When planning meals for our October trip to Walt Disney World, I realized it had been a LONG time since we’d visited California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort! And I haven’t reported on it here on the blog for over a year, so I figured it was time to get a little updating in!
Let’s head over to the check-in desk, shall we…?
To access California Grill, guests need to head to the 2nd floor of the Contemporary Resort and visit the restaurant’s check-in desk (you can get here by elevator, or by taking the stairs/from the back of the lobby).
Once you’re checked in, you’ll be waved over to a special elevator — one used only for California Grill guests — and taken up to the restaurant itself on the 15th floor of the hotel!
I’m always immediately impressed by the nearly 360-degree view of Walt Disney World. The gorgeous, sprawling Grand Floridian Resort in front of you; the spires of Cinderella Castle, Big Thunder mountain, and Space Mountain to your right; and the Wilderness Lodge and Epcot to your left will make it difficult for most folks to tear themselves away from the walls of windows to take a look at the menu!
When you walk in, you’ll be greeted at the podium and (likely) handed a pager. No worries; there’s lots to do while you’re waiting. Start walking toward the windows and you’ll pass the California Grill Bar and head into the lounge area.
Here’s a tip! If you don’t have a reservation at the restaurant, you can still get the menu offerings in the lounge, which has first-come, first-served seating.
You likely won’t get a spot here during the Magic Kingdom fireworks, but you could definitely snag a table when the restaurant first opens around 5pm. This is a great “no reservations” option for some seriously high-quality food.
Speaking of seating, here are a few of your options throughout the restaurant. All of the decor features modern touches, light wood furniture, and sleek decor.
We always request a table by the window so that we have that gorgeous view throughout our meal. This is also a boon when the Magic Kingdom fireworks begin — you’ll have the best view in the house!
Remember, reservations are hard to come by during the fireworks (usually these take place at around 9pm, but check the DisneyWorld.com calendars before you book to be certain), so be sure to book 180 days ahead of your visit to be sure you’ll be one of the lucky ones!
California Grill boasts an open kitchen, meaning you’ll be able to see everything that’s happening “behind-the-scenes!”
And the restaurant is known as one of the best places in Walt Disney World to get sushi as well. You can request a seat at the sushi bar if you prefer.
Don’t forget that you’re able to head out onto the outdoor decks at California Grill to check out the view or watch the fireworks. And should your reservation be for earlier in the evening, you can simply bring your receipt back to the restaurant at fireworks time to be authorized to head out onto the deck and see the show!
Before we were seated, I decided to start off with one of California Grill’s signature drinks. Luckily, this is one of the few restaurants that still serves a menu of exclusive recipes! And the wine list is extensive as well!
I began the evening with a French Martini, which was a bit more sweet than sour, unfortunately (in my book). I’m usually not a martini fan, either, so I’ll likely not get this one again.
Once we were seated, it was time to dive into the eats! California Grill’s menu changes seasonally, so don’t be surprised if what you loved on your last visit is no longer available. That said, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find something new to fill that best-loved spot on your list!
Mull over the menu while munching on the restaurant’s incredible bread and salted butter…
It’s pretty customary for me at this point to start out with the cheese plate at California Grill, and this night was no different! On this visit, the Camembert was my very favorite! (As you can see, I asked her to bring a bit more honeycomb as well.)
In addition to the cheese, we also started with one of California Grill’s famous flatbreads. These change seasonally as well, and we were interested to see this Braised Pork Flatbread on the menu. I wanted to skip it and try the three cheese flatbread, but my husband won the coin toss and we got this one instead.
Oh my gracious was this delicious!! I think it took about 10 seconds for us to gobble this thing up — and don’t forget we were stuffing ourselves with bread and cheese as well!
This was an amazing, savory mix of flavorful pork, queso fresco, black beans, red onions, and other gorgeous ingredients that came together to create one to-die-for appetizer. Order this one if you can!
Our next appetizer (I know, we’re all about the appetizers) was an old favorite. It’s become tradition that we split the goat cheese ravioli at California Grill, and the server is always kind enough to serve the two halves in separate dishes for us! That means we both get to maximize our sauce portion!
This app has been on the menu since the restaurant opened, and it continues to be a guest favorite. Not to worry if you aren’t a fan of harshly-flavored goat cheese (e.g. I tend to find that goat cheese often tastes a little “foot-y”). This is very mild and quite delicious.
Finally we moved on to entrees! We were already stuffed, but we couldn’t wait to sample our new choices: Seared Bison with Truffled Mac and Cheese; and All Natural Duck, Two Ways.
The Bison was served with Brussels sprouts, cippolini (onion), smoked bacon, and Glace de Viande. The meat was flavorful and didn’t taste game-y at all. It was perfectly cooked, of course, and well seasoned by the onion, bacon, and glace accompaniments.
The side of Truffle Mac and Cheese smelled and tasted amazing. I’d hoped it would be a bit creamier — this was a bit dry — but the flavors permeated the pasta and made for an enjoyable dish.
Next up: the Duck! This dish was served with two types of duck: seared breast and confit leg, and was served with potato rosti, cherry demi, and pluot gastrique. I wasn’t that impressed with the sides on this dish, but I could easily have eaten that confit leg every single night of the vacation! It was absolutely amazing, and simply melted in the mouth.
Finally, if you can believe it, it was time for dessert! The menu had changed significantly since I’d last been at Cali Grill, so we went with two brand new dishes. (Don’t worry, the favorite bananas and caramel is still there!)
First up, I (as always) chose the lemon dessert trio. Whenever I’m promised Lemon Curd, I’ll bite. The trio included Lemon Curd with Blueberry Compote, Pudding Cake with Citrus Syrup, and Lemon Infused Tapioca.
The lemon tapioca was quite good. When I was growing up, my parents always bought us kids tapioca pudding and called it “fish eyes in glue,” so this lemon-flavored fish eyes in glue was yummy! 😉
My most beloved part of the dessert (of any dessert…ever…) was the Lemon Curd with blueberry compote. If I’d gone back to Cali Grill later in the week I would have just ordered a whole plate of this. The curd was very tart, but sweet enough to bear — just perfect!
The pudding cake was my least favorite part of the dessert. It was light — almost meringue like — and really didn’t carry much flavor or interesting texture.
The second dessert we sampled was the Apple Bread Pudding with Brown Butter Ice Cream (what?!), Candied Bacon (what?! what?!), and Jack Daniels Anglaise.
This dish was — believe it or not — a bit disappointing. The apples and pudding were dry, and there wasn’t enough Anglaise to solve the problem.
We did enjoy the unique flavor of the brown butter ice cream, but the candied bacon was incorporated into the ice cream and made it a bit difficult to distinguish the tastes. I would have preferred to have the candied bacon sprinkled over the dish.
Finally, I couldn’t resist the urge to try the Peanut Butter Gelato that was featured in a different dessert. It sounded too good to pass up! And it was!
The peanut butter flavor was strong and bold, and the texture of the ice cream gave the flavor a completely different mouth feel than we’re used to with peanut butter! Such a fun idea.
Well, after they rolled us out of there, we decided that this was another great visit to California Grill. The restaurant really does offer an interesting variety, and Chef Brian Piasecki is always playing with textures and flavors to give his guests a unique experience upon every single visit. (For example, I’m sorry I didn’t get to the restaurant when he had Tater Tots on the menu…which he did… .)
I always recommend California Grill as one of the not-to-miss restaurants in Walt Disney World, because the combination of incredible food and gorgeous views is simply unparalleled. Even though the restaurant has had its ups and downs (and continues to get mixed reviews) I stand by my recommendation.
Have you been to California Grill recently, or are you hoping to go? Let us know in the comments section below!