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First Look! The NEW California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Oh my goodness, you guys! We got a chance to check out the newly revamped California Grill last night and IT. IS. AMAZING!

The popular restaurant, which sits high atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, is the one that started it all. It was Disney World’s first foray into sleek, signature dining.

But even the most contemporary California vibe can become outdated. And so it was time for a little freshening.

Last night, we got a first look at the brand new re-imagined California Grill.

We’ll have even more pics for you later today — and a longer review for you next week! But I couldn’t wait to share these initial pics of the transformation! Come with us and take a look!

New California Grill Atmosphere

The facelift is evident before you ever set foot on the fifteenth floor. The check in desk, located on the second floor, has also received an updated look.

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

A new font and background replace the signature cursive. Colorful stripes in warm colors replace the painted tile background.

After a quick trip up in the elevator reserved for California Grill guests, we stepped out into the entrance. A right turn, and we were greeted by a gorgeous, post-storm sunset.

California Grill view

Sweeping vistas have always been a hallmark of California Grill, but they’ve been made even more stunning with the introduction of floor to ceiling windows, which allow for plenty of natural light and incredible, 360-degree views.

California Grill New Dining Room

California Grill New Dining Room

Previously, the space was dominated by bright, bold geometric patterns. In re-imagining the space, Imagineers decided to look to the Contemporary’s mid-century roots for inspiration.

Taking elements from the work of iconic Disney artist Mary Blair, the entire space was overhauled and given a new look that is at once retro and completely modern. Nothing, from the light fixtures to the color palette, was left untouched during the seven month renovation.

New California Grill Bar Area

Even the table settings and private rooms have been changed up to fit the new look.

California Grill Table Settings

A New Attitude for California Grill's Private Rooms

Of course, an incredible wine list is always a centerpiece at California Grill, and this new wine storage is now a focal point.

Wine Storage at California Grill

California Grill Wine Fridge

Behind the counters, there was a flurry of well-orchestrated activity, as chefs and culinary assistants busily prepared tasting plates for the hungry crowd.

The new wood burning oven is a major addition to the restaurant!

California Grill Open Kitchen

Beautiful New Menu Additions Are Served Up From the Open Kitchen

The Sushi counter continues to be a huge highlight of the restaurant, and it becomes even more so with showcase displays and updated lighting!

The Sushi Chefs are Busy Making New Creations

The full open kitchen showcases all of the restaurants new creations, including desserts!

Smiling California Grill Chefs Produce Incredible Desserts

California Grill Chef

And the staff are excited to share the new menu!

California Grill Chef Staff

New California Grill Eats

Speaking of incredible eats, let’s take a look at the revamped menu! While favorite old dishes continue to dot the menu, you’ll also see from fresh new flavors.

California Grill Menu

We began with some handcrafted cocktails. I chatted at length with one of the awesome bartenders, who said they were really looking to add some classic options to the menu, like the Classic Side Car and the San Fran Pisco Sour.

California Grill Mixology

But they also wanted to offer some fresh, hot flavors. Because of the emphasis on Japanese cuisine and sake at California Grill, a cocktail featuring it headlines the menu.

Cocktail Menu -- Click to Enlarge

It was the perfect companion to that gorgeous sunset!

Sake Martini

The new wood burning oven menu is an exciting addition to California Grill. This is where Cali Grill fans will find their favorite flatbreads (changing up by season, of course), along with those incredible meatballs I tried earlier this Spring!

Wood Burning Oven Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Oak-Fired Three Meat Meatball is a new Appetizer at California Grill

Some favorite sushi combos are coming back, but the one that caught my eye is the new Pork Belly option! YUM!

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

California Grill Sushi Varities

More options from the sushi and sashimi menu

Pork Belly Sushi

I’m always pleased to see favorites return after restaurant renovations, and you know I’ll still always be ordering that gorgeous Goat Cheese Ravioli. But the new appetizers look incredible as well.

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Here’s a look at the awesome “Duck in all its glory!”

Duck in all its glory at California Grill

And while the beloved filet, and pork with polenta dishes are again on the menu (thank goodness!), I know that Chef Piasecki is very excited about that 24-hour Short Rib “Filet!”

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Here’s a glimpse of the new Roasted Squash Ravioli! A perfect combo of comfort food, market-fresh ingredients, and California flair!

Squash Ravioli at California Grill

And the halibut was perfect.

California Grill Halibut

Dessert was another incredible affair — fun, interesting, and unique!

We loved the Sundae Sampler!

Sundae Sampler

And here are the modestly named “Chocolate Pudding Cake,” and some new fritters!

Chocolate Pudding Cake

Fritters

We’ll have more food photos for you later today, and we’ll have a full review next week! Stay tuned! :-)

Additional Details About the Omakase Menu

I also had the chance to speak with Chef Brian Piasecki about the brand new Omakase Menu at California Grill.

Book your seat at the Sushi Bar for the Omakase Menu.

According to Chef Piasecki, the experience will take the place of a Chef’s Table that you might find at other high-end restaurants. There will be one seating per evening, at 8PM.

The menu will feature multiple courses — anywhere from ten to fourteen. These will primarily be sushi, but can be changed up with whatever the Chef desires. Each course will be based upon the freshest, best ingredients that are available that day — and will depend on the ingenuity and creativity of the chef and his team.

Sushi at California Grill

Guests requesting the Omakase Menu will be seated at the sushi bar, and will watch as the culinary team handcrafts each course. The meal progression will include lighter fare at the beginning and will intensify with richer, heavier options in later courses.

Chef Piasecki envisions the experience as unpretentious and “unstuffy.” It will be a celebration of the talents of the staff and the freshest, most interesting ingredients they can procure. The price will be $175 per person.

Overall

We were so thrilled to get the chance to dine at California Grill, and I can’t wait to head over to the restaurant again after it opens on September 9th. The newly revamped interior and updated menu give a different experience to dining here, but those who loved California Grill before will still enjoy the restaurant. The concept is largely the same — market-inspired, high-end, fresh, and modern.

Chef Brian Piasecki is the star of the show at California Grill

And don’t forget to book your reservation in time to see the fireworks! Remember, even if you don’t get your reservation exactly in time for the fireworks, guests who dine at the restaurant all evening can bring their receipt back in order to take advantage of the California Grill’s outdoor fireworks viewing area.

Fireworks from the California Grill's outside viewing area

We’ll see you there! And don’t forget — we’ll be back next week with a full review of this experience!

Thanks to Disney for inviting us to this Grand Opening Media Event. This was complimentary for our reporters to attend, however we were not required or obligated to publish a review.

And a huge thanks to @MealTrip for attending the event as our official photographer (and staying up all night editing photos)!

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47 Comments

  1. John Grigas says:

    Thanks for the exciting write-up . . . with MAJOR compliments to @MealTrip for the fabulous photography. Truly stunning work!

  2. Jenni says:

    OMG I’m so excited!! We’ve managed to get a table at 9pm on the 23rd for our honeymoon! Cannot WAIT! Will definitely be checking out your post later – excited to see more about it :) x

  3. Alan says:

    The food looks fantastic, the decor takes you to an ambiance that is exciting and of course the view cannot be matched at WDW. However, you can’t say classic side car cocktail and then use a splash of sweet and sour. Fresh squeezed lemon juice is required. I hope the sweet and sour is fresh made at least, but the sweetness should come from the Cointreau. And, there should be no fruit juice in a classic Mai Tai – they are mixing a neo-classic version.

  4. Christa says:

    Beautiful photos!! Beautiful food!! Cannot wait for my December reservation!

  5. Foodie says:

    You took amazing pictures! Very impressed :)

  6. Eeeeee!!! I have 7:30PM reservations in December – perfectly situated for Wishes over dessert. I’m so excited! :D

  7. Kris B says:

    OMG! Our favorite place to dine on WDW property is California Grill……….. can’t wait to experience the “new and improved” version! It looks beautiful, and the food you have shown here looks awesome! Too bad we have to wait 2 years to go again!

  8. Carol says:

    We have reservations for hubby’s birthday in October. So glad to see the ravioli still on the menu for us that do not eat meat. One of our favorite restaurants for years. Good Luck to the staff and bravo for the kitchen staff as I always do!

  9. Kate says:

    Wait, no teriyaki BBQ sauce on the filet? Heresy!

    Do they still have the cheese platters? And I didn’t see the chocolate lava cake either-I hope at least one is still there!

    Glad to see the ravioli back-my favorite!!- though a bit sad at the price increase. Oh well, CG was always a treat anyway. :) Can’t wait to eat there again!!

  10. Amy says:

    Woweee!!!! I cannot wait to go there in November!!!

  11. Jane says:

    This looks great… but what happened to the Deluxe Sushi Platter? It seems like the sushi offerings have been extremely reduced considering they are a “centerpiece” of the restaurant. What gives?

  12. Laura says:

    this post has made me so so excited!! and I am prone to exclaimatian points already!!!! :)

    I can’t wait to see a full review…your a lucky duck AJ…that looks like it was a fun event!

    7:45 December 8 can’t come soon enough!

  13. Krystal says:

    So excited for the full review next week, I was able to get an ADR for our trip at the end of this month. It is our first time at California Grill and I’m looking forward to it!

  14. Marmorgan says:

    I agree with Alan — the use of sweet and sour in a sidecar pretty much renders it unclassic. :-(

    That bit of fussbudgetery aside, the restaurant looks terrific! And your food photos especially, A.J., are fantastic. Looks like the new ‘n’ improved California Grill is well worth the wait!

  15. Lisa says:

    The changes look awesome, and I can’t wait to dine there again. PLEASE tell me that the pictures of the squash ravioli and the halibut were special tasting plates for this event and don’t represent the actual size of the entree! I can’t imagine getting only two bites of food!

  16. JimmyV says:

    So good to see Ray back behind the bar. He is as integral to the California Grill as the iconic view outside.

  17. AJ says:

    Lisa — Yes! The format was a “dine around” — basically, there were tasting stations set up of several of the menu items. All of these portions were appetizer size.

    Kate — The filet has definitely undergone a change; the the heirloom tomato risotto and tomato butter (similar to a beurre blanc) received rave reviews as absolutely stunning! It was one of our favorite dishes of the night, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too! There is still a Chef’s Selection Cheese Board, which is a selection of “Five Unique Cheeses with Accompaniments”. The Chocolate Lava Cake has been updated to a Chocolate Pudding Cake with some beautiful handmade components. We’ll be talking a bit more about it in the full review!

  18. Laura says:

    Great photos! I can’t wait to try it out. Looks so yummy!

  19. Tricia says:

    Yummy.. Luckily I found this after lunch. Want! And I will get in 6 days!

  20. Elizabeth says:

    What is the menu item in the photo with the caption “Beautiful New Menu Additions Are Served Up From the Open Kitchen”? Looks unbelievable! Made reservations for my next Disney trip and definitely want to try whatever that is!

  21. Jennifer says:

    Hi AJ, for the omakase meal, how do we make a reservation?

  22. Mark (MrHub) says:

    Awesome review AJ! I’ve been really sceptical on how this refurb was going to turn out. I’m not impressed with the way they changed the seating, but the food looks great. Looks like they put all the larger tables against the windows now and moved all the 2 & 4 person tables towards the center of the restaurant.

    I would love to try the “Omakase Menu”. That sounds fabulous. Can’t wait to get back there and see for ourselves. It’s our must do restaurant every trip. Just 43 more days!

  23. Lucy says:

    What types of cheese are included in the cheese board?

    The new windows are gorgeou! I can see there’ll be a line of people asking to be seated at one of those tables.

  24. AJ says:

    Jennifer — Just call 407-WDW-DINE to make a reservation for the Omakase menu.

  25. Essie says:

    Everything looks so beautiful and elegant that it really surprises me that a signature spot would have a dessert with Coke and caramel corn in it. That said, the chocolate cake looks very elegant. The view is amazing.

  26. Erin says:

    I am so excited to get back to California Grill…the new menu sounds FANTASTIC!!! I can’t wait to see the changes, although the old version is always going to hold a special place in my heart since I got engaged there during the fireworks back in 2004 :-)

  27. AJ says:

    Elizabeth — It’s the Oak-Fired Filet of Beef, served with an Heirloom Tomato Risotto. It is!

    MrHub — It’s really gorgeous, and the incredible attention to detail is definitely still there. Let us know what you think!

    Lucy — The views are spectacular! The cheese selections are “chef’s choice” so I’d imagine they’ll be changed up regularly, with accompaniments to pair well with the flavors.

    Essie — Yes, they are definitely having some fun with the dessert menu! But the flavors and presentation were well executed.

    Erin — Great story! :-D

  28. Keith says:

    Alan is exactly right….the “signature” cocktails are less than inspiring. However, the expanded sake menu should be interesting.

  29. David Schaefer says:

    Loved the while article but I have to say the picture of the fireworks is superb, a great angle. We are going the first week of November the day after Party for the Senses!

  30. Alex says:

    Yeah, I have two dinners at CG booked during our stay in December. I will cancel one when I know our childcare arrangements but I couldn’t miss this! So glad, it looks sooo great, can’t wait to celebrate 10yrs of marriage there with my husband.

  31. Abigail says:

    This is my favorite restaurant in WDW, if not the world, and it looks beautiful! I can’t wait for the full review. :)

  32. notchris says:

    I like the physical re-design except for those carpets. Meh. The photos are great, maybe @Mealtrip should be helping WDW with their food pic woes.

    That pork belly nigiri looks wrong to me. I think it would work better pressed on rice only, or with a strip of nori around the long axis “seat-belt” style.

  33. Ivis says:

    Our last meal there, in January 2012, was SO TERRIBLE that they comped it. It was such a weird night(waited an hour past our reservation, food was overcooked or undercooked, sushi was old-looking and gross). Everything looks amazing now. This review made me make a reservation for our next trip, in October.

  34. Paul says:

    The CG redesign looks beautiful though I do not see where the elements from the art of Mary Blair are. The menu looks interesting and, not surprisingly, more expensive than the old CG. Foodies may love the new Omikase menu, but at $175 for dining at a counter, it will be interesting to see how popular that is. I hope they still take TiW!

  35. Jess says:

    If you do not have a reservation are you able to go to the bar and order food? I will be alone and wanted to try the sundae sampler dessert. I’m thinking no because you need a reservation to use the elevator but I wanted to check.

  36. Angelina says:

    Everything looks absolutely amazing…can’t wait for the full review!!

  37. Bill says:

    The update looks great, and I can’t wait to taste the new menu. This will definiteltv be a great way to kick off the first night of our next WDW trip in October.

  38. JoAnn says:

    I can’t wait to try the California Grill in November.

  39. Lisa C says:

    …..MUST have sundae sampler…..!!!!!

  40. Jayne says:

    Can you get wine pairing here?

  41. Carolyn D (ufgator27) says:

    Awesome Review AJ and awesome pix too! We are long time Cali Grill fans – My Dad even worked up there when it was Top of the World! :) We are so stoked that we booked reservations for all 3 nights that we will be staying there in late October. :) YIPPEE!!! your website and your Food&Wine fest download helps with the anticipation… can’t wait!!

  42. Cheryl D says:

    Your pictures are beautiful, as always. I like the new look. The only part of the menu that really impressed me was the desserts. The last time I ate there was last October, and I had my favorite – the pork with polenta. It tasted oddly salty, but I didn’t complain because I had a cold. I figured it was me. (BTW, I love salt, so if I was healthy and thought it was too salty, no other human would eat it. Only deer.) Unfortunately, their prices are so expensive I could only justify eating there if I was on the meal plan, and felt like using 2 credits, or was celebrating an important occasion. (Seriously, $15 for ONE meatball?)

  43. Alex Boudreau says:

    My wife and I have been dining at Cal. Grill since 1998. We’ve averaged 2 visits yearly since and always rated it #1 tied with the Flying Fish. Naturally, we really looked forward to the makeover and booked as soon as we got an opening.
    I’m sad to say it has really let us down last night. The meat balls everyone raves about and shown on this blog we’re totally NOT what I expected.
    Over salted meatballs sitting on orzo pasta is not what I’d call creative signature cuisine. No chimichurri sauce. Was there supposed to be 4 types??
    The duck in all its glory doesn’t look at all like the photos shown here.
    Very salty prosciutto, dry sausage slices, over seasoned rillettes.
    These dishes may remain on the menu for some time due to this restaurant’s high volume of regulars and new customers, but I can see regulars like us losing hope for this great restaurant. The scallops and halibut looked awesome and I should have ordered those and maybe had a different experience.
    The banana fritters has no banana taste to them and the sauces didn’t not pair with it at all. The highlight were the marsh mellow and chocolate square.
    My wife has the heirloom tomato salad which got good praise except for a lacklustre dressing.
    The décor is nice but so was the old look. Yes…. the dining room is very loud and I’m glad we were sat in the small rear room overlooking the resort pool.

  44. Marci says:

    Maybe it was because we had never dined at California Grill before like the last poster, however, we were thrilled with our first dining experience there last week–Sept 22nd. First, the restaurant is so impressive as you come off the elevator and see the wall of wine and then that view–oh the view!! We were lucky enough to score a window seat and enjoyed our view of Seven Seas Lagoon as well as Magic Kingdom in the distance. The service was wonderful and the timing of the food perfect. TO start, they brought out the bread. My daughters love the rolls but I gobbled up the lavender focaccia. What an unexpected treat–so unique and so inviting. Next, came our food. My husband and daughter ordered the steak atop the tomato risotto. They both declared their meal to be, “The best steak I have ever had”. Not being a steak eater, my daughter and I shared the chicken. You would think being a high end restaurant they wouldn’t allow changes but after hearing what the chicken was paired with and the simple tastes of my 11 year old daughter, the waiter suggested mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. All I can tell you is that my daughter polished off the potatoes and I experienced a little bit of heaven with those baby brussel sprouts. The chicken was good but the star of our plate was the two sides.

    Our desserts were good. My husband had the chocolate wave and enjoyed it. My daughter chose the lemon marscapone cheesecake which was a bit disappointing. It was virtually tasteless. I think this was a sugarfree option but I had read on the blog that it was good. We both felt it was not the best choice and regretted not going with another option. My 13 year old went with the seasonal platter. This had may apple offerings and was good. I loved the apple crème brulee and she thoroughly enjoyed the cider. I cannot say that I adored the desserts but there we good.

    Of course, we got to enjoy the fireworks while eating our dessert which was a true treat. We attempted to go out on the decks but they were so crowded that we finally just went back into the restaurant and enjoyed it from there. Maybe the rooftop is becoming too popular even with 2 decks, thus making viewing yet another crowded facet of Disney. But we honestly enjoyed the fireworks just as well from inside at our window table.

    All in all, this was a great meal and dining experience. I would be willing to spend 2 TS points again for such a treat. Again, I had not been their previously but as a first timer, they impressed me enough to bring us back! Great service, great food and who can beat that view?!!!

  45. Jennifer Yee says:

    I just tried to make a reservation and I was told they no longer offer the omakase special. I’m bummed! I tried it in November and it was phenomenal!

  46. Mike says:

    yes, the food, views and the service are all excellent…but at $45 per entree and $25 per appetizer?! Really?!…what has significantly changed since the entrees were $10 less, each, less than a year ago?? Is the food better? Nope. Are the views better? Nope. Is the service better? Nope. Is the decor better…different, but not better. This is just yet another way for Disney to separate us from our money.

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