Review: California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort

Time to check in on one of Walt Disney World’s most popular signature dining spots — California Grill.

Located atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Grill has become nearly as well known for its stellar views as its market-inspired food. And those two factors can make this a tough table to book.

My last visit here, however, when the restaurant had just reopened after an in-depth refurbishment, was somewhat disappointing. At the time, I chalked it up to the kitchen having an off night; after all, I had enjoyed incredible dining here many times before.

I decided it was time to check in again. So we booked an early Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) on a recent visit, and up we went.

Atmosphere

If you’ve never visited California Grill, then there’s one thing you should know: you don’t just head to the 15th floor. Your journey actually starts on the 2nd floor of the Contemporary where you check in. Even if you’re just heading to the first-come, first-served Lounge, this is your first stop.

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

Second Floor Check In Desk for California Grill

You’ll then be escorted via a private elevator to the 15th floor. In this way, staff act as gatekeepers for the popular spot. If left unattended, it would get pretty busy up there, especially around Wishes-at-Magic-Kingdom time.

Once you make your way upstairs, a bank of Wine Fridges greets you straight ahead.

Entrance and Wine Fridges

Entrance and Wine Fridges

You walk through the Lounge and Bar to get to the restaurant’s main seating area. That sounds as though these are different spaces; they aren’t. Basically, with the exception of a few private dining rooms, the restaurant features an open floor plan, accentuating the sweeping views and retro-meets-modern vibe.

California Grill Bar

California Grill Bar

If you find yourself without an ADR, there’s still hope. You can sit in the Grill’s Lounge and order from the menu, or just enjoy Drinks, Sushi, and Appetizers. Be forewarned, though: it’s not uncommon for this area to reach capacity as the night goes on. Here at 5PM, though, it was pretty bare.

California Grill Lounge

California Grill Lounge

Wrap around to the main seating area, and you see that nearly every table commands an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, including Magic Kingdom and the Resorts situated around Seven Seas Lagoon.

Seating varies here and includes both tables and chairs and booths.

Seating

Seating

There are also a selection of tables that mix banquette and chair seating. Note that white tablecloths and cloth napkins are the norm here, lending to the upscale air of sophistication.

Table for Two

Table for Two

Booths are somewhat unique in that they are located in the middle of the floor. That means that you can enter from either side, and there will be traffic on both sides of your table, similar to what you find at Jiko. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it does mean that your booth won’t be as secluded as you might like.

But the view outside of the windows isn’t the only thing you have to look at.

California Grill Kitchen

California Grill Kitchen

The well-orchestrated, professional hustle and bustle that’s happening behind the counter in the on-stage kitchen can be fascinating as well.

Prepping for Dinner Service

Prepping for Dinner Service

Although we will focus today on the food here, the sweeping, panoramic vistas certainly bear mentioning. You can see for miles!

The View

The View

And that’s one of the biggest draws of California Grill — this view, especially when it comes to [Read more…]

News and Rumors: Potential Updates to the Disney Dining Plan

Disney World guests utilizing the Disney Dining Plan will want to be aware of some rumored changes taking place to the popular plans available for Disney Resort guests starting today, May 31, 2015 (though it is rumored that Disney will not post the changes officially until June 4th).

Disney Dining Plan

Please note that at this time we have not received official confirmation from Disney regarding any of these changes. We just wanted you to be aware of the rumors in the case that you’d be able to put them into practice this week in the parks.

Participants on the Dining Plan will be able use their dining credits in the typical ways (i.e. guests on the standard Disney Dining Plan will still receive 1 Table Service Credit, 1 Quick Service Credit, and 1 Snack Credit per night of stay and can use those credits accordingly at designated locations); however, there may be additional opportunities that will allow for more flexibility.

Snack Entitlements

The most commonly rumored change says that a “snack credit” will now include all single-serve items and beverages such as Caramel Apples — not including Character designs — and large Mickey Cookies among other previously ineligible items. Also included may be Quick Service restaurant side items and breakfast items, like sides of bacon or sausage.

Caramel Apples

Caramel Apples

These may include: [Read more…]

News: Cooking Classes and Demos for Kids and Adults Coming to Downtown Disney

Is your kiddo a future Disney Chef in the making? If so, you may want to sign him or her up for the Annual Kid’s Cooking Class, returning to Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe in Downtown Disney Orlando on Saturday, June 20th at 11 am!

Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe

Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe

What’s on the docket for any junior chefs in attendance? Not only will they learn kitchen essentials from master chefs, but they’ll also take part in creating a few Downtown Disney dishes (in kid-friendly versions, of course)! The menu includes Rice Balls from Portbello, Kid’s Pizza with assorted toppings from Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe, and will end with a Banana Split from Fulton’s Crab House.

© Wolgang Puck Cafe Orlando

© Wolgang Puck Cafe Orlando

The cost to attend is $40 per child. Included in the ticket are [Read more…]

News (From Ireland)! Grass-Fed Irish Beef Coming Soon to Raglan Road

In the next couple of days, I’ll be bringing you more highlights from Disney Food Blog’s visit to Ireland with Chef Kevin Dundon from Raglan Road Irish Pub. Today, we’re taking a closer look at one of the food suppliers we’ve visited, which will very soon be supplying to Raglan Road in Orlando directly from Ireland!

Grass Fed Beef at Raglan Road

I was very interested in our stop at Paddy Murphy’s to learn more about how grass fed cattle are raised for beef in Ireland. And while there, we were treated to some exciting news — grass fed Irish beef is coming to Raglan Road in the very near future!

Paddy Murphy and Chef Kevin Dundon Discuss Grass Fed Beef with the Group

Paddy Murphy and Chef Kevin Dundon Discuss Grass Fed Beef with the Group

Since grass fed beef is highly regarded as a more humane treatment for the animals, and is much healthier for beef consumers, this is pretty exciting news.

But why now, you may ask? Well, up until very recently, there has been a ban on Irish beef coming into the United States. But when the ban was lifted earlier this year, it paved the way for Chef Dundon to do something he’s wanted to do for quite a while — showcase Irish beef at Raglan Road in Disney Springs.

Raglan Road is Bringing Irish Grass Fed Beef to Its Menu (Photo © Raglan Road)

Raglan Road is Bringing Irish Grass Fed Beef to Its Menu (Photo © Raglan Road)

In recent years, there has been a huge movement by many people to leave behind the more popular grain fed beef for grass fed varieties. The reasons for this are fairly simple: grass fed beef is higher in nutrients than grain fed beef. Cows have historically grazed for their diet, which consisted of grass and grass-like plants as well as shrubs. Introducing grain into a cow’s diet does quite a lot to fatten the animal and promote nicely marbled meat, but it wreaks havoc on the nutritional profile, since animals are what they eat.

Currently, Irish raised grass fed beef is running as [Read more…]

Guest Review: Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast at Walt Disney World

Are you ready for breakfast in a galaxy far, far away? 

Great! Then please join us in welcoming one of  my good friends, guest author Daniel Staten (@danielstaten on Instagram) with a review of the STAR WARS Dine-In Galactic Breakfast, which has returned for a second run at Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant this year through June 14th. While the other returning Star Wars character dining experience, the Jedi Mickey STAR WARS Dine at Hollywood and Vine, features Disney characters in full Star Wars regalia, the Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast offers guests the chance to start the day with Star Wars characters from the films… and this one’s all about the Dark Side

Take it it away, Daniel! And May the Force be with you!

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is clearly undergoing some change. One thing that has been constant though, is a strong Star Wars presence in the park.

AT-AT outside of Star Tours attraction

AT-AT outside of Star Tours attraction

Revenge of the Sith t-shirt

Revenge of the 5th t-shirt

Darth Vader Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake

Darth Vader Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake

Earlier in May, I dined with my family at the Star Wars Galactic Dine-In Breakfast. There were plenty of photo ops, nostalgic clips, and the Force was strong with the food!

Star Wars Galactic Dine-In Breakfast

Star Wars Galactic Dine-In Breakfast

Booking the Advance Dining Reservation for the breakfast turned out to be a fluke. I wasn’t looking for it specifically, but when a single 9:30 AM reservation appeared on the My Disney Experience website, I jumped at the chance!

The Star Wars Galactic Dine-In Breakfast is a lot like other signature character dining experiences in that it’s all-inclusive. For the price – we paid $49.99 – you get a breakfast “appetizer,” non-alcoholic drinks, an entree and a few selected extras.

Sci Fi Galactic Dine In Star Wars Breakfast DHS 3

Menu listing inclusions and selections

More on those later.

Atmosphere

On the morning of our breakfast, we arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the crowds were pretty light. We made our way back towards Star Tours and noticed the huge line for people to sign-up for the Jedi Training Academy! Standing in that line looks like it would take a lot of dedication, but to the young Jedis, it’s well worth it.

The Star Wars Galactic Dine-In Breakfast is hosted at the Sci-Fi Dine-In near the back of the park. Once we arrived, we checked in and had a seat to wait for our table to be ready. The restaurant was running about 15 minutes behind and I attribute that to people taking their time with the characters and soaking up the atmosphere! There was so much to see and people generally just enjoying their interactions. I don’t blame them and didn’t mind the additional wait.

Once our table was ready, the Cast Member announced that “The Staten Family is now joining the Empire,” and we were placed in a line to meet Darth Vader and Boba Fett. I tried to look as scared as I could and it didn’t take much! Darth Vader is super intimidating in person!

Meet and Greet with Darth Vader and Boba Fett

Meet and Greet with Darth Vader and Boba Fett

Character dining can be awkward for adults sometimes. All of that awkwardness went away almost immediately once we [Read more…]

What’s New Around Walt Disney World: May 20th, 2015

Sure, we may have said “So long” to the Flower and Garden Festival for this year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to look forward to at Walt Disney World! Springs moves to summer as Disney World gears up for the busy vacation season, otherwise known as the “Coolest Summer Ever”!

©Disney

©Disney

And since it’s a very special time of year for Star Wars fans in particular, why don’t we start our ‘round the World tour at Hollywood Studios to see What’s New!

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Star Wars Weekends kicked off on May 15th!

Star Wars Weekends 2015

Star Wars Weekends 2015

The excitement! The pageantry!  The CUPCAKES! The Jabba the Hutt Cupcake has joined the Darth Vader and Yoda Cupcakes this year.

Jabba the Hutt Cupcake

Jabba the Hutt Cupcake

Jabba the Hutt Cupcake

Jabba the Hutt Cupcake

It can be found at counter service locations such as Starring Rolls, Backlot Express, The Trolley Car Cafe, and Tusken Fridge Raiders — the premiere Star Wars snack stop, located inside Darth’s Mall.

Tusken Fridge Raiders

Tusken Fridge Raiders

Tusken Fridge Raiders

Tusken Fridge Raiders

But cupcakes aren’t all that’s in store…

Star Wars snacks for Star Wars Weekends

Star Wars snacks for Star Wars Weekends

Like last year, several temporary pop-up bars can be found all over the park for the weekend events.

Star Wars Weekends Pop-up Bar

Star Wars Weekends Pop-up Bar

However, they feature all-new drinks this year. Each bar serves two out of of four drinks: The Mustafar and The Tatooine, or The Endor and The Alderaan.

Star Wars Weekends Specialty Drinks

Star Wars Weekends Specialty Drinks

Star Wars Weekends Specialty Drinks

Star Wars Weekends Specialty Drinks

We’ll be taking a closer look at those beverages soon, but once again this year, it’s ALL about the souvenir glow cubes: drinks come with either a Millennium Falcon glow cube or your very own mini Death Star.

Millennium Falcon Glow Cube

Millennium Falcon Glow Cube

The Jedi Mickey Character Dinner at Hollywood and Vine and Star Wars Galactic Dine-In Breakfast returned to Hollywood Studios earlier this month (on May the Fourth Be With You, naturally). But brand new to Star Wars Weekends this year is the Rebel Hangar — A Star Wars Lounge Experience, which has effectively converted half of Backlot Express into an abandoned spaceport in the Sullest system.

Entrance to Rebel Hangar

Entrance to Rebel Hangar

Chips and Sith at Rebel Hangar

Chips and Sith at Rebel Hangar

Blue Milk!

Blue Milk!

You can read all about this special month-long dining event featuring small plates and specialty cocktails in our full review of the Rebel Hangar!

Believe it or not, though, it’s not all Star Wars at Hollywood Studios… we’ve got some regular ol’ menu changes at some favorite Table Service restaurants to report as well. Sci-Fi Dine-In has added the Sci-Fi Popcorn Treat to the appetizer selection. It’s popcorn soup (for watching those old movies, of course!) with buffalo popcorn chicken and celery sticks, drizzled with blue cheese dressing.

Sci-Fi Dine-In

Sci-Fi Dine-In

New entrees include Grilled Marinated Salmon, while the Veggie Burger got a [Read more…]

Special Eats and Treats for Disneyland’s 24 Hour Diamond Anniversary Celebration

Are YOU kicking off the Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration by spending a FULL 24 HOURS with Mickey and the gang in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure?!

©Disney

©Disney

That’s right! The eagerly anticipated Diamond Anniversary Celebration officially begins this Friday, May 22nd, at 6 am — the same day Walt Disney World launches the “Coolest Summer Ever” with Magic Kingdom’s 24 hour day. Now, 24 hours may seem like a LOT of time… but when you see all the special treats created just for the occasion, you may find that 24 hours isn’t nearly enough!

And we would love it if YOU would help us all join in the fun! Are you attending the 24-hour celebration on either coast? If so, please feel welcome to send us any and all pictures — be they of food or just plain FUN — from your experience! Just let us know how you’d like to be credited on your pictures, and we’ll do our best to include as many as possible in our ongoing coverage this Friday! You can send pictures to us on twitter, Facebook, email us at webmaster@disneyfoodblog.com, or @ us on instagram!

And now… back to the FOOD!! Special dishes and snacks will abound in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure throughout the celebration.

World of Color Dining Packages

Don’t forget that World of Color Dining Packages are available for the new “World of Color — Celebrate!” show. Unique to the 24-hour event are 2-course, prix fixe breakfast packages available from midnight to 1:45 am on May 23rd at Ariel’s Grotto (as a non-character meal) and Wine Country Trattoria, offering reserved viewing for a special 3 am World of Color show.

Ariel's Grotto

Ariel’s Grotto

Wine Country Trattoria

Wine Country Trattoria

Though online it appears as though Dining Reservations are currently full, you never know when you might happen upon a cancellation.

Disneyland

There is a LOT of ground to cover for the all-around-the-park eats, so let’s start in Disneyland! The signature Disneyland Diamond Celebration Cupcake will be featured at Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe.

Disneyland Diamond Anniversary Cupcake

Disneyland Diamond Anniversary Cupcake

The Diamond Anniversary Ice Cream Sandwich offers a cool twist on the celebratory treats with your choice of ice cream between two sugar cookies. Find it at Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, alongside an Ice Cream Sundae served in a souvenir kitchen sink!

Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor

Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor

©Disney

©Disney

Mickey Kitchen Sink Sundae from above -- faucet close up

Mickey Kitchen Sink Sundae from above — faucet close up

I wonder how many people will be lining up at the Stage Door Cafe for this Mocha Chip Funnel Cake?

©Disney

©Disney

Plenty of savory dishes for longer term sustenance (you’re gonna need it!) will be [Read more…]

Review: Rebel Hangar — A Star Wars Lounge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Welcome to the Rebel Hangar: A Star Wars Lounge Experience!

Rebel Hangar: A Star Wars Lounge Experience

Rebel Hangar: A Star Wars Lounge Experience

In conjunction with Star Wars Weekends, an entire half of Backlot Express at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been completely transformed.

Entrance to Rebel Hangar

Entrance to Rebel Hangar

Backlot Express transformed into Rebel Hangar

Backlot Express transformed into Rebel Hangar

From now through June 14th, instead of entering the standard theming of the movie production warehouse, guests will walk into a long-abandoned building that once served as a busy spaceport in the Sullust system.

The story of the Rebel Hangar

The story of the Rebel Hangar printed in the menu

From 4:00 – 9:00 pm daily throughout the run of the Hangar, weary galactic travelers now have the opportunity to take a moment to relax and enjoy Star Wars-themed food among the “discarded remnants” from over 100 planets.

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Our Advance Dining Reservation to hangout in the Hangar wasn’t until 8:50 pm — 10 minutes prior to the final seating. So I took some time during the day to check out the spot, arriving somewhere around 1:00 pm. That’s right — day guests coming in for the typical Counter Service menu at Backlot Express were able to enjoy much of the atmosphere, too!

Part of Backlot Express transformed

Part of Backlot Express transformed

Backlot Express transformed

Backlot Express transformed

I, for one, was taken aback by the transformation. I hadn’t realized anything more could be tucked into Backlot Express, already so well-themed for its purposes. But lo and behold…

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

Rebel Hangar atmosphere

It was a blast spotting ways in which the typical Backlot “props” were incorporated into the Hangar theme.

Backlot props redecorated

Backlot props redecorated

Backlot props redecorated

Backlot props redecorated

Backlot props redecorated

Backlot props redecorated

You can see where “decay” has settled into this space in the many years since it last served its original purpose as a spaceport.

Decaying spaceport

Decaying spaceport

"Discarded" helmet

“Discarded” helmet

It appears a graffiti artist has even taken advantage of the abandoned spot ;) .

Graffiti wall

Graffiti wall

Graffiti wall

Graffiti wall

Hidden Mickey

Hidden Mickey

Even the tabletops were [Read more…]

News! The Edison, Sprinkles Cupcakes, and More Coming to Disney Springs

More fantastic news coming out of Disney Springs today, all!! We’ve got confirmation on several other restaurants joining the line-up at the new and improved Downtown Disney location in Orlando!

While we’ll be covering each and every one of these as they open, here’s a sneak peek at what’s right around the corner for Disney Springs.

Disney Springs' Town Center Coming Soon!

Disney Springs’ Town Center Coming Soon!

The Edison

Inspired by The Edison venue in Los Angeles, this lavish “Industrial Gothic” -style restaurant, bar and nighttime destination is themed to a 1920s-period power plant, recalling an exuberant era of invention and imagination. It will feature  classic American food, craft cocktails, and live entertainment including cabaret and music.

Layout of the original The Edison location in LA. Copyright The Edison

Layout of the original The Edison location in LA. Copyright The Edison

Sprinkles

The world’s first cupcake bakery, as named by Food Network and others, serves up handcrafted cupcakes, slow churned ice cream and homemade cookies. I have a Sprinkles locally where I live, and I will never admit to ordering a dozen cupcakes for delivery even when I was home alone…so don’t even try.

These aren’t as good as my beloved Magnolia cupcakes in NYC, but they are a fantastic fill-in here in Dallas. I know they’ll be a hit in Disney Springs.

This is a photo from Sprinkles' facebook page because cupcakes don't last long enough in my house to be photographed.

This is a photo from Sprinkles’ facebook page because cupcakes don’t last long enough in my house to be photographed.

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza is a [Read more…]

News! “Rebel Hangar — A Star Wars Lounge Experience” Reservations Available NOW

UPDATE: Great news! Disney has opened online Advance Dining Reservations for Rebel Hangar for WEEKDAYS in addition to Star Wars Weekends, from May 15 through June 14th!

Star Wars Weekends begin at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on May 15th and WE. CAN’T. WAIT!

Especially now, since there’s a whole new dining hangout for all you Rebels out there coming to Echo Lake: the Rebel Hangar: A Star Wars Lounge Experience!

Here’s what we know: according to Disney, the Rebel Hangar was “once a known hangout of Rebel pilots, aliens, and smugglers.” Themeing of the atmosphere will be a major part of the experience, with abandoned spacecraft and remnants of vehicles framing the entry. But themeing of the FOOD seems to be just as much of a draw!

Among the items on the menu: some Fruit and Cheese Sabers

© Disney

© Disney

And Ensalada Naboo!

© Disney

© Disney

The Slider Sampler featuring “The Sith” barbecue-braised brisket and “The Jedi” barbecued pulled chicken features items for your inner Jedi or your Dark Side.

© Disney

© Disney

A lovely Trio of Thermal Detonators (aka spicy pork wings), anyone ;) ?

© Disney

© Disney

Check out the Pilot’s Pomme Frites with everyone’s favorite Wookie!

© Disney

© Disney

Chips and SITH!!! Can you even handle it?!?

© Disney

© Disney

I’m already loving The Dark Fried Chicken [Read more…]