Review of California Grill: A Disney Foodie’s Dream Come True

By Sarah Chapman

True confessions time, this was my very first time eating at California Grill.  I really can’t even tell you how many times I’ve thought about it, I know for sure this is at least the 4th time I’ve made a reservation for it . . . but the timing was never right.  The price tags looked too high, another activity took precedence (& budget), or I just felt like the kids wouldn’t behave well enough.  This trip it was just my oldest son and myself.  It is his senior year of high school and I wanted to do something special—this definitely fit the bill.

We had a dinner scheduled at 5:00pm in mid-January, which I was afraid would be too early, but it was all I could get when we had to change our schedule at the last minute.  I was wrong, it was perfect.  But, let’s start at the beginning.

California Grill is located at the top of the Contemporary Resort.  We had a car, so we drove to the resort, but if you do not you can take a bus to the Magic Kingdom and hop on the monorail with the Contemporary as your first stop.  There is a dress code for the California Grill (which I noticed was not followed by several guests), so you may not be comfortable taking the bus—Uber or a taxi could always be an option directly from your resort.

Let’s go back to the dress code.  This is what Disney lists as appropriate attire:  Men may wear khakis, slacks, jeans or dress shorts and collared shirts. Sport coats are optional.  Women may wear Capri pants, skirts, dresses, jeans or dress shorts.  Not permitted are tank tops, swimsuits, swimsuit cover-ups, hats for gentlemen, cut-offs, torn clothing and t-shirts with offensive language and/or graphics.  I obsessed about what I was going to wear because it was warm during our week and we were going to Magic Kingdom after dinner for extra magic hours.  I ended up with a dressier pair of shorts with a long sleeve tunic top.  I felt comfortable with what I was wearing—there were definitely people dressed much nicer celebrating special occasions and there were many people similarly dressed.  I think you can dress it up or down within those guidelines as much as you like depending on your evening.  I did see several guests wearing cut-off shorts, so I’m not sure how strongly the dress code is enforced.

Okay, back on track to your arrival at the Contemporary.  Once you are inside the resort you will go up to the second floor where there is a check-in stand for the restaurant.  You will be escorted onto a private elevator and take up to the 15th floor.  While on the elevator and at the check-in podium they reminded us of the fireworks time for the evening and to come back with our dinner receipt so we could go up to the observation deck to view the fireworks.

Upon arriving upstairs we were shown to the lounge area to wait on our table and they would text us when it was ready.  We sat by a window with a sweeping view of Magic Kingdom park and the resorts as we waited.  I was hoping that our view would be as nice from our table.  Just as a server came by to see if we needed anything we were called to our table.  I don’t think we waited more than 5 or 7 minutes.

On the way to our table they explained that we could see both the Star Wars Fireworks from the deck at 7:45 followed by Wishes at 8:00.  This sounded good to me!  I was disappointed, however, that we were seated on the far side of the restaurant away from the Magic Kingdom.  The nice thing is that you can get up and go out on the observation decks at any time . . .and it just so happens that we were there at the perfect time to watch a breathtaking sunset.  I was there with my son, but I can’t imagine a more romantic place.  Not only do you have the magnificent view, but the open kitchen is also quite entertaining to watch as they orchestrate everyone’s meals.

Our service was outstanding from the staff greeting and seating us to our server.  I can’t say enough good things about the seamless service, the perfect level of attention was paid to us—we never went without anything we needed, but it didn’t feel like the server was hovering.

For our meal we decided we wanted several of the smaller plates to share around the table along with some desserts.  The menu here is seasonal with a few customer favorites staying on the menu.

We started with the Chef’s Selection Cheese Board (we had a bit of a theme of cheese boards going on this trip).  The board has 5 artisan/farm fresh cheeses with accompaniments.  We loved each one of these and they were all perfectly paired with the accompaniment.  It was the perfect size for two or three people.  We also enjoyed the bread service.

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For the main part of my meal I selected the Roasted Tomato Flatbread.  It was delicious made with Laura Chenel & Midnight Moon goat cheese, arugula pesto, aged balsamic.  The flavors and textures blended perfectly.  If you were dining with a larger group and wanted to share between 3 or 4 people as an appetizer this would be an excellent choice.  For me, it was the perfect size for an entrée along with the cheeses and my dessert.

My son chose the Artisan Tacos from the appetizers menu for his main course.  When asked for his review he said, “Oh my goodness, they were so good.”  The serving size was three tacos made with braised pork, house-made cilantro-corn tortillas, chipotle crema and pico de gallo.  The pork was fantastic and all of the flavors complimented each other really well.

We made the choice to go with the appetizer options because they would make the bill at the end of the evening a little more palatable, but also because there were so many interesting options that we really wanted to try several.  No doubt you could have an unforgettable meal by combing one of the appetizing entrée choices with an excellent wine pairing (and California Grill has many).

Choosing the appetizer portions also meant we were not too full to completely enjoy our dessert selections.  And to share!  We picked the S’more Crème Brulee (marshmallow custard, milk chocolate ganache, caramelized turbinado sugar) and the Homemade Strawberry Fritters (Cinnamon-dusted Fritters complemented with a Trio of Dipping Sauces).  The filling of the fritters changes seasonally.  Both of these were out of this world delicious.  The crème brulee tasted exactly like a s’more, but creamy and rich.  The fritters were freshly fried, tender and so tasty.  And since it was fruit I’m pretty sure it was healthy.

After dinner there was about an hour until fireworks started, but we knew we wanted to be back up there in plenty of time.  We went downstairs and shopped, then spent a little bit of time in the arcade challenging each other to a few rounds of air hockey.  We went back to the elevator and check-in podium at 7:30 to go upstairs.  We elected to go out on the observation deck further away from Magic Kingdom.  We watched the Star Wars fireworks in the distance and when they finished it was time for the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  The music was piped in and it was an amazing view.  I always forget how much bigger the fireworks appear when you are watching them from further away.  Many people were leaving at once but they had all of the elevators lined up so down we went.  We walked over to Magic Kingdom from there to enjoy a few extra magic hours.

I would highly recommend a visit to the California Grill.  If you are worried about the price point there are many delectable options on the appetizer menu that are large enough to make into a meal if you supplement with dessert (that you don’t want to miss).  If you are celebrating a special occasion this is the perfect spot.  It is really impossible to put the views into words.

Have you eaten at California Grill?  Did you love it as much as I did?

About Sarah Chapman

I am a long time Disney fan since I was hooked on Walt Disney World with my first trip in 1987. Since that time I’ve tried experiencing everything I can in the parks, with a total of 30 visits and counting (I’m always planning my next trip) to Walt Disney World—not to mention Disney Cruise Line and even (shhh!) Universal Orlando and Sea World. I’ve turned my Disney obsession into a profession helping others plan their magical vacations as a Dream Vacation Maker at LBAC Travel. I am a work at home mom to three wonderful boys, and each one has been properly indoctrinated with all things Disney. Walt Disney World is definitely our “Laughing Place.” Look for me on Facebook at Facebook.com/SarahLBAC for updates, discount announcements, tips, tricks and planning advice for your next vacation. You can also find me on Instagram (sarahdreamvacationmaker) and Pinterest (sarahlbactravel).