Disney Dining Review: California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
If you’ve ever been to the Magic Kingdom, you’ve also probably been to Disney’s Contemporary Resort, or at least rode the monorail through it. Outfitted with some of the best views of the park, the Contemporary Resort is home to all aspects of the ultra-modern, including a rather new wing of suites. But where the Contemporary Resort stands out in this reviewer’s mind is in its award-winning dining experiences and the dazzling new renovation of California Grill.
After closing in February for renovations, recipe creations, and all around revamping, California Grill finally reopened this September, and it’s sporting some new additions that are sure to thrill your taste buds.
As we walked up, a full moon was hanging over the bright lights and hard corners of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, welcoming us as we began our romantic evening. From the ground level, we took the elevator up one floor to the California Grill Check-In Desk. It was simply a desk where we picked up a pager, and then we were chauffeured to an elevator with a bellhop ready to receive us. Along with another couple, we hopped in and the attendant gave us a list of specials as well as a low down of the latest menu. Our excitement was no doubt apparent.
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As the doors opened on the 15th floor, we were greeted by a beautiful, glowing wall of wine that could have been modern art in itself. This was one of the latest additions, and it was hard to imagine this anteroom without such a centerpiece. While we waited for our pager to buzz, we wandered about the lounge and bar, where there was both an array of contemporary art and furniture, all of which was comfortable and functional. The bar had an assortment of colorful liquors and more wine, as well as what seemed like a wine tasting station. This lead into a show kitchen and sushi bar. While the show kitchen is nothing new to the restaurant, all of its equipment is newly renovated, which means any food it cranks out is always the best it could possibly be, as we would soon find out.
When our pager buzzed, we were taken to the neighboring dining areas, both of which were strategically placed to facilitate breathtaking views of Cinderella’s Castle. Our waiter, Mark, gave us a rundown of the menu and we were off, starting the night with a Cucumber Fizz and a Sake Martini. From the names, you could likely guess what is in them, but what you wouldn’t believe is how good they are. The first was a surprisingly tame combination of Hendrick’s Gin, Limoncello, cucumber water and soda. Though it wasn’t overbearing, this sharp little cocktail does required a certain fondness for the taste of cucumbers. The Sake Martini, on the other hand, didn’t require any predetermined flavors and came along with a sweet splash of Karen “Coy” Sake, Licor 43, and Mango Rum, over a bit of orange and pineapple juice. And if you think that sounds good, we’re just getting started.
As appetizers, the menu offers a variety of flatbreads, hand rolled sushi prepared to order, and several scrumptious sounding soups and salads that could very well have made for a supreme dinner in itself. However, we had to indulge in the Duck In All Its Glory. While you may be sold at “Duck Liver Pate”, this platter of House-Made Sausage, Duck Rillettes (a preparation similar to pate), juicy strips of Prosciutto, Duck Liver Pate, Cranberry Compote, Sweet and Spicy Mustard, and Whole Grain Mustard, served with miniature flatbreads. Honestly, the description speaks for itself, but if you are a fan of meat and cheese platters, this is the ultimate. This reviewer highly suggests a bit of flatbread topped with prosciutto, pate, and a dash of sweet and spicy mustard.
In another round of drinks, the came the famous Twisted Mai Tai from menus of old, as well as a taste of the new craft beer menu. While the selection of beer was exquisite and offers a unique counterpart to the wine menu, Mermaid’s Red Amber Ale, with a few lackluster hints of caramel and citrus, just didn’t “wow” this beer advocate. However, the Twisted Mai Tai was an expectedly delicious combination of Mount Gay Rum and Crème de Noyaux, wrapped in a swirl of orange and pineapple. It was the perfect sweet treat to cleanse the palate before the main event.
There were only a few entrees that our waiter, Mark, went out of his way to recommend, and the Georges Banks Scallops was one of them. Load up your fork with a bite of Homemade Gnocchi, Grilled Onion, Baby Brussels Sprout, Smoked Pork, and of course, succulent Scallop, then swirl it in a Parmesan Foam sauce for a mouthful that explodes with flavor the moment it hits your tongue. And these scallops are big, tender, and cooked and seasoned to absolute perfection.
Another dish well worth investigating was the 24-Hour Short Rib Filet. Tender beyond belief, these melt in your mouth filets were garnished with sprouts and sea salt and served over Olive Oil Potato Puree and Caramelized Root Vegetables. Along with a bite of Baby Sweet Potato and a dip of Red Wine Butter, who could ask for more?
As the fireworks began, so did dessert, and this is when Mark recommended EVERYTHING, included a Chocolate Pudding Cake! But we settled for a desert that we had seen floating around the restaurant several times and ferociously craved, the Sundae Sampler. It can only be described as it is on the menu, “Unique and playful Sundaes with a nostalgic twist: Caramel Corn, Coke® Float, and Strawberry and Basil.” With a flavor for every palate, it was the ideal dessert for sharing and provided the sweetness we needed after such a savory meal.
There is little more that can be said about California Grill. It is fine dining Disney-style and dinner here is pure magic in and of itself. Make a reservation that turns into memories, and take your taste buds on a journey with California Grill.
Food: Some of the finest fare Disney has to offer is served at California Grill. Duck Liver Pate is just the beginning. Then, you’ll get into the succulent scallops over homemade gnocchi and short ribs cooked over 24-hours for tenderness, or dive into some authentic, hand rolled sushi. With fresh menus printed daily, the food at California Grill proves to be some of freshest, most delicious, as well as the most interesting you’ll find on Disney property.
Atmosphere: Being that you’re at the Contemporary Resort, you’ll find the atmosphere comparable to an ordinary upscale dining experience. It’s modern, chic, and you aren’t bombarded with the usual Disney vibes. However, with every window facing Cinderella’s Castle, you still get to enjoy the magic, and the fireworks.
Services: From the hostess and the bellhop to the bartender and our very own waiter, you couldn’t have asked for a more courteous cast. Everyone was serving up smiles, and Mark, our waiter, was more than helpful in all areas of the menu.
Tips: Make a reservation, come for the fireworks, and stay for the desert. If you come in the evening, an announcement will be made that the fireworks presentation is about to begin. This is when everyone gets up and rushes out onto the view platforms on either side of the restaurant. But if you have a seat by the window or just want to enjoy your meal, the view from inside is just as spectacular. And as is expected, you cannot leave without dessert. Just trust me on this one.