Guest Review: 1st Anniversary Dinner at California Grill

This blog has allowed me to meet so many talented and dynamic individuals, one of whom was kind enough to put together this guest blog about one of my favorite spots, California Grill! Kristen Heptinstall, of Southern Web Girl, visited the Contemporary Resort’s top floor with her husband a while back. Take it away, Kristen!

Hi! I’m Kristen. My husband Brian and I live in Birmingham, Ala., where I work as a Web editor and he works as a chef.

Brian and I returned to Disney World the last week of April 2010 to celebrate our 1st anniversary. On our anniversary, April 25th, we celebrated by going to the Magic Kingdom for the day — a bonus was that MK was on Extra Magic Hours that day and open until 2 a.m.!

We decided to have our anniversary dinner at our favorite signature restaurant from our honeymoon in 2009, California Grill at the Contemporary Resort.

(Note: We have been to 2-credit signatures Jiko, Narcoossee’s, Citrico’s, California Grill, and Hollywood Brown Derby, but have yet to go to Artist Point, Yachtsman Steakhouse, Flying Fish or Victoria & Albert’s. So we’re about halfway there. Whoaaaa livin’ on a prayer!).

We left MK in the evening, changed at our resort, then returned to the Contemporary. Storms were threatening, and it had been overcast all day, so I was checking my iPhone constantly for radar updates. I’m a big worrywart like that and I didn’t want Wishes to be canceled on our first anniversary! (On a side note, Brian confiscated my iPhone more than once during the week because I was so glued to it. I thank him for that.)

We had a 9:15 p.m. seating, which was perfect for the 10 p.m. showing of Wishes. We checked in at the bottom of the Contemporary, then rode the elevator up to the restaurant. We asked the elevator attendant about the possibility of Wishes being canceled, and she mentioned that Wishes being canceled had only happened once the entire time she had been working at Disney. So she doubted that the show would get canceled altogether.

We snapped a couple photos while waiting to be seated. California Grill is a hip, modern, energetic restaurant –- it’s not romantic quiet, but it’s not nightclub loud either.

California Grill Lobby

California Grill Bar Area

We were seated at a table close to the open kitchen. We liked the view and enjoyed watching the chefs cook and the servers interact with them. I marveled at the cleanliness of the kitchen and wondered how much work has to be put in daily to keep it in tip-top shape.

Open Kitchen at California Grill -- View From Table

Sushi Bar

We were presented with several menus. I was a little disappointed that the menus were not personalized with our names and celebration like they were last year on our honeymoon, but it would turn out that we would get those menus later that week at Narcoossee’s. I was also hoping for celebration confetti on the table, like we had at several other restaurants that week and on our honeymoon at Cali Grill the year prior, but no dice this time. Oh well, no biggie.

We took a look at the reserve wine list but decided it was a biiiiit too expensive for us.

And I took a quick look at the featured cocktail menu but decided to stick with wine. (But I’m glad I kept the menu so I can attempt one of these at home!)

California Grill Featured Cocktails

So we perused the regular wine list. I wanted a sweeter white, and Brian wanted a Merlot.

Close-Up of White Wines

Close-Up of Merlot Menu

Our very attentive waiter brought us a mini wine flight of sorts, letting us each try pours of 2 wines apiece.

I tried the French Chateau de Monfort Vouvray and the German Selbach-Oster Riesling. Both were wonderful, but I ultimately enjoyed a full glass of the Riesling.

German Selbach-Oster Riesling

Brian tried the Gundlach Bundschu Merlot from Sonoma California and the Shafer from Napa Valley. He decided on the Gundlach Bundschu as a full glass.

Gundlach Merlot

We also noted that an Alabama belle chevre cheese was on the cheese board selection, which was a surprise to us. Roll Tide.

Southern Belle Chevre

We then turned our attention to the full menu.

Our waiter explained that nearly all the flatbreads, sushi dishes and first courses counted as an appetizer on the Disney Dining Plan, with the exception of 2 of the higher-priced sushi dishes. I was thrilled to learn that sushi had been added as appetizer options. That option was not available to us the year prior at our honeymoon meal. Hats off to California Grill for accommodating those of us on the dining plan.

Sushi and Flatbread Menu Close-Up

I zoned in pretty quickly on the Yellowfin Tuna Three Ways (Poke, Tartare and Tataki) sushi appetizer. Husband decided on the Crispy Asian Rock Shrimp Salad with Florida Citrus, Red Onions, Soy Reduction, and Wasabi Cream as listed below in the first courses.

California Grill First Courses Menu

For our main course, I quickly decided on Seared Bison with Sweet Potato, Bacon, Piquillo Pepper Hash, Sweet Onions, and Mustard-Veal Demi. Husband decided on the Oak-Fired Filet of Beef with Tillamook Cheddar Gratin, Zuckerman’s Asparagus, and Teriyaki Barbecue.

California Grill Main Courses Menu

I was especially excited about the bison. Last year I had had a similar “wild game” dish (ostrich), so I knew I would most likely enjoy the bison just as much. I’m always up for trying something new. Although last year I felt vaguely guilty when I saw an ostrich back at our resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, after I had just eaten one. Ha. Luckily there were no bison at AKL to mock me this year.

Soon our first course was brought out. I marveled at my yellowfin tuna three ways’ beautiful presentation:

Tuna Three Ways

Side View -- Tuna Three Ways

and quickly dug in. It was hands-down the best sushi dish I have ever had, anywhere. Ever.

Husband really enjoyed his Crispy Asian Rock Shrimp Salad, of which I grabbed a bite and can attest to its awesomeness.

Crispy Asian Rock Shrimp Salad

We gobbled up our apps while enjoying our wines and the bustling atmosphere. Around this time it had begun to storm outside, and we watched as the rain hit the panes of glass, wondering if Wishes would indeed occur. That’s when a prerecorded message from the “Disney guy” came on the PA system and announced that Wishes was being delayed. Our waiter asked if we wanted our main courses held until after Wishes, but we told him to go ahead and bring ‘em out. So, he did.

My bison dish did not disappoint. I enjoyed the presentation, the taste, the feel –- well, everything! Something I love about restaurants like Cali Grill is that the portions are not too large. I was able to finish all of the bison and still have room for dessert.

California Grill Bison Entree

I was not as wowed by the presentation of Brian’s filet, and he ended up enjoying the filet more at Jiko later in the week, but this was still a good filet nonetheless. Brian really enjoyed the asparagus but was not wowed by the cheddar gratin. It’s my opinion that Cali Grill shines more with fish and exotic game like the bison and ostrich.

Oak-Grilled Filet

We then went to go watch Wishes outside on the observation deck, which had started about 20 minutes late due to the rain.

Wishes from the California Grill Observation Deck

Dessert Menu Close-Up

I decided on the Marscapone and Meyer lemon cheesecake — whipped cheesecake and Meyer lemon panna cotta with yuzu ice and citrus poached blueberries. Brian decided on the California strawberry Napoleon — orange-rosemary pastry cream, fresh strawberries, almond crunch, and strawberry-champagne sorbet.

However, instead of bringing out our desserts, our waiter brought this!

California Grill Anniversary Cake -- Special Ordered

Brian had called ahead and ordered this cake! I was so surprised. It was vanilla cake with whipped frosting and hand-painted white chocolate Minnie and Mickey. Yum! However, I didn’t want to miss out on the cheesecake I ordered, so we asked that our desserts still get brought out and that the cake get wrapped up for us to take back as a late-night snack at our resort.

I have to say that the cheesecake is among the best desserts I have ever had at Disney World, ranking right up there with Citrico’s tropical fruit crème brulee, Yak & Yeti’s fried pineapple & cream cheese wontons, and Kona Café’s banana-chocolate crème brulee. (Can you tell I like brulees?). The cheesecake was whipped to perfection, the lemon flavor was not too overpowering –- to sum it up, it was heaven in my mouth. The yuzu ice and citrus poached blueberries paired wonderfully with the cheesecake. If you are at all a cheesecake fan, ORDER THIS while you can, as California Grill’s menu changes more frequently than a lot of other restaurants.

California Grill Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Dessert

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake Dessert Side View

Strawberry Napoleon Dessert

California Strawberry Napoleon Side View

Overall, I would rank this meal among the top of our honeymoon and first anniversary trips, eclipsed perhaps only by our honeymoon meal at California Grill the year prior. If you are at all adventurous in your tastes, and especially if you enjoy sushi and a great wine selection, try California Grill. You won’t be disappointed.

You can check out my personal blog at, where I’ll continue to blog about our anniversary trip. Also check out my husband Brian’s food and travel blog at, where he recently wrote a 3-part review of all our anniversary meals.

Thanks again, Kristen and Brian! (I’m SO getting that cake when we go to WDW in the Fall — it’ll be close enough to our anniversary…!) To read more about Disney’s California Grill restaurant, see official Disney World menus, and read other Disney Food Blog posts mentioning the restaurant, check out our California Grill Info Page.


  1. Morgan says

    The Gundlach is one of our absolute favorites there; glad to see it’s still on the menu. The meyer lemon dessert looks right up my alley. After our reception there we had wished we’d booked another night on our own to try the new menu additions! Lesson learned :) They never fail to knock it out of the park at CG. Happy anniversary Kristen and Brian!

  2. Aaron D. says

    The Yachtsman is my second favorite steakhouse is Disney, with Shula’s being hands-down the best. The steaks are different, though. I believe the Yachtsman uses dry aged beef, while Shula’s is not aged. Either way, you’re in for a great meal at both. Let us know when you hit up the Yachtsman. By the way, the desserts at both are delectable!

  3. says

    Thank you for the review!

    I have a solo ADR here for my October trip, hopefully be able to see the fireworks. I may cancel if I can get a spot on the Pirates & Pals cruise. LOL!

  4. Sarah says

    California Grill is my favorite. Much like Kristen, my first trip there I too had the ostrich, and would order the bison if offered next time. The Tuna Three Ways is delicious, and my drink of choice when there is the 19th Hole.

  5. Charmon says

    We are coming to WDW at the end of this year and planning to dine at the California Grill for New Years Eve. We have 2 small children so we would like to watch “Wishes” at 8.30pm and that will be the end of the night for us. Is there any seating in the restaurant where you can see the fireworks from your table or does everyone go out on the Observatory Deck to watch the show. I would appreciate any info as I need to book my Dining very soon.

  6. says

    Morgan — Great to “see” you! Thanks for the second vote on the wine!

    Aaron — We’re fans of Yachtsman and Shula’s as well! I think I’d still put Yachtsman as my favorite over Shula’s, but both have fantastic steaks!

    Michele — What’s the Pirates and Pals cruise?! Sounds fun!

    Sarah — I’m SO upset the ostrich is gone. I was so hoping to try it on my next trip there! :-( Will try the 19th hole next time!

    Charmon — Yep — you can see the fireworks from just about every table in the place (except for the private Napa Room). You can request a window table to be even closer to the action. (Not guaranteed, but worth requesting!)

  7. Joy says

    We went to CG in Dec 09 and my husband LOVED the ostrich. But I have a question about the appetizer being included on the DDP. Is that the deluxe plan? The standard doesn’t include appetizer, right? We are planning our Oct 10 trip and having a hard time deciding between the CG again or Narcoossee or Citricos, neither of which we have tried before.

  8. says

    Joy — That’s correct. On the standard plan, even the two table service credit restaurants do not allow an appetizer. You could pay out of pocket for it, however. :-)

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