Guest Review: Califonia Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

The California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort has re-opened with a new menu and revitalized decor. This week, guest author Paul Kuconis returns with a review from this Walt Disney World restaurant.

My daughter and I last ate at California Grill in May 2012, seated in the Wine Room overlooking Wilderness Lodge and Epcot in the distance. The meal, as usual (and expected) was superb! Soon after this the restaurant was closed for a remodel. And the wait began.

When I found out (in early September, I believe) that California Grill was accepting Advance Dining Reservations I thought I would give it a shot for our October visit. I was able to grab the date and time I wanted. AWESOME!!

So off we head on the boat from Wilderness Lodge to the Contemporary.

From the Boat Dock

You can’t beat this view of the Contemporary right around dusk! Red sky at night, Sailor’s delight. We are in for a nice day tomorrow.


The reception desk is now on the right of the elevator banks, moved from the left.

Reception Signage

Right off the elevator — the first new element I saw was the immense wine cooler.

The Wine Cooler

As we waited for our table we took in the sights.

A Nice Spot to Watch the Fireworks

The results of the remodel look fantastic and the contemporary theme was carried throughout. The bar has a nice clean look to it with illuminated shelving and neatly arranged bottles.

The Bar

The open concept seating remained, providing good views out all the windows.

The Dining Area

Even the light fixtures carry the ‘contemporary theme’, right down to different colored globes!

Contemporary-Themed Light Fixtures

It was nice to see that the open kitchen concept was maintained through the remodel. I enjoy watching the chefs prepare the offerings. And it is done with Military precision. No ‘Hells’ Kitchen’ theatrics here!

Open Kitchen

You can’t beat white tablecloths and sharp, branded linen napkins. Classy!

A nicely set table

OK, enough of the Atmosphere. We came to eat!


Now the fun begins. The menu logo mirrors the signage we saw at the reception desk.

The Menu

My daughter and I selected a bottle of Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay. The vineyard is located in Kenwood in the heart of Sonoma (along with Napa and Mendocino) in the North Coast wine region of California. Also in keeping with the California theme.

Chardonnay Choices

We made a nice choice. We noticed aromas of dried pit fruits, melon, honey, and tarragon. It was very fruity, with a nice finishing warmth and lingering spiciness.

The Wine

A Nice Pour

Luckily we got rolls and butter and that gave me something to eat while I perused the menu.

Rolls and Butter

As usual with Disney, they are not just ‘rolls and butter’. We had a choice of sourdough rolls (my favorite and a staple of San Francisco) and focaccia. The butter was topped with sea salt and a lavender blossom. Visually, perfect! This is important as we ‘see’ the food before we eat it.

The crunchiness of the salt worked well with the butter and spread that on the sourdough roll — it doesn’t get any better. At least until the appetizer arrives!

Appetizer and entrée selections proved to be very difficult. To me, that is the sign of a well thought out menu. So many choices, so little time!

I like to try items I have never had and the Carrot and Cilantro Soup fit the bill. But Carrot soup?

Carrot and Cilantro Soup Menu Item

The ingredients made the soup. Spiced Paprika Oil helped to balance the sweetness of the carrot with just the right amount of heat. The soup was topped with Lime Blackened Halibut, adding a nice textural contrast to the puree of the soup and garnished with citrus coriander bloom.

The nice touch of greens complemented the orange of the soup. Looks to good to eat, huh? Nah! I dove right in and was not disappointed. The soup was awesome.

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

After a tough time of deliberation I was all set to order the 24-hour short rib filet. But when Abdel, our server, asked for my order, I went with Oak Fired Filet of Beef, medium rare.

Oak-fired Filet of Beef Menu Item

At 9PM we were treated to two fireworks shows. Through the windows to our left were the Magic Kingdom’s show and straight back in the distance was Epcot’s IllumiNations. Two shows with the price included with the meal! Can’t beat that. At the end of the Magic Kingdom show the audience (diners) applauded. A nice touch.

Nicely plated, the filet was accompanied by Heirloom Tomato Risotto, Baby Vine Tomatoes, Petite Basil, and Tomato Butter.

Oak-fired Filet of Beef

This picture almost never happened. The filet was so so so good I almost forgot to show you how it was cooked. Perfectly, to my specifications.

Prepared Perfectly-Medium Rare

The Tomato Risotto had just the right amount of chewiness. This was the first risotto I have had that was not prepared with stock but rather tomato juice. A nice change with the sweet-tangy-acidity of the tomato offsetting the smooth starchiness of the rice. The Tomato Butter was something to behold.

I was trying to pick out the flavors and was stumped. I asked Abdel what the ingredients were. He came back shortly thereafter with the list: tomato, tomato juice, heavy cream, veal stock, Vidalia onion, sauvignon blanc, sherry vinegar, parsley, tarragon, euro butter, kosher salt, and black pepper. Wow! That’s some list of ingredients and together the complexity and levels of flavor created are unbelievable and unmatched.

OK, so what is ‘euro butter’? Well, euro butter is made more slowly than other butters so the cream has time to develop the flavor component. The other difference is the fat content: it contains 83%-86% fat content while other butter contain 81%. With the higher fat content there is less water, thus improving the creaminess.

The baby vine tomato edible garnish rounded out the tomato theme.

The last tough decision was dessert. After Abdel described the Sundae Sampler I had to finish my meal off with that! And it was a good choice.

Sundae Sampler Menu Item

As I said earlier, looks too good to eat! Nicely plated (again) and presented with a bit of nostalgic whimsy. Left to right: Caramel Corn sitting atop crème anglaise-type filling atop caramel; Coke Float (Coke and vanilla ice cream to make a float); and finally, Strawberry Basil with a basil leaf atop a strawberry and crème brulee-type filling. Behind the glass was a dark chocolate-dipped strawberry.

Sundae Sampler


This was an awesome meal. I used ‘awesome’ several times today as the Chef took us on a culinary adventure and the destination was unparalleled. This is a must-eat stop on your Walt Disney World culinary tour. You will not be disappointed!

What’s your favorite dish on the new menu? Are you looking forward to ordering any particular item? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Phil says

    Nice review.
    For clarity…the carrot soup and the 24-hr short rib filet are not currently on the menu.
    A shame, really, as the short rib dish was one of my favorites from our last trip.

  2. Scott says

    Great review! Absolutely loved it! And glad you loved your meal. Somehow, California Grill never seems to have an ADR available when we are at the parks. All these years and I still haven’t tried it. After reading this, I’ll definitely try harder.

  3. Jack says

    Good Review – Sounds like the service has improved from our last stay in December. We didn’t receive the bread until after the entrees, after asking twice. Then the waiter gave us a hard time about stepping out to see the Fireworks 10 minutes early with everyone else as I guess he wanted us to finish up so he could get another couple there. I will say the food was good!

  4. Steven says

    your reviews are so helpful! thx!
    booking this place 180 days out is definitely worth the effort. ate here once before the makeover, & had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago to eat at cali grill again & it was AWESOME as expected! pork belly sushi was delicious! (entire meal was great)

  5. Deb says

    Our first try will be in the Fall! Late reservations though!9:30! Hopefully they let us up to see the fireworks! Looks delish!

  6. sue yokley says

    Thank you so much for your posts. It really helps me to appreciate the work the chefs put in to the meals. We always get the dining plan, but before reading your posts I never really realized all the work that goes into what I’ve eaten at WDW. We get so much for what little we really spend!!!

  7. Angela says

    Ate here on my stay in February and it was wonderful. To those that cannot get an ADR, they have a lounge area that is comfy, but not white-linen fancy, right when you walk in; and that’s first come, first serve. Worth checking out if you’re near MK when CG opens to get a spot.

  8. Laurie says

    We ate there in January. Were lucky enough to score 7:30 reservations. The fireworks were great, but I am STILL moaning over the appetizer with the seafood corn chowder and the beef marrow. They gave you a sliced beef marrow bone, filled with the delicious stuff, some VERY thinly sliced, toasted sourdough bread, and a relish made of red onion, cilantro, and capers. I would go back for just that! It was so good, I really don’t remember what I had as my entree!

  9. Pardonmyfrench says

    We ate there last night. The apps and entres were superb the dessert was subpar. For apps we had two rolls and the sashimi . The sashimi was melt in your mouth soft and had a lot of flavor . One person ordered the veal chop and practically licked the bone.
    Another tried the bison and it tasted like butter – really spectacular. Two of us had the seafood stew and I finished my sauce with a spoon. Everything was awesome except the dessert.

    One person tried the chocolate cake but they didn’t care for the Nutella filling. I split a creme brûlée and it was just ok. One person had the sundae dessert and was not overwhelmed and left most of it there.

    Spectacular apps and entres , but skip the dessert

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