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Review: Wolfgang Puck Cafe

Wolfgang Puck is the epitome of “celebrity chef.” Having successfully taken LA and several other USA cities by storm, he’s created a global empire (and worldwide name recognition) the likes of which have yet to be attained by any other chef that I know of.

Puck’s empire exists in Disney World’s Downtown Disney in the form of two counter-service restaurants, both named Wolfgang Puck Express; and two table-service restaurants — Wolfgang Puck Cafe and Dining Room.

On our visit, we headed to Wolfgang Puck Cafe — the less upscale and more boisterous of the two table-service restaurants — found in Downtown Disney’s West End.

Upon entering, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for. On any given evening, this restaurant is bustling. During busy dinner hours, it’s loud (due to the echoing-ly high ceilings and tile decor), colorful, and energetic.

Sushi Bar

The bright colors and geometric shapes of the decor here will remind 80′s kids of their Saved by the Bell years! But they add vitality and life to the restaurant, to be sure. This is a place for family, food, and fun — after all, Puck’s motto is Live. Love. Eat.

Lighting

Table Decor

Lighting Sconce

To help you get your bearings, once you walk in you’ll see the sushi bar to your right, the pizza ovens and open kitchen to your left, and the stairs to The Dining Room — Puck’s more upscale restaurant — straight ahead.

The Dining Room

The sushi bar is set aside from the rest of the dining areas, so this might be a great idea if you’re hungry and want a bite while you’re shopping in the West End or about to head over to La Nouba. Puck is well known for sushi, and this spot together with California Grill, Kona Island Sushi Bar, Tokyo Dining, and Kimonos at the Swan will make any sushi-lover feel right at home in Disney World.

Sushi Bar

Sushi Chefs

Sushi Bar - click image for larger version

Chef's Sampler Platter

Puck is also well known for popularizing gourmet pizzas in California during his rise to fame, so be sure to check out what’s coming from the pizza ovens as you walk past to your table!

Open Kitchen

Wood Fired Grill

Pizza

Pizza

The dining areas in the Cafe, in my opinion, aren’t great. The seating is a bit uncomfortable, the tables are close together, and the loudness of the restaurant when it’s busy means you’ll have a difficult time hearing your dining partners. This atmosphere issue is my biggest complaint about the restaurant.

Dining Table

Decor

Eats

Wolfgang Puck created a name for himself stepping outside the box with interesting menu items, chic California cuisine, and fun flatbreads. This is all reflected on the Cafe menu, which happens to be pretty long when you take into account all of the sushi and drink options!

After perusing the drinks menu below, I went with a Wildberry Lemonade.

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The Wildberry Lemonade was as expected — sweet/tart with a feeling at first that you weren’t even drinking alcohol. (Dangerous!)

Wildberry Lemonade

We also were served this yummy…foccacia, I’d guess…with ample butter to tide us over while perusing the menu.

Bread Service

Dinner Menu Part 1 -- click image for larger version

Dinner Menu Part 2 -- click image for larger version

You can pretty much call our choices on this particular evening “everything that Wolfgang Puck Cafe is famous for.”

We chose the Butternut Squash Soup and the Artichoke 5-Cheese Dip for starters (along with a salad, of course); Macadamia Nut Crusted Chicken and Pumpkin Ravioli for entrees; and Snickers Cheesecake and Carrot Cake for dessert.

The Butternut Squash Soup was very similar to the version I had at Wolfgang Puck Express (natch), which means it was “very thick and ‘squashy’” ;-). To be more technical, it really tasted like a squash puree rather than a soup full of butter and cream. So, depending on what you’re looking for, order accordingly!

Butternut Squash Soup

The Caesar was standard, but the addition of a crostini with tomatoes on top was fun!

Salad

We couldn’t help ourselves and had to order that Artichoke and Five Cheese Dip, which had mascarpone and fontina cheeses along with California artichokes served with crispy flatbread for dipping.

We thought this was great, but admittedly the burndy bits at the top weren’t the best aesthetically or taste-wise. We ended up having to ditch those (sadly, as usually the browned part at the top of a cheese dish is the best part), but the creamy dip was decent. I could have used more cheese, as I usually expect dips like this to be extremely rich. (Maybe this was slightly healthier cheese dip!)

Artichoke and Five Cheese Dip

The famous Macadamia Nut Crusted Chicken was in fact crusted with Macadamia nuts and panko breadcrumbs, and coupled with sho-yu cream sauce (a Hawaiian sauce using cream, soy sauce, and sometimes coconut and/or onions) and garlic mashed potatoes. The red stuff is a red papaya marmalade for a touch of sweetness.

This was a great dish with lots of opportunities to mix and match flavors to your liking. I would have preferred a bit more spice and/or flavor to the chicken coating…maybe it just needed a bit more fat…straight up. ;-)

Macadamia Nut Crusted Breast of Chicken

The Pumpkin Ravioli is one of those great vegetarian dishes that seems to be renowned in Disney World. Everyone I know who goes to Wolfgang Puck Cafe mentions it and either loves it, or wishes they’d ordered it. The dish is served with a brown butter sauce, port wine glaze, pine nuts, fried sage, and aged Parmesan.

It is quite good, though I’m not a huge pumpkin fan. The brown butter sauce was spectacular, and together with the sweetness of the pumpkin, it was practically a Thanksgiving dessert. The port wine glaze was rich and flavorful, giving that sweetness in the dish an answering tang. The pine nuts offered good crunch, and the Parmesan gave a nice strong saltiness to the whole thing. There were lots of flavors here that could contend with one another in such a small dish, but actually worked pretty well.

Pumpkin Ravioli

Pumpkin Ravioli Cross Section

Desserts here are fantabulous.

The Snickers Cheesecake was overwhelmingly rich, dripping with fudge and caramel, and piled high with big chunks of Snickers candy bars. Heavenly. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for a pre-fab dessert sometimes.)

Snickers Cheesecake

But the true winner was the epically delicious carrot cake. A huge slab of cake showed up on the table with more cream cheese frosting than even I would put on my homemade version! (Shocking — I know.) Everything about this cake was superb. If you are a carrot cake fan, you must — and I mean must — order it.

Classic Carrot Cake

And while I didn’t sample these chocolate-o-rific desserts, I did snap a pic for ya as I wandered past the open kitchen!

Chocolate Mille Feuille Desserts

Overall

If you love Wolfgang Puck’s food and can get over a loud and kind-of-uncomfortable dining room, this is a great place to go in the West End of Downtown Disney.

Regarding the food, I love the mixing and matching of flavors Puck brings to the menu. There’s always something interesting going on, and the pizzas are top-notch.

That said, I think this restaurant sits in a difficult place between gourmet menu and comfort food. I could have used more richness of flavor in a few of these dishes — for example, the artichoke dip could have been more flavorful and the chicken could have used more salt/spice/fat-based richness.

So while many of the dishes resemble comfort food (breaded chicken, ravioli, pizza, cheese dip), ingredients — and sometimes taste — don’t necessarily reflect that moniker. Guests just need to go in with the correct frame of mind and they should be fine.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you’ve been. Did you love it? Hate it? Were you indifferent? Let me know some of your favorite menu items!

Extra Menus

While we didn’t order anything from the sushi, kids’, or lunch menu, here are a few sample shots so that you can get a good idea of what’s available:

Sushi options:

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And the kids have their own special menu, of course.

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Here’s a sample lunch menu:

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Let us know your thoughts about Wolfgang Puck Cafe in the comments section below!

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19 Comments

  1. Savorique says:

    The wildberry lemonade does look dangerous indeed.
    Some items in the menu are interestingly exotic but I’m also surprised to find some banal ingredients too, like Godiva liquor.

  2. Crystal says:

    I have stopped in here a number of times just for a sushi fix! You can *almost* always get a spot in the sushi area- either at the sushi bar or at a table in the adjoining area. Dining at the sushi bar is a great way to eat solo & not feel alone! Hubby & I have also used the tables in the sushi area to order off the normal menu when the wait was longer than we cared for.
    The food has ALWAYS been excellent!

  3. Gray says:

    I love this place so much–including the decor–but now that you’ve gone and mentioned Saved By The Bell, I’m never going to be able to look at it the same way again. :-)

  4. Emma Godbold says:

    Never been but thought it looked cool from the outside. In your photos the dining area looks a little bright and some of the dishes look a little messy….but it appears worth it just for those adorable looking desserts!

  5. TJ says:

    My mom and I really enjoyed this restaurant. We loved their chicken BBQ pizza and the spinach pecan salad we ordered and split. Unfortunately, i have to disagree with you on the carrot cake comment. We both ordered it when we went and we thought it was disgusting. We love carrot cake and maybe the two we got were just a bad batch but it was just too sweet for us and didn’t even taste like carrot cake…personally I like cream cheese frosting and the one we got was buttercream blech.

  6. Amanda says:

    This is one of my favorite restaurants!! While I always chose the Macadamia Chicken, there is so much variety on the menu. I agree it can be a little loud but we’ve always found it worth our while to make a trip. The view of Saratoga Springs and the water can’t be beat either!

  7. Galloping Gourmand says:

    The noise and decor has always kept me out of the place, and I don’t think that’s going to change. When I eat I want to be able to talk to the person next to me. Maybe I’ll add it as a place to stop if I ever take a solo trip.

  8. Jeff C. says:

    We really enjoy this place – it’s usually our first table service meal on our first night there (it’s pretty much tradition!)

    We’ve consistently had great food too, which is one reason we always go back. I’m partial to that macadamia nut encrusted chicken.

    We’ve sat inside and outside – I do agree it can be a bit noisy inside, so if you don’t like that, try sitting outside if the weather and temps permit.

    One time we sat directly facing the AMC theater across the way, and just happened to be there during the opening night of one of the Star Wars movies. There were lots of people passing by getting in line in Star Wars outfits – it was so much fun to watch while we were enjoying our meal.

    We just find it relaxing, enjoyable and a great start to our magical vacation.

  9. Cait Lynn says:

    Never been there, but I really want to, may have to put it on my list for our January trip!

  10. AJ says:

    Savorique — I’m not sure I’d call that banal in Disney World!

    Crystal — Great info on the sushi bar! Thank you! Love the solo idea.

    Gray — You didn’t notice the Saved by the Bell-esque decor?! Your AC Slater Fan Club membership is revoked.

    Emma — It’s definitely a great place to try at least once! Can’t wait to hear what you think!

    TJ — Oh no!!! You’re making me nervous about the carrot cake now. When did you go? I wonder if they changed the recipe?

    Amanda — Great point on its closeness to Saratoga! I didn’t even think to mention how easy it is to get here from a few Disney resorts. Now that I’m thinking about it, you can also get here easily from the Port Orleans resorts.

    GG — I’m thinking that if you go right at opening for lunch, you can skip the majority of the noise (and with natural light, I bet the decor is less garish…). I might try that next time.

    Jeff C. — Oh wow! What a fun memory!!! Thank you for sharing, Jeff! Also, GREAT idea to sit outside!

    Cait Lynn — January might be a great time to go — better weather and fewer crowds.

  11. TJ says:

    I went last year, I think maybe they changed their recipe or it was a bad batch. I don’t know if I would be willing to try it again BUT that cheesecake looks divine : )

  12. James (Disneynorth) says:

    So I have mixed feelings on this restaurant. The first time my wife and I experienced the restaurant we had a decent meal but the service was horrible. We waited 30+ mins for our ADR. The host desk seemed like organized chaos.

    We tried the restaurant again last year and again had a so-so experience. We had the table you have pictured at the windows. The service was OK but the food was not all that memorable. I had the goulash which came with about 4 pieces of meat and very little sauce on dried noodles. The whole experience has put me off from the restaurant. There are many other better restaurants on property.

  13. We haven’t dined at Wolfgang in a long time, because like you I have a hard time figuring out what I’m in for. The mind says it must be finer dining with a name like Wolfgang Puck, but the menu and food says otherwise. Perhaps we need to give it a try, with the “proper mindset:)”

  14. Alan says:

    Over the years I’ve found this restaurant to have peaks and valleys.
    sometimes it is really very good but at other times does not seem worth a TS credit.

    However, the CS Wolfgang Puck Express is always a great meal for the price.

  15. I love the pumpkin ravioli here – have recreated it at home and still can’t get enough of it. The flavors on spot on. I haven’t really gone outside of my pumpkin obsession here, but i know the apps have been great. And the entertainment factor for kids (from what I’ve seen) is great when they get their own chef hat and get to see the kitchen. Now, if only they would do that for food loving adults….

  16. Jenn says:

    I was literally salivating reading the menu and seeing those pics.. this might have to be added to my next trip list!

  17. Nicolle B. says:

    We visited at the beginning of May and had a long wait. We understood, it actually was one of the shortest of the restaurants we considered. Unfortunately, our waiter could not handle it and was VERY inattentive. My hubby who over tips, couldn’t even justify tipping him – it was that bad.

  18. Lenore says:

    I have only eaten at the actual cafe once, for lunch, years ago. I’ve had the sushi bar a couple of times, and the Express version more times than I could possibly count. The food is ALWAYS good, as you remarked, but I agree with you about the atmosphere. The decor is fun, but it is always a bit too bustle-y and loud in the main dining room for me. Plus, the sushi bar seems to be more crowded with tall tables every time I go in.

  19. May says:

    worst experience so far, completely dissapointed from the reputable chef, the spagetti bolognese was below par tasteless without flavor. The service was slow and lacking and we couldn’t wait to go anywhere else for a descnt meal. If you realy want an iron chef go for Cat cora…

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