Review: California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I met a group of friends at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill for what promised to be a memorable dinner.

It was my first trip to the hallowed culinary spot since the dramatic re-imagination of both the restaurant itself and the menu earlier this year. I’m a big fan of Chef de Cuisine Brian Piasecki, and I was anxious to see what he and his team had put together for the opening.

Having heard mostly good things about the new menu, and lots of raves about the decor refresh (see some breathtaking photos here!), I was really looking forward to this special night out. Would the restaurant deliver on expectations? Well, kind of…and kind of not. Let’s delve into the full story.

Atmosphere

If you’ve never been to California Grill, getting there is a bit of an odyssey. Although the restaurant sits high atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you’ll begin your journey on the hotel’s second floor, where the check-in desk is located.

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

From there, you’ll be directed to an elevator where a cast member will escort you up to the restaurant. This way, the staff can practice a little crowd control, as the restaurant’s lobby and bar can get quite crowded at times.

You emerge from the elevator and are greeted by sleek design, accented by cool colors and rows and rows of wine fridges. Form follows function, as California Grill’s stellar selection of wines is well known.

Entrance and Wine Fridges

Time your visit just right, and another hallmark of the Grill’s atmosphere greets you —

Sunset

— A beautiful sunset through the picture windows directly ahead of you. I was lucky on this visit, as I got to see both the sunset AND the fireworks through those floor-to-ceiling windows!

Sunset

As I mentioned before, California Grill underwent an extensive renovation earlier in 2013. If you haven’t been to the restaurant since then, you will find that almost everything looks completely different from before.

We shared lots and lots of photos with you from the reno in that previous post, including pics of the private dining rooms. Be sure to pop over there if you’d like to see even more decor detail. For now, we’ll just give you a quick tour.

Step away from that glorious sunset, and you realize that you passed the beautiful bar area as you entered. It’s just to the left as you step off the elevators and head into the restaurant.

Directly in front of the bar, there’s also a limited lounge seating area. This means that you can, theoretically, score a table without an advance dining reservation, or meet here for appetizers and drinks on a whim. That said, the lounge is first come, first served, and you can imagine the scramble for seats during the fireworks. So look alive if that’s your plan!

Bar

Where the view is concerned, there are really no bad seats in all of California Grill! But the window seats on the Magic Kingdom side offer the best view if you’re going for fireworks. As part of the renovation, new windows were installed that block ultraviolet light, and electronically-controlled shades ensure that guests are never blinded by that bright Florida sunshine.

Views and Tables

A glance across the seating area gives you a good overview of the [Read more…]

2013 Holiday Gingerbread Houses and Pins at Walt Disney World Resorts

Once again, visions of gingerbread houses will become reality at select Walt Disney World resort hotels!

The holiday season is underway as Mickey and his elves (and some talented chefs!) get busy filling the resorts and parks with seasonal decor, merchandise, and treats. Plan to stop by the resorts to see the displays, purchase a pin, and/or meet one of the fabulous chefs!

Life-size!

To commemorate the inspiring gingerbread houses, NEW limited edition pins will be released. Starting November 14, 2013, gingerbread house pins will go on sale at the Contemporary, Beach Club, and Grand Floridian resorts. Disney’s BoardWalk pin will debut on November 29th.

Grand Floridian Gingerbread House

So which came first? The gingerbread or the pin? Well, Jeanne Lewis (Disney pins merchandiser) explained how the Disney pastry chefs studied the pins in order to select characters to incorporate into their designs!

2013 Disney World Gingerbread Houses and Pins!

The Grand Floridian’s pin celebrates the 15th anniversary of their unique gingerbread house. Meet executive chef Erich Herbitschek on November 16 from 1-2PM near the Grand Floridian gingerbread house.

Grand Floridian 2013 Gingerbread House Pin

And how cool is it that the Contemporary’s pin showcases the five-legged goat from Disney Legend Mary Blair’s mural. Five-legged goat,  you ask?! You’ll want to look for it on your next visit to the Grand Canyon Concourse at this Disney resort! On November 15, meet pastry chef Jeff Barnes at Disney’s Contemporary Resort from 5-7 PM.

Contemporary Resort Gingerbread Tree

Contemporary and Beach Club 2013 Gingerbread House Pins

Stop by the Beach Club on November 18 to meet pastry chef Deran Lanpher from 1-2:30PM and to see the creative gingerbread displays.

Beach Club Carousel from Above

Disney’s BoardWalk is unveiling a new [Read more…]

Disney Food Pics of the Week: Mini Desserts!

We are back with another installment of Disney Food Pics of the Week. We love to showcase the ah-mazing food photos that our readers share on Disney Food Blog Photo Extravaganza, our Flickr group!

One trend that we lurve at Disney are all the mini-desserts and dessert trios that we see on menus. They’re so much fun, and they add some great variety to your plate. After all, who wants to be saddled with just one flavor for an entire dessert, right?

Let’s take a look at some of our favorites that readers have captured! Onward…

California Grill’s Sundae Sampler

One of the most beloved spots to dine in all of Walt Disney World, California Grill, recently reopened after a lengthy refurbishment. While the interior was given brand new life, there were also several updates to the menu.

One of the most fun new dishes to debut is this super cute Sundae Sampler! (Read more about our thoughts on it here.)

Photographer: Imsoscared

Sundae Sampler from California Grill

2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Dessert Trio

We’ve just wrapped up the fabulous 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival! And while we’re sorry to see it go, it’s always fun to look back at the food pics and see what we liked the best. Because really — is it ever too early to start planning for next year??

One of our favorite stops was the [Read more…]

DIY Disney Recipe: Breakfast Pizza from Disney World’s Chef Mickey’s Restaurant

Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World serves up a breakfast buffet with “character” each morning. Welcome back guest chef Carol E. with a Do It Yourself Recipe for Chef Mickey’s Breakfast Pizza!

One of my favorite Disney pictures ever taken took place at a meal we had at Chef Mickey’s Restaurant inside the Contemporary Resort.

In our pictures, Pluto literally was eating my husband and Dale was fluffing up my hair…the looks on our faces were priceless. (Editor’s Note: Chip ‘n Dale are no longer appearing at Chef Mickey’s.)

This meal was definitely worth the price of admission thanks to all of our wonderful pictures and time that we got to spend with our favorite Disney friends! It’s also one of the rare places that you can actually get your picture taken with Mickey and Minnie together!

Kids love this place, because not only are Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck there to hang out with you, but the buffet is filled with a ton of kid friendly favorites!

Pluto!

Dale!

Mickey and Minnie!

Breakfast is also a fun time to enjoy this unique restaurant! If you’ve been, you know one of the famous dishes on the buffet during breakfast with Mickey and friends is the classic Chef Mickey’s Breakfast Pizza! The creaminess of the eggs and the blend of cheeses make you feel like you are eating cheese fondue on a pizza. While kids love this dish, it also can be an adult favorite, too.

Well, I’m excited to tell you that Disney [Read more…]

New Look for Walt Disney World Private Dining Menus

During my recent stay at Walt Disney World’s Bay Lake Tower, I did my usual arrival-time scan of the room: lights work (check), TV works (check), hangers in the closet (check), room service menu on the table … whaaaaat? No room service menu?

I don’t often get room service, AKA Private Dining, during my Disney visits (there’s soooo much yum to eat out in the parks and restaurants), but sometimes at the end of a long day of park hopping, room service is exactly what you need. Plus I was visiting with my husband for our 20th wedding anniversary, so, you know. Anywhoooo, I was a little confused when I didn’t immediately see the room service menu in its familiar place on the table.

As it turns out, the menu was there all along, just in an entirely different format. The previous room service menus were oversized and made of sturdy card stock.

The old Contemporary/Bay Lake room service menu, large and in two parts.

The new menu is hiding among a bundle of pamphlets and information in an all new guest check-in presentation folder. See it there, third item down on the left.

New guest presentation folder

The new menu is smaller, with smaller print, but in my opinion, the [Read more…]

Full Review: The NEW California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Update: Scroll to the end of the Eats section (yep, waaayyy down there!) for a mini-review of opening night, courtesy of one of our favorite DFB guest writers, Julie B!

We are headed back to the fifteenth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort today, as we take a closer look at the brand new California Grill!

The outpouring of Disney food fan love has just been astounding throughout the last eight months as we’ve continued to watch the newly re-imagined California Grill take shape. Folks who love the restaurant and its amazing menu have been anxious for news. Would it retain its panache? Would beloved dishes from the old menu make the cut? How would we survive with no Yoshie??

We are happy to report that, if possible, California Grill is even more spectacular than before. We were happy to show you a first look at all that was new after last Thursday’s media event. Today, we’re unveiling more details. If you haven’t already, get ready to make those advance dining reservations. I think you’re going to like what you see.

Menus

Settle in. This is going to be a long one!

Atmosphere

Immediately, as you step out of the elevator onto the fifteenth floor, you are enveloped by the cool vibe of California Grill. You know at once that you’re in for a special experience.

If you weren’t aware of it already, now you know: wine matters in this restaurant. A lot. Wine coolers aren’t dressed up to be anything else; they’re unapologetically part of the decor here. This makes sense, as the restaurant now boasts 1,600 bottles of wine in the state-of-the-art wine display.

You’ll find around 250 wines on the list, with 80 available by the glass. And with more than 20 sommeliers on staff, you are literally enveloped in a wealth of wine knowledge.

Wine, Anyone?

Straight ahead, you’ll find the trademark view of Seven Seas Lagoon. With any luck there will be a spectacular sunset over the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa during your visit like there was for ours.

This area continues to serve as the lounge for the restaurant. You can still score a table here with no advance dining reservation, and the full restaurant menu is available for ordering.

Entrance and Bank of Wine Fridges

The bar area continues to be highlighted by the ceiling’s circular cutout. While the shape is the same, the whole bar has been overhauled with new finishes. Comfortable seating beckons you to relax and have a cocktail or two.

Bar

To quote one of my Disney friends, nothing here is the same as it was! The lights are wonderfully whimsical. While modern, there’s still a retro feel here. In fact, the lights remind me a lot of old pictures I’ve seen of the Contemporary from the 1970s.

Seating Area is Ready for Guests

Tables are set for service. I was glad to see that the [Read more…]

New! Chocolate Cherry Cupcake and Root Beer Float Cupcake in Disney World

We’re always on the look-out for new treats at Walt Disney World. Courtesy of our readers, we have new Disney cupcakes to share with you today! Which cupcake will be your new BFF?!

Chocolate Cherry Cupcake

Debuting at Starring Rolls Cafe and Fairfax Fare at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Chocolate Cherry Cupcake can be yours for a Disney Dining Plan snack credit or $5.19 (yup; those prices continue to soar).

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes in case.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new, non-seasonal cupcake introduced at the studios! I can’t wait to sample this one since you know how much I love cherry pie filling!

Chocolate Cherry Cupcake!

DFB Reader Hannah (Thank You, Hannah!!) tweeted her thoughts on this new cupcake: Cake part was a bit “muffiny” but filled with cherry filling. The frosting [Read more…]

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 [Read more…]

News! California Grill Opens September 9th; Reservations Available Monday, August 26

Circle this upcoming Monday, August 26, Disney Food Fans! That’s the day when we will finally be able to begin booking advance dining reservations for the newly renovated California Grill!

The NEW California Grill!

The signature restaurant, which sits high atop Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort, has been closed since early 2013 as it underwent a complete makeover.

It’s scheduled to open on September 9th, and will feature a new menu — including some awesome desserts!

Sundae Sampler Dessert Trio at California Grill!

Look for the new menu to continue to feature seasonal ingredients, but with a somewhat lighter hand.

While fan favorites like the flatbreads will continue to be around, Chef Brian Piasecki also plans to utilize the wood-burning oven for new dishes. These include Baked Local Prawns with Charred Lemon, and Savory Meatballs with Herbed Orzo.

Read our review of these [Read more…]

News! Changes to Disney World Tables in Wonderland Dining Discounts for 2014

We’ve got some news about one of Disney World’s popular dining discounts!

Tables in Wonderland, Walt Disney World’s fee-based dining discount program offered to Florida residents, Annual Passholders, and Disney Vacation Club members, is a great way to save money if you are a frequent diner at Walt Disney World.

The program offers 20% savings on food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages, at more than 100 Walt Disney World restaurants.

Today, we’re getting news of an update to restaurants that will either stop offering the Tables in Wonderland discount in the near future, or will be subject to more blackout dates when using the card.

Victoria and Albert’s to Discontinue Offering Tables in Wonderland Discount

According to the Tables in Wonderland website, Victoria and Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa will continue to honor the Tables in Wonderland discount through July 14, 2014. However, as of August 1, 2014, the ultra-luxurious dining spot will no longer accept the Tables in Wonderland card.

Victoria and Albert's Main Dining Room

Currently, Tables in Wonderland members may still [Read more…]