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Review: Napa Rose Chef’s Counter

Napa Rose

We finally got the chance to dine at Chef Andrew Sutton’s Chef’s Counter at Napa Rose in Disney’s Grand Californian Resort (Disneyland) — and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so excited in my life. We’ve eaten at Napa Rose once before, but we’ve never had this experience!

Eight people can dine at the Chef’s Counter at a time — four on one side of the “order up” area, an four on the other. There are two seatings per night at 5:30pm and 8:30pm; we were there for the last seating and had the chance to take up one whole side of the counter with Heather Sievers and her husband, so we already had great company taken care of.

And as far as atmosphere goes, this was definitely one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had at a Disney restaurant — or at any restaurant…

Napa Rose Show Kitchen from the Chef's Counter

Atmosphere

Napa Rose is a signature restaurant — i.e. “high end” — but it has a very casual feel. Guests enter through the Napa Rose lounge (a great place to eat if you don’t have reservations and want to experience fantastic food) and pass the wine cellar, where Lasseter wines are on display.

Napa Rose Lounge

Napa Rose Outdoor Lounge Area

Napa Rose Wine Cellar

Autographed Lasseter Wines

CARS-labeled Wine

Pixar Wine Glass

Chef’s Counter guests are seated in a row, facing the Napa Rose show kitchen — full of chefs, food, fire, and more! This set-up was designed by Chef Andrew Sutton to provide easy opportunities for chefs and counter guests to “mix and mingle” throughout the evening.

Napa Rose Chef's Counter

Busy Kitchen

Working Intently

But the fun and flurry of the kitchen in front of you is nicely tempered by the exclusive and intimate service you receive. Our server that evening, Heather, was wonderful — especially since we spent half of our time taking pictures and the other half staring wide-eyed at what was going on in the kitchen (and I guess The Car Talk guys would say that we spend the third half eating! ;-D). She was very attentive to our needs throughout the meal and was generous with answering our many questions.

Server

Speaking of intimate service, as soon as we were seated and drink orders were taken (and we’d started to stare slack-jawed at the activity in the kitchen), Executive Chef Andrew Sutton appeared…quietly zesting citrus fruit in front of us.

Executive Chef Andrew Sutton

This is one of the best parts of the Chef’s Counter at Napa. You’re welcomed to ask questions, comment on the goings-on in the kitchen, and chat one-on-one with one of the best chefs in the business — as well as his fantastic kitchen staff.

Even if you’re not a “foodie,” this experience is incredibly fun and informative. The rush of the kitchen choreography going on in front of you while you’re simply sitting and indulging in incredible food makes this just about the best dinner theater ever.

Another fun perk? Samples! If you comment on a dish that’s being created, you might just get a taste… . Chef Sutton was working on a Chili base and we each got a spoonful.

Chef Sutton's Chili Base

And in addition to chatting with Chef Sutton, we got to learn from the other chefs and Line Cooks in the kitchen as well. Joey was working on the heirloom tomato salad in front of us most of the night, and this kid, my friends, is driven. A perfectionist. I think he’s going to go far in the restaurant world! We were incredibly impressed by his knowledge and dedication — and by his patience with us asking him a million questions!

Filling Sauce Bottles

We also got the chance to explore the cheese counter in front of us with another member of the kitchen staff! While you could tell these folks were very busy, they were also well-versed in interacting with the patrons at the Chef’s Counter. Such superstars!

Cheese Counter

This cheese is called Lamb Chopper! ;-)

Explaining Cheeses

Overall, it was a real adrenaline rush for me to be in the midst of all of the cooking crazy. I loved seeing the dishes plated and ready to go out to the dining room, and was impressed by exactly how much preparation goes into the next day’s dishes! These are things we just don’t think about when we’re sitting in the dining room of a busy restaurant.

Salad Ready for Serving

Preparing Sweetbreads for the Next Day

Of course, eventually I had to stop looking and start eating! Believe it or not, it was difficult to pull my eyes away from the kitchen, but as soon as my food started to arrive I had a whole new focus. ;-)

Eats

At the Chef’s Counter, you have three options: order off of the regular menu, order the four-course Vintner’s Table pre-fixe menu (created weekly based on seasonal ingredients), or ask Chef Sutton to create any meal he’d like based on your tastes and preferences.

You can see the regular menu items as well as the Vintner’s menu for our visit in the photos below (click to enlarge). Anyone in the dining room can order the Vintner’s Menu, it’s not exclusive to the Chef’s Counter.

Menu -- click image for larger version

Menu -- click image for larger version

Of course we chose to have Chef Sutton put together a customized menu for us, and we were not disappointed!! We each received a different menu based on our own personal tastes. Amazing.

After sharing our likes and dislikes with Chef Sutton, we ordered drinks, dove into our bread, and were on our way! My husband ordered Chimay White — a.k.a. Chimay Triple — which is a Belgian Trappist ale. He greatly enjoyed it, but soon realized that the brew packs a punch! (Check out the goblet!)

Chimay White

And I ordered a glass of 2008 Zilliken Riesling, which was delicious.

Riesling

The bread basket was a variety of textures and flavors. Everyone loved the crispy cheese “sheets.” ;-)

Bread

Amuse Bouche
Very quickly, the amuse bouche for the evening was placed in front of us — a braised spare rib with onion puree, pumpernickle, and pluat (a plum/apricot combo). The mix of flavors and textures in this small, two-bite dish was yummy!

And I believe this was the last time we all received the same thing during a course!

Braised Spare Rib with Onion Puree, Pumpernikel, and Pluat Amuse Bouche

First Course
For our first course, Chef Sutton prepared an heirloom tomato salad with tomato sorbet (two of us were served this); a sashimi and tempura plate; and the “Smiling Tiger Salad,” which Napa Rose is famous for — it includes spicy beef, tempura lobster, and greens.

The heirloom tomato salad was served with tomato sorbet and yellow tomato gazpacho and offered incredible flavor and freshness! The sashimi and tempura hit the spot for the sushi lover in our group; and the Smiling Tiger Salad had been requested by Heather — one of her favorite dishes — and it didn’t disappoint.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Tomato Sorbet (2) Appetizer

Sashimi and Tempura Appetizer

Smiling Tiger Salad Appetizer

Second Course
Our second course is where Chef Sutton decided to have a bit of fun with us. He presented four different dishes this time — one for each of us — and told us that we weren’t allowed to know what was in the dishes until we ate them. It was pretty obvious that we were all going to try some unique types of meat, but we had no idea what we were eating!

As it turned out, the dishes were Rustic Torchio Pasta with Lamb Meatballs, Pan-Seared Maple Leaf Duck Breast with crispy corn risotto (from the Vintner’s Menu that night), Roasted Pigeon, and Wine Country Rabbit Meatloaf!

We all raved about our dishes and had a lot of fun trying to guess what we were eating while taking our first tastes! The roasted pigeon was really the stand-out for me — I loved it. It had so much flavor, and the crispy skin was delicious.

Pasta and Lamb Meatballs

Pan-Seared Duck Breast

Roasted Pigeon Second Course

Rabbit Meatloaf Second Course

Soup Course
Next up, we were served two different kinds of soup. Three of us received Napa Rose’s well-known Portobello Mushroom Bisque “Cappuccino,” and the last one of us received a chilled cantaloupe soup with prosciutto.

Although I’m not a huge mushroom fan, I’ve learned my lesson (thank you Artist Point) when it comes to mushroom soup — eat it! It’s good! You can bypass the big chunks of mushroom if you don’t want them!

This bisque was rich and velvetty, but not too creamy. It definitely had a cappuccino texture to it! And you can see those awesome chunks of portobellos — should you be a fan!

Portobello Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

The chilled cantaloupe soup included a presentation pour.

Presentation of Chilled Cantaloupe Soup

Looks gorgeous, doesn’t it?

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup Third Course

Fourth Course — Entrees
Yep, we were starting to get full, but we couldn’t wait to see what Chef Sutton would plate up for our entrees. Once again, we received four different dishes: Garlic and Chick Pea Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb, Rosa Bianca Eggplant “Lasagna”, and charred heirloom tomato lamb sauce; Bone in “Veal New York” Santa Maria Style with summer corn, bacon and grilled local red velvet apricots; Grilled Kurobuta Pork Rack Chop stuffed with Spanish Chorizo on a Spanish Pepper Ragout; and a Beef Filet with roasted artichoke and bacon.

Sigh. You must be getting full just reading that, because I sure am! Well — full and hungry at the same time! Everyone was enamored with their dish, and while we shared around a bit, I think each one was a hit. Chorizo-stuffed pork?! Incredible!!

At this point I was really starting to recognize that I was probably having the best meal I’d ever had at a Disney restaurant…and we still had dessert to go!

Garlic and Chick Pea Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb

Veal Filet with Apricot Chutney and Summer Vegetables

Chorizo Stuffed Pork with Spanish Pepper ragout

Chorizo Stuffing in Pork

Filet with Roasted Artichoke Bacon Entree

Filet Accompaniment

Dessert
Yep! Dessert! After all of that, there’s still more! Once again — four different desserts were plated in front of us: A Scharffen Berger Chocolate Bar with peanut butter chocolate cake pop; Dark Manjari Chocolate and Cherry Clafouti; Meyer Lemon Meringue Napoleon with strawberry mango relish; and a Peach Crisp.

Each dessert was completely different! We were offered a spectrum of rich, sweet, light, and layered — it was a great display of what Napa Rose can do for that last course!

As a lemon curd fan, I easily could have eaten that whole lemon meringue napoleon all by myself, but the peach crisp was gorgeous and we were all intrigued by the cake pop and chocolate bar dessert!

Cake Pop and Chocolate Bar Dessert

Cake Pop

Dark Manjari Chocolate and Cherry Clafouti

Meyer Lemon Meringue Napoleon

Peach Crisp Dessert

Peach Crisp

Stomachs expanded, we continued to watch the kitchen staff put the place to bed for the night. Lots of sauce-making for the following day, prepping and marinating, and station-cleaning. What a truly exhausting job, but they all looked like they enjoyed it thoroughly!

Overall

This was, truly, one of the best — if not the best — meal I’ve ever had in a Disney restaurant to date. The delicious food combined with the show going on in the kitchen was just plain incredible. If you ever have the chance to do this, jump at it.

While we’d dined at Napa Rose before and knew better, we wondered if there would be a few stern words spoken in the kitchen (a la Gordon Ramsay) when we had a closer view. In practice, Chef Sutton runs a very organized and efficient — though not at all boring — kitchen. Watching a group of staff members working so well together was quite inspiring, and everyone seemed to have a strong passion for creating fantastic food. Each individual was focused on perfection; an amazing feat in any business!

The only negatives that we experienced were small. We’d asked specifically for the restaurant’s famous macaroni and cheese, but we didn’t receive any — to our great disappointment.

Also, the second seating of the Chef’s Counter experiences the winding-down of the kitchen when you hit your entree and dessert courses, which isn’t as exciting as when it’s kicked into high gear in the middle of the night. So I’d suggest that you book the first seating if you have the chance to do so.

By the way, the cost for the Chef’s Counter is about the same as it would be if you ordered the Vintner’s Menu in the main dining room, so, as far as I can tell, this is a no-brainer, right? Sit at the chef’s counter and have a menu customized for you! You’ll not regret it!

Have you been to Napa Rose or the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter in the Grand Californian? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!

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26 Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    I am so glad you did this! I must have been there at the chef’s counter just a few nights after you (in fact, I went the night of the Trader Sam “meet” LOL). I’ve had the rabbit meatloaf on two occasions and it is one of my favorite dishes there. For me, it is a quite hefty price tag, but still well worth it, and the quality of the food is unmatched Disney property and in OC in general. It is also, in my opinion, the best/my favorite Disney dining experience. Maybe next time you are at DLR eating at the Chef’s counter, I’ll be there too

  2. Going to try and land this for our trip in December!

  3. Mark D. says:

    The meal looked amazing.

    As for the beer, as a general rule if it is served in a goblet like that, it usually has a high abv content.

  4. Heather Sievers says:

    Oh the cake pop! That was such a fun night! I am still sad about not getting to have the mac n’ cheese though.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Not to be too indelicate here in public, but how does your digestive system handle so much rich food at once? Eating multiple courses once at the Flying Fish Cafe did me in!

  6. Savorique says:

    The Dark Manjari Chocolate and Cherry Clafouti seems to die for!! Sorry, I have a sweet tooth…

  7. Shayne says:

    I’m stuffed just reading about it! I definitely want to try this on our next trip to Disneyland!

  8. will says:

    wow…i want to go!

  9. Brad C says:

    Wow AJ, you give this such high praise. So you feel this is comparable/better than V&A at Grand Floridian? I am taking my wife on a MR cruise for our 25th anniversary, so we may need to make a stop at Napa Rose to celebrate it sounds like!

  10. Abby says:

    So how much does this experience set you back?

  11. Jenn says:

    I think I’m too chicken to appreciate this! Rabbit/pigeon… I don’t even like duck or lamb on a normal basis, so I’m not sure if I’d be the right person.. but it seems SO cool.. and those desserts look incredible..

  12. AJ says:

    Anderson — We should definitely head there the next time we’re both in town!

    Deej — Yes!! It’s amazing.

    Mark D. — Thanks for the tip! It was an awesome glass…

    Heather — I know. The mac and cheese is the star over there.

    Elizabeth — Practice, practice, practice!! ;-D And lots of water.

    Savorique — That was MY dessert! I’d been on a cherry binge lately, too, so it fit right in.

    Shayne — You guys will love it!

    will — I know! I want to go BACK!

    Brad C — I’ll let you know as soon as I try the V&A’s Chef’s Table this week! ;-D I can’t compare the two yet…

    Abby — It’s about $90-$100 per person.

  13. Chris says:

    It’s not really saying a lot to be the best of DL eats, but Napa Rose is actually pretty great. It might be a peg below V&A, but it gets bonus points for having the relaxed dress code (hey, it’s CA).

    If I’m not trying to catch one of the night shows afterwards, I like the 2nd seating better. You miss out on some of the organized chaos at the pass but the staff might have a little more time to relax and chat.

    Also, one of Napa Rose’s marketing bits is that most if not all of the servers are trained sommeliers and the restaurant is also a testing center.

  14. Ashley W says:

    What a great review! I had the honor of dining at the Chef’s Counter in July 2010 when I was on a solo trip to DL for a wedding. Chef Andrew was so friendly and accommodating, and he made the meal so special for me. My highlight of the meal was when I was trying to decide which of 2 red wines I was going to pick to drink with the second half of my meal. I asked Chef “what will my next course be?” as that would have swayed my decision one way or another with the wine. He answered back, “that depends which wine you choose!” It was such a memorable meal, I just wish I could have shared it with my husband!

  15. marcellina says:

    AJ! What an amazing experience, lucky you.. and those photos?!? soooo good! I would have been happy with just the cheese and bread alone! and I’m not even a wine drinker but I would have to try the Lasseter Wines just because! I really hope someday I can talk my husband into taking a trip to Disneyland and dining here just might be the reason that would push him more towards saying yes… we ate at V&A in October 2010 and my husband agreed that it was the best meal we have ever had to date.. I’m sure this is on par with that.

  16. JoAnn says:

    Looks like a fantastic experience

  17. Dave says:

    A great review! Becky and I were able to do the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter a couple years ago, and absolutely loved it! I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is wanting to try the Napa Rose. It felt a little as if we were in the middle of a Top Chef elimination challenge. We were seated on the end closest to the dessert preparation, and it was impressive to see how quickly they could turn those out!

  18. AJ says:

    Chris — Thanks for the other side of the coin on the second seating!

    Ashley — Awesome story about the wine choice!!

    Marcellina — Good luck with the Disneyland trip cajoling! :-D

    JoAnn — Thank you! It was amazing.

    Dave — Great to hear from you! I’m glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who felt like they were on a reality show!

  19. George says:

    OK, you convinced me! I’ll be at DLR in two weeks on a, er, business trip, staying at VGC.

    My Napa Rose story: We visited DLR over July 4 weekend, 2005. We only had one day, and had a one-day park-hopper. Our day started at the 7AM DLP opening, and finished about 1AM the next day. During that time, we did both parks, and took a break for dinner at Napa Rose, still in our (tasteful) theme park clothes. We apologized profusely for our appeaance, but they couldn’t have been more understanding and accommodating. Apparently they’d seen that before. We paid them back by spending several hundred dollars on two bottles of wine (after cocktails!) They saw how rapturous our reactions to the food and wine were, and brought out complimentary glasses of Royal Tokaji with our foie gras course. After this incredible two-plus-hour dinner, we went back to DLP where we’d heard they were doing a “soft opening” of the Space Mountain renovation. Our 45-minute wait was just enough to let us digest a bit before our “preview” ride though space. Amazing day! And we still made our 8AM flight out of LAX the next morning back to Chicago.

  20. Niekon says:

    I just stumbled upon your review of the Chef’s Counter as I am going to be part of a larger party sitting there at the end of July. First of all, thanks for writing this up. It was very informative for me and probably several members of my party as there are food considerations that will need to be taken into account from various members of the party.
    I will be curious to see how it stacks up against the Chef’s Table at V&A’s. That was an experience that I would love to repeat at some point in the future again. Either way, I digress.

  21. AJ says:

    Niekon — Chef’s Counter is entirely different from V&A’s Chef’s Table. Both are wonderful, but definitely different experiences! :-) Enjoy!!

  22. Jill says:

    I have to say Napa Rose and Victoria and Alberts are my two absolute favorite restaurants in the world. Both different experiences but incredible food. I did the Chefs counter at Napa Rose and it was so much fun to interact with chef Sutton and his crew and it was so delicious I wanted to come back the next day..would that I could have! At Victoria and Alberts I had dinner twice in the restaurant which I thoroughly enjoyed and the little extra touches at the end of the meal with the chocolate truffles and the roses made it even more special. We have plans to eat In Queen Victoria’s Room at the end of September on our last night at Disney and am so looking forward to it! Both such amazing experiences!

  23. Derek says:

    I’m strongly considering the Chef’s Counter for my trip to Disneyland this fall, so naturally I’ve read your review about a dozen times. Unfortunately, my friend is not a foodie like I am and is therefore not interested. What are your thoughts on doing this experience alone? Could I still enjoy it, even going solo?

  24. AJ says:

    Derek — I would LOVE to do this experience alone. There’s so much to watch and look at, the chefs come over to chat with you, it’s great. Enjoy!

  25. Joshua says:

    I’m doing Chef’s Counter when I go in November!

  26. Carol says:

    We have now eaten at the Chef’s Counter three times and each time was wonderful!! The experience with the Chef’s Counter can’t be matched!! Interacting with the chefs is so fun, and watching the staff function is so amazing!! We usually have a challenging group with allergies and one vegan. Never have the chefs had any problems.
    We have eaten at Napa Rose multiple times, in fact did my daughter’s wedding reception and an anniversary party for my in laws there. If you are having a party of around thirty I would absolutely recommend Napa Rose.
    Even if you can’t sit at the counter, go to Napa Rose!!!

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