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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
This cheese is called Lamb Chopper!
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.
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.
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.
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!)
And I ordered a glass of 2008 Zilliken Riesling, which was delicious.
The bread basket was a variety of textures and flavors. Everyone loved the crispy cheese “sheets.”
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!
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.
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.
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!
The chilled cantaloupe soup included a presentation pour.
Looks gorgeous, doesn’t it?
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!
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!
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!
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!