentioned above. A creative selection of appetizers including cheese selections, charcuterie and salads. The entrees have delicious flavor combinations, the Oak Fired Filet of Beef seems to be the most consistent of offerings, but none will disappoint. The desserts can vary as well, but from the current listing I can find at least 3 that I would love to sample, including the current Crème Brulee offering—Creamsicle! And these dishes not only taste delicious, but the plating and presentation is beautiful as you would expect at a signature dining experience.
4. Quality of Service
Some of Disney’s best servers are at their signature dining locations, and California Grill is no exception. In my experiences there the staff are knowledgeable on both the menu and the wine selections to make recommendations and pairing suggestions. They also have the perfect balance of making sure your needs are met, but not “over serving” your table or being over bearing during your meal. They give you space to talk and enjoy, but also never seem to miss a beat when something is needed at the table.
3. Wine Wall
To dine at the California Grill you first check in at a Podium on one of the lower levels of the Contemporary Resort then escorted up to the restaurant in a dedicated elevator. The first thing you see when you exit the elevator is a wall full of wine coolers and bottles upon bottles of wine. California Grill offers an extensive wine list that you can enjoy by the glass or by the bottle to enjoy with your meal. There are 300 selections, mostly from California, with over 50 available by the glass. Not sure what will go best with your meal? The Sommeliers are available to assist with the best pairing.
2. Sunset Views
When I make a dinner reservation I try to make it at a time when I can enjoy the best of both worlds. Early enough to see the expansive view in the daylight to take in all of the sights, and timed perfectly with the sunset. Sunsets in Florida are magnificent and at Walt Disney World they are even more magical. It is a fact that I search the sunset time for Orlando on the date I am dining to prepare for making my reservation—it doesn’t disappoint! I imagine that a sunset proposal out on one of the observation decks would be a very romantic way to ask someone to spend the rest of their life with you.
1. The Fireworks!
The other view that is highly prized at California Grill is the nightly Magic Kingdom Fireworks. The best part is you can eat earlier in the evening (take in those sunset views) and then come back to the podium downstairs with your dinner receipt to come back up for the fireworks. I like to come up early enough to get a good spot, but you can also see the fireworks in some of the other parks from one of the decks. With the projections on the castle for Happily Ever After you don’t get the full experience of the show, but it is always impressive to see how large the fireworks really are—they never look that big in the Magic Kingdom due to the perspective. It is really a perfect dining experience to get away from the parks for a bit but still enjoy all of the magic.
Do you enjoy dining at California Grill? What is your favorite thing?