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Review: Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure in Disneyland Resort

We are heading into Carthay Circle Restaurant today for dinner with a healthy dose of Old Hollywood glamour!

Carthay Circle Restaurant

Carthay Circle Restaurant

Located on the newly re-imagined Buena Vista Street at the entrance of Disney California Adventure, this is one majestic building. Let’s head in!

Atmosphere

If there is one word that I would use to describe Carthay Circle as I approach, it would be impressive. Disney is in the business of re-creating scenes from film, as well as re-imagining the past and forging the future. And once more, they’ve done an excellent job.

Carthay Circle Premiere!

Carthay Circle Premiere!

I mean, I’ve seen Carthay’s likeness so many times. There’s a gorgeous mural inside Hollywood and Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios depicting the night that Snow White premiered at the famed Tinseltown icon. You’ll find an old framed print of the theatre in one of my favorite Studios haunts, Writer’s Stop (home of the famous carrot cake cookie.) You can also spy it in the relief work of the Studios arch, and there’s a mini version on Hollywood Boulevard, doubling as a gift shop. (For more info, check out this great post.)

Carthay Circle Restaurant Menu

Carthay Circle Restaurant Menu

It’s clear that Carthay Circle holds a special place in the hearts of the Imagineering team. And since we’ll never have the chance to venture into the original theatre, it’s a joy to see it so lovingly recreated as part of the DCA overhaul.

Beautiful Detail on the Tower

Beautiful Detail on the Tower

Two sets of double doors greet you at the entrance of the building. The mirrored doors are great!

Carthay Entrance

Carthay Entrance

Don’t forget — this is a replica of an old Hollywood movie theatre. So naturally, you’ll find ticket windows on either side of the doors. I think it’s fun to see the scale here, don’t you?

Ticket Windows

Ticket Windows

A plaque reminds you of just why Carthay holds such an important place in Disney history.

Plaque Commemorating the Historic Premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Carthay Circle Theatre

Plaque Commemorating the Historic Premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Carthay Circle Theatre

And be sure, if you have the chance, to swing by here at night — if for no other reason than to see this gorgeous view.

Carthay Fountain at Night

Carthay Fountain at Night

As you head in, you’re greeted with separate doors. Two sets lead to Carthay Circle Lounge — and subsequently, onto the restaurant. The other set leads to the exclusive, members-only 1901 Lounge.

Don’t worry! Helpful Cast Members are there to show you the way.

Welcome!

Welcome!

Carthay Circle Restaurant is actually located on the second floor of the building. As you enter, you find yourself in the check in area. Upon confirming your table, you’ll bide your time in a spacious and comfortable waiting area.

Carthay Circle Waiting Area

Carthay Circle Waiting Area

Spend some time taking in the beautiful decor here, as well as all the fun memorabilia. There are tons and tons of photographs and other fascinating pieces. Be sure to check out the collection of Snow White animated cels that are said to have hung in Walt Disney’s home.

Snow White Animation Cels

Snow White Animation Cels

Or you can step into the Carthay Circle Lounge, and enjoy a cocktail before heading upstairs.

Carthay Circle Lounge

Carthay Circle Lounge

I won’t go into too much detail here about the Carthay Circle Lounge, since I have my own review of the spot coming up soon. But I will say that this is one of my favorite spots for a quick and delicious dinner — no reservation required!

After a short wait, we headed upstairs. You can choose to take the steps or elevator, or course. Once upstairs, you’ll traverse a short hallway that’s lined with more vintage pictures.

Walt Disney in a Vintage Photo, Looking Very Dashing

Walt Disney in a Vintage Photo, Looking Very Dashing

What a completely gorgeous place! While the rest of the building tends to be a little dark and heavy, the skylights within the Carthay tower allow for a good amount of natural light to complement the space. During the daytime, at least.

The Main Dining Room

The Main Dining Room

Take in the heavy, Spanish Colonial Revival style that continues inside. The chandeliers are simply stunning, as are the murals, which depict pastoral settings from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Main Dining Room Ceilings

Main Dining Room Ceilings

Large and small details abound. This retro corner-style table holds a secret.

The Table Where the Evil Queen Lives

The Table Where the Evil Queen Lives

Check out the intricate wood grain, and you just might find the likeness of an Evil Queen hiding there.

Evil Queen in the Wood Grain of a Table. How Do They Do This Stuff?

Evil Queen in the Wood Grain of a Table. How Do They Do This Stuff?

There are lots of different seating arrangements here. You’ve seen a bit of the main dining room already. You can also sit on one of two terraces overlooking Buena Vista Street — always a nice option for enjoying the beautiful California weather.

A View of the Patio Through the Windows

A View of the Patio Through the Windows

And in true Hollywood style, there are also a four private dining rooms, which accommodate parties of various sizes.

The Hollywood Room, the largest of the four private dining areas, will seat up to 20 guests.

The Hollywood Room

The Hollywood Room

Pretty swanky, eh?

Behind the Curtain of a Private Dining Room

Behind the Curtain of a Private Dining Room

The smaller Hyperion and Buena Vista Rooms will hold 5 guests each.

Private Dining Room -- Up Close

Private Dining Room — Up Close

And in the category of just-the-right-size, the Premiere Room seats 14. I think I want to have my next birthday party here! Who’s in?

Another Private Dining Room

Another Private Dining Room

We were seated in the back dining room, however. Beautiful and comfortable, but not as spectacular as some of the other options.

Back Room Seating

Back Room Seating

And if you love wine, you’ll have plenty to choose from, of course.

Wine

Wine

Now that you know the lay of the land, let’s check out the food.

Eats

Chef Andrew Sutton of Napa Rose fame helms the kitchen here at Carthay as well. And while Carthay Circle’s emphasis is on seasonal California cuisine just like Napa Rose, the influence at Carthay is more Southern California.

I began with a non-alcoholic pink lemonade. Pretty standard.

Pink Lemonade

Pink Lemonade

We made our selections, and soon it was time to dig into some bread. The fresh Sourdough is served at room temperature with Unsalted Butter.

Bread Service

Bread Service

The bread was fine, but we definitely wanted to try a few of the house specialties. We started with one of the signature items — Carthay House Biscuits. They look innocent enough, but just wait.

Fried Biscuits

Carthay House Biscuits

First off, these puppies are fried instead of baked. And inside, you’ll find a stuffing of White Cheddar, Bacon, and Jalapeño. Seriously.

Fried Biscuits -- Inside

Carthay House Biscuits — Inside

To complement the bite from the cheddar and pepper, as well as the salt of the bacon, the biscuits come with a rich Apricot Honey Butter.

Apricot Honey Dipping Sauce

Apricot Honey Butter

These were good, but, sadly, they weren’t as good as they sound. :-(

Next, we couldn’t pass up the Fire Cracker Duck Wings. The Asian-inspired sauce, made with uber spicy Sriracha Chili Sauce, glazes the deep-fried wings, and imparts a sweet-spicy kick. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell them to leave the Cilantro in the kitchen.

Even so, these were the hit of the meal. I kind of wish I’d just ordered two of these instead of an entree!

Fire Cracker duck Wings

Fire Cracker duck Wings

My husband decided to try a pasta offering, and went with the Strozzapreti Pasta. Pretty impressive-sounding, huh? Well, it really only refers to the pasta shape. The dish itself included a hearty sauce of Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Pancetta, and Rapini, among other things.

Strozzapretti Pasta

Strozzapreti Pasta

Being the consummate red meat fan that I am, I chose the only steak on the menu. The steak was fine, but not earth-shattering. The Red Flame Grape Sauce was certainly unique.

Grilled Angus Ribeye

Grilled Angus Ribeye

Up to this point, I’ll be honest, we weren’t completely thrilled with our meals. But there was still dessert! Maybe it would be the turning point — the star of this show?

With a positive attitude, we requested to see the dessert menu.

Spring Dessert Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Spring Dessert Menu — Click to Enlarge

But to be frank, none of the selections sounded all that amazing. Still, we decided to try a few.

I went with the Toasted Lemon Pound Cake with Marinated Blueberries.

So…kudos for the schmeer of Lemon Curd Cream, which was the absolute best part. That much I appreciated. But the rest of it fell flat for me. Maybe I’m more of a cheesecake/ice cream kind of person versus a pound cake kind of person. I will say that many of my signature dining experiences have left me unimpressed with dessert, so perhaps Carthay just falls into that category.

Toasted Lemon Pound Cake with Marinated Blueberries

Toasted Lemon Pound Cake with Marinated Blueberries

The Warm Strawberry Rhubarb “Pie” seemed a little more promising. The flavors and textures were good, but I didn’t see anything which warranted the price tag in terms of quality or quantity.

Warm California Strawberry Rhubarb "Pie"

Warm California Strawberry Rhubarb “Pie”

Feeling largely underwhelmed by our dining experience, we headed out.

Overall

And that’s the best that I can say about Carthay Circle Restaurant. Our experience here was largely disappointing. Our service was far slower than we wanted it to be, and we weren’t impressed with our meal. Our desserts were a dud, so we couldn’t even end on the high note I’d hoped for.

While the restaurant itself is really lovely, I was disappointed to have been sat in a “back dining room.” I would have much preferred the main dining room, or even (especially!) one of the small private dining rooms.

I’m hoping we experienced an off night and that our next visit to Carthay will live up to our expectations. There’s huge potential here after all, in terms of menu and setting.

Have you dined at Carthay Circle Restaurant? What are your impressions of this fine dining spot?

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27 Comments

  1. will says:

    i’ve eaten at carthay and had the opposite experience. My sister and I ate there >1 year ago- Dec 2012. We did the WOC package then which is different than it is now. We split the duck wings and thought they were great. She ate rack of lamb and I a filet. For desert we split the lemon blubbery dessert which also was well done. We sat in the main room and had a few drinks also. My thought is you had an off night. I would give it a chance. Is it as good as napa rose, no, but it is a probably one of the best theme park restaurants in the USA.

  2. Scott says:

    With all due respect to the reviewer – in a restaurant that you note specializes in ‘seasonal California cuisine’, is steak and pink lemonade the best meal on which to base an opinion?

  3. AJ says:

    Will — Thanks for sharing your experience! I will absolutely give it another chance — it’s my job to go back to every Disney restaurant over and over again no matter what, and I often find that the restaurants offer different quality experiences on every visit.

    Scott — Thanks for your comment! We did try several of the menu items — two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts — and simply weren’t impressed with any of them except the duck wings. We love Chef Sutton’s Napa Rose and have never had a bad meal there, so we were shocked to dislike this particular meal so much. We’ll go back and order different things — we always do — but I like to “tell it like I see it” on this blog so that my readers have unbiased reviews, and our visit really fell flat.

  4. V No Privacy says:

    I ordered slightly different things, but had pretty much the EXACT SAME experience!! Underwhelming. I think the gorgeous decor maybe upstages the food…..

    My service was also on the slow side and I was sat in the back dining room as well. Such a bummer.

  5. MissSlim says:

    I have also been disappointed with Carthay Circle dining (been there 4 times)… the lounge however is amazing! We hang out there every time we visit DCA. Don’t know why Sutton hasn’t translated over there – Napa Rose is incredible…

  6. Claybob says:

    Funny this review should pop up. Planning on heading to Disneyland this May, 2014 and wanted to have dinner here and take in the World of Color package as well. Just being able to eat there would be a treat, however, if the food is not up to par…well, maybe think Napa Rose instead? Does Napa Rose offer a dinner package as well? Could use a bit of advise.

  7. Pamela says:

    I have had some of my best theme park meals inside of this restaurant and some of my worst too. The problem for this restaurant is largely the wait staff and the kitchen. You can go some nights, and swear this is the best restaurant at Disneyland resort. Other times, the menu offerings are ho-hum. My worst restaurant experience was also at this restaurant. Reservations booked over 1 month before meal date, arrived early in the lounge, waited over 45 minutes to be seated from reservation time. Then I get the worst waitress in the world that forgot our table of 6 existed. No bread, no water even, for over 20 minutes, and that was served not by the waiter, but another staff that saw we were seated a good while and were starving and parched. Maybe we saw our waitress 10-15 minutes later, promptly ordered, but our main dishes did not come till 1 1/2 hours later. We ordered the biscuits, and those were somewhat prompt but not hot. In all, over 3 hours spent in the restaurant, we missed seeing World of Color, and we also saw Chef Sutton yell repeatedly at staff. It was awkward and unprofessional, especially since our waitress than cried, and our meal was still not served.

    Then again, I have had 3 meals where “Ashley from Steakhouse 55″ was our server, and her suggestions for food and wine were spot-on, she constantly refills drinks, serves the food while it is hot, and continues to check up o her tables.

    ***I always ask for “Steakhouse 55″ Ashley when I arrive at the restaurant, and then I know I will have a superb dining experience.

  8. Rachel says:

    I have to disagree with you on this one! I just got back from my first trip to Disneyland since I was a little kid and I was blown away with Carthay Circle!! Our server was absolutely amazing she was attentive enough but not on top of us to the point where we felt rushed at all. We were there for the World of Color seating package so I had the salmon and my boyfriend had the filet and both were delicious and unique. It wasn’t apart of the 3 course meal but we did order those delicious biscuits and they are definitely a can’t miss! The only complaint I did have was the seating area for the World of Color was packed and you couldn’t even get a good view so it is definitely not worth the money! With tip it came to about $180 and we could’ve gotten just our dinner for way less but still a great night!

  9. Matt says:

    Yea, I’ve not been impressed with the restaurants food offerings. Sort of lackluster IMHO. But the lounge, that’s a different story. We’re AP holders and the lounge is usually a spot where we spend 2-3 hours in the afternoons taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the park. The food offerings are great and the drinks – spectacular.

  10. Rob says:

    Thanks for the honest review. It’s a shame being such a beautiful restaurant. With an upcoming trip to DCA, I had planned on us eating at Carthay, but maybe we’ll just hang out in the lounge and enjoy some light food and cocktails. Looking forward to your review of the lounge! One thing I hope you will address in your review is how crowded the lounge got. Sometimes great spaces in Disney parks can become not so great when they get crowded and loud.

  11. Spencer says:

    We didn’t dine in the restaurant (too classy to drag a 1.5 yr old), but we did spend some time at the lounge. We had a blast. Had a few cocktails at the bar, and ordered some appetizers(wings and a sushi roll). It was very elegant and classy but still allowed us to feel comfortable with the little girl. One of my favorite memories was watching them make the Manhattans at the bar, so much fun.

  12. Richard says:

    We ate there twice and the first time they put us in the back dining area which while OK was a buzzkill compared to the other dining areas. For the cost that is not the place you’d expect to be seated.

    The next time we went I specifically asked to not be put in the back dining area and the CM gave us a nice table in the main dining area!

    I had the Thick-Cut Pork Chop the first time and it was good, not great. My wife had the Grilled Shrimp and was not pleased with the portion or the taste.

    The second time I had the Bay Salmon and that was great! My wife tried the Squash Raviolis and she really liked them.

    Will we go back? Probably not, the Rose is just so much better but we did want to see the interior at least once…

  13. Jackie says:

    I dine at Carthay Circle in January when I was at Disneyland for Tinkerbell 1/2 Marathon weekend. I took my dad with me on a Thursday for lunch, I would have to say my experience was less than stellar. The location was gorgeous the two of us were sat at a both built for six so we had plenty of space and I did like the soft background music which is classic Disney songs. Our server was very quiet and never talked to us or asked us how we were doing, it may have been her first day but I didn’t see any “earning my ears” tags. It was very much not like I imagined it would be, the service was also painfully slow for a nearly empty restaurant. We both had seasonal dishes, I had fish and my dad had a roast beef sandwich? It was just that unremarkable that I don’t remember, the food was well prepared but nothing that WOW-ed me or would make me book a reservation vs sitting at the lobby bar downstairs. We both had drinks which are made downstairs in the bar and brought up. That may have been the highlight of the meal. Overall my experience was just meh’

  14. Kate says:

    We have always been very impressed with the food here. I can’t believe you didn’t love the biscuits. I could make a meal of those! We have found the seasonal offerings and tasting menus often offer the best and most unique food.

    Also as far as seating you can request a different area of the restaurant. I will say the service here is on the slower side, though I appreciate not feeling rushed.

  15. Rochelle Miller says:

    Our trip to Carthay was in October of last 2012, so it was fairly newly open. The best part of the meal was the duck wings for sure as well as what my husband refers to as “the best bloddy mary ever.” The rest of the meal was just not that good. There was also an extremely under-dressed family of 4 sitting across from us (tank tops and cut-offs) with the worst table manners (NO fault of Disney’s-but maybe a shirt with sleeves requirement?) and the meal was extremely expensive, even by Disney standards. Go to Carthay for the experience of the beautiful surroundings, it really is a stunning restaurant.

  16. Claybob says:

    Ouch on the reviews about Carthay Circle dining. Since I don’t get to Disneyland that often, I’m trying to make the visit really special. So, guess I’ll snag some drinks in the lounge area and get some appetizers from there instead. Still will enjoy the experience. Ariel’s seems to be the better place all around. From what I’ve read, the tri tip gets good marks.

  17. TonyT in SD says:

    My wife and I have eaten at the Carthay 4 times…twice upstairs in the dining room and twice down in the lounge…eating in the dining room we had the spring menu once and the fall menu once…we were very happy with both the food and the waitstaff…The lounge is awesome and is the best in so many ways…The drinks, food, staff…
    You can ask for a specific part of the dining room when you make your reservation…and then reinforce that selection when you get to the check in stand…it may mean a little longer wait but it will be worth it…I intend on sitting outside next time there…

  18. Betty says:

    Ive been there twice and all meals were exceptiona! Love those biscuits but got too full after to eat my meal. I will never order them again!

  19. Maus says:

    Wow. Again I have had completely different experiences. I have dined at Carthay Circle numerous times and only had one unsatisfactory meal. I presumed it was my menu choice. Interestingly I have not ordered any of the items you tried, except steak, which I found to be excellent. You’ll definitely need to give it another try. That being said the service can be leisurely. If you are on the World of Color package they are better about getting you out on time. You still need to arrive for the show in plenty of time in order to assure a good standing spot.

  20. wonder says:

    i’ve been twice, with two different parties, and we all had divine and memorable dining experiences. flavors and service were far above expectation. i’ve recommended it highly to everybody going to dlr.

    very sorry your experience was not the same as ours…please try again!

  21. Kristin says:

    I had a chance to dine at the Lounge in Carthay Circle twice on my last visit and it was amazing. The Lounge offers small bites and smaller versions of what is offered in the restaurant. It’s also a great alternative if you don’t have dining reservations. We dined on the Carthay flatbread, Queso Fundido, Duck Confit Sliders, Lobster Pad Thai Roll as well as tried some of their adult beverages. I would love to write a review of my experience! I really hope the author gives the restaurant another try.

  22. Amanda says:

    Did you ask to be seated in one of the dining areas? I understand about being disappointed in the less desirable room, but if all the other rooms are full…..
    Overall it looks like a lovely restaurant. I think I might try out the lounge first, though.

  23. Jan says:

    Had the same thoughts when we went… underwhelming. Not bad, just not great. Did you know they do a tour of the building in the mornings? We went to one at 10:30am, and it was just like 5 people, maybe a 20 min tour. Really cool! In the Premiere Room, the tabletop is sitting on a replica of Snow White’s wishing well :)

  24. Jim says:

    We are there last July. We had made reservations and our 5 yo daughter and 7 to son were with us. The lounge was great and I had one of the best Manhattans I had ever drank there but it went down hill from there. We were seated in a side dining room with out her families with kids, one of whom watched his ipad at full volume during the entire meal. This was despite the fact that there were many tables and booths open in the main dining room. When I asked about changing tables I was told that we had to request the main dining room when I made the reservation. The service was slow and the food was average and not memorable. Needless to say we were disappointed and would not go back, except to the lounge possibly.

  25. Kristin says:

    I’m relieved to know my disappointing experience wasn’t just me. I dined solo at the Carthay and don’t feel the need to go back. I found the duck wings dull (duck is a flavorful meat – why hide it under so much heat and spice?), my entree no better than anything I could find off property, and the dessert offerings uninspired. Service was fine but nothing special (go to Napa Rose and sit in Saucy’s section if you want to experience the best service at the resort). Carthay has a long way to go to be a shining star.

  26. Marmorgan says:

    I’ve eaten at Carthay Circle a couple of times now, and if you’ve never had a meal there, I think it’s still worth a go. (Compare it to the ripoff that the Blue Bayou has become — $32 for a tired salad and bowl of mediocre jambalaya?!?!)

    I think the best way to go at Carthay Circle Restaurant is lunch, when the prices are a little kinder, especially the World of Color prix fixe lunch menu. The higher dinner prices aggravate the gap between what you pay and what you get.

    I’m looking forward to your review of the Carthay Circle Lounge, which I think is a real gem.

  27. Anthony says:

    We, a group of four adults, visited Carthay Circle for lunch in February on the World of Color package. We were very impressed. We sat outside- we were the only ones on the balcony and enjoyed the quiet. The food was top notch. The roasted winter vegetable salad was very tasty and inventive. The entrees were equally good. I had the burger- but not just any burger….a 4 napkin juicy one! The other entree was the sauteed sole…another winner. For desert we had the pound cake and chocolate cake. All tasty but not stellar. The service was fantastic…attentive but not rushed. It was a very nice experience and a needed respite from the bustle of the park. We are looking forward to eating in the main dining area next time.

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