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…]

Review and Preview: The Causeway at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

In just a few short days, we will be headed to the The Fourth Annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic!

This event, which coincides with the 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival, is a food and wine lover’s dream.

This year’s Food and Wine Classic will take place on Friday, October 18 and Saturday, October 19. The two-day event consists of food and wine tasting booths set up on the resort’s beautiful causeway each evening.

Guests can also take part in a number of special food and beverage seminars for an additional fee. Seminars take place at 4:30PM both days, and the Causeway booths are open from 5:30 until 9:00PM on Friday and Saturday.

In addition, guests can enjoy a complimentary Cocktail 101 seminar three times during each evening on the Causeway as well as live musical entertainment.

Tasting Plate from Shula's Steakhouse

We’ve had the opportunity to attend the event for the last three years, and we’re looking forward to what 2013 holds! To give you an idea of what lies in store for guests of the Food and Wine Classic, let’s take a look at the 2012 event!

Atmosphere

When you first arrive, you’ll most likely need to pick up your tickets at the Check-In Table.

Check In for the Causeway

Here, staff will check for your reservation, and you’ll receive either your tickets or a wristband, as well as a palate plate and a wine glass.

We had wristbands for the event, which meant that we were free to enjoy unlimited trips to each of the tasting stations. If you prefer a ticketed approach, however, you can purchase books of 25 tickets (most of the booth items require between 2 and 6 tickets).

Food and Wine Classic Wristbands and My Seminar Ticket

For this event, tents are lined up the length of the walkway between the Swan and Dolphin Resorts as well as along the walkway behind the Swan. The resorts are located within walking distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The Causeway Setup

Tables of all sizes are covered with brightly colored tablecloths, and offer guests a place to sit and relax while enjoying their food and drink.

Tables and Booths Ready for Guests

In addition to tables with chairs, guests can also take advantage of high tops if they prefer to stand.

Individual Tables

It wasn’t too long before the crowd began to swell as guests looked forward to tasting a myriad of dishes.

Causeway is Getting Busy

On Crescent Terrace, guests could also take advantage of [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…]

Disney Food Post Round-Up: July 7, 2013

I hope you had an awesome Independence Day Week if you’re in the USA!

Mickey Mouse July 4th Cupcake!

We had a great time covering all of the Limited Time Magic treats in the Disney World parks for the 4th of July!

These are available through today, July 7th, but hopefully that strawberry and blueberry shortcake sundae will stick around… :-)

And there’s lots more Disney Food News where that came from! Let’s check it out…

Disney Food News

Catch up on the latest food news from Disney!

Of course, there’s more! Check out all the latest Disney Food News — even the stuff we don’t mention in posts on the blog! — on our Disney Food News Pin Board, including a possible closing date for Cap’n Jack’s at Downtown Disney Orlando.

DFB Reader Finds

If you find a fun new food — or other edible awesomeness — in or from Disney, share a photo with us on facebook or twitter so we can add it to our DFB Reader Finds each Sunday!

Monsters University treats have all over Disney parks, and have been inspiring DFB readers at home! Take a look at these homemade Mike cookies sent in by DFB Reader Angela!

Homemade cookies!

And DFB Reader Joe sent us these fun cake pops in the making!

Cake Pops!

The DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining Holiday Sale

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This comprehensive e-Book offers over 400 pages of expert information, color photographs, advice, reviews, and details about Dining in Disney World. And these awesome bonus items are included:

  • Downloadable worksheets for planning your trip.
  • Seven sample one-day dining itineraries to help you with brainstorming.
  • A comprehensive index of bars and lounges.
  • An index of some of our favorite Top 5 lists.
  • Four food-themed scavenger hunts — one for each Disney World theme park!
  • Disney Dining Trivia to play while waiting in line, or waiting for a table.

Pick up your copy today with code STARS for a $4 discount! As a downloadable PDF, the book can be read on your computer, smartphone, and tablet easily!

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Including the DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining AND all three of our DFB Snacks Guides. Get more information about the DFB Guide + Snacks Bundle here!

On to the Round-Up!

Eat, Sleep, Run Disney dines at Carthay Circle in Disney California Adventure.

Mickey Fix delights with this Darth Vader candy and ice cube mold! Perfect for summer parties; we love the Vader S’mores idea!

Pop Century Site highlights Tie-Dye Cheesecake and Pop Waffles!

Walt Disney World for Grown Ups stops by Liberty Square Marketin the Magic Kingdom.

Running at Disney enjoys a feast at Jiko at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney Hipsters enjoys a vegetarian lunch at Whispering Canyon Cafe.

Main Street Gazette samples goodies at the Territory Lounge at Wilderness Lodge.

Disney Parks Blog heads to Disneyland to make s’mores!

New! Sushi Menu Items at Kabuki Cafe in Epcot’s Japan Pavilion

Popular for the iconic chilly treat, kakigori, the Kabuki Cafe in Epcot’s Japan pavilion has once again added a few new items to the menu!

Epcot's Kabuki Cafe

Now, sushi fans can find Temari Sushi as well as a Sushi Combo. These items replace the Spicy Tuna Roll and Tokyo Sushi at Kabuki.

New Menu

Let’s first take a look at the side items. While the Edamame Beans have survived, the Miso Soup is no longer on the menu (though you should be able to get it up at Katsura Grill, Japan’s counter-service location).

Menu - click image for larger version.

Sushi

But the big story is the updated Sushi list! Kabuki Cafe goes through menu iterations seasonally, removing several items during less busy times. But now that the Summer crowds are coming to Orlando, we all benefit from a stronger menu here — including beer, wine, and sake!

And the Sushi items qualify for a Disney Dining Plan snack credit!

We got a couple of photos from our colleague Andy Jackson at Eating (and Drinking) Around WDW of the menu items. First up, here’s the California Roll. Fresh and flavorful, this is a great one to snag as you’re wandering around the World Showcase.

California Roll at Kabuki Cafe.

Next, the new Temari Sushi. Another great snack-sized portion that will fill you up and keep you going strong on your Epcot adventures! [Read more…]

UPDATE: New California Grill Menu with Photos

As we mentioned in our update on the California Grill renovation, this popular restaurant at Disney’s Contemporary Resort will be unveiling new dishes when it reopens.

California Grill is expected to start taking reservations within the next few weeks for its end of August opening. But right now, in an off-site kitchen, California Grill Chef Brian Piasecki is creating delicious new dishes!

In our earlier post, I reviewed the three-meat meatballs — a new addition to the appetizer menu at the restaurant. They were delicious…

Oak-Fired Three Meat Meatball.

“We’re really trying to think of creative new ways to use our wood-fired oven,” says Piasecki. Those meatballs are one way, with pork, lamb, and veal spiced with house-made harissa.

An oaky, crispy crust makes them perfect for dredging in Meyer-lemon-scented chimichurri with a side of marinated picholine olives and a little orzo. “Perfect for sharing,” says Piasecki.

Three Meatball Appetizer.

Sourcing as much as possible locally is a priority for Piasecki. The Cape Canaveral prawns are a great example. He roasts them head on in the wood-fired oven and serves with oven-roasted tomatoes, charred lemon, and a handful of peppery baby arugula. (And he’s using the shells to make prawn oil.)

Prawns.

He’s also creating house-made duck charcuterie – prosciutto, sausage, rillettes, butter, and mousse, all made with duck and served with [Read more…]

News! First Look at the New California Grill Menu at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

We previously brought you the news that California Grill, one of Disney World’s most popular dining spots, will be closing for a major renovation on February 1.

The signature restaurant, located high atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, will be closed until late summer. In the meantime, Chef Brian Piasecki is already busily creating a new menu that blends classic dishes with fresh updates. Thanks to Disney Parks Blog, we’re getting a few first looks at a few of the creations. First up: sushi!

Although Yoshie Cabral, the restaurant’s beloved sushi chef, is retiring, sushi will continue to play a big role on the menu.

New Sushi Creations

Some of the new items aren’t fish at all, but take their inspiration from traditional Japanese dishes, like Japanese-style Bone Marrow with Crunchy Panko and Sweet Onion Jam and Beef Tartare. I can’t wait to try these!

Traditionalists will also find Sea Urchin Nigiri with Mamanori (soybean paper), Salmon Roe and freshly grated Wasabi Root.

More New Sushi Options

Meat lovers will find plenty to tempt their palates, too. The 24-hour Braised Beef Short Rib with Truffle Whipped Potatoes, Vol-au-Vent (puff pastry) with Roasted Vegetables and Natural [Read more…]

Review: Tokyo Dining in Epcot’s Japan

Craving sushi or just need a relaxed and elegant spot for lunch or dinner? It’s time to book Tokyo Dining!

Although we have recommended Tokyo Dining a number of times as a decent spot for catching Illuminations, I’ve never posted my own review of this restaurant. So we made it a priority to head over and dig in — for the sake of the blog. ;-)

This spot is located on the second floor of the Mitsukoshi Department Store building in Epcot’s Japan, adjacent to the Hibachi-style Japanese steakhouse, Teppan Edo.

And while we know it’s a terrific place to stop by for sushi (and it’s rarely crowded), they’ve got plenty on the menu for non-seafood palates as well. Let’s take a look!

Atmosphere

Like a growing number of World Showcase restaurants, Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo now have an outdoor check-in area for busy days. On our visit, it wasn’t that crowded; so the cast member told us to head on upstairs to check in.

Check-in Desk Outside Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining

We were met by two very gracious Japanese cast members, signed in, and directed to wait in the lobby of the two restaurants.

The quiet, sleek, and spacious waiting area is a welcome respite from the relative activity of the theme parks. It’s very restful.

Waiting Area

Once your name is called to be seated, you’ll be directed to one of two main dining rooms at Tokyo Dining.

The first room features an on-stage sushi kitchen, where you can watch chefs as they prepare dishes for guests.

Additional Seating and Open Sushi Kitchen

The other dining room features some seriously cool indirect lighting, plus plenty of natural lighting and panoramic views of World Showcase.

Here’s a weird tip: the tables by the windows have super cushy padded chairs, while the others are less comfortable. Just an FYI…and one good reason to request a seat by the window.

Another good reason? Illuminations. Yep; you really can see the fireworks from here (albeit they can be slightly obstructed by trees or people standing on the balcony outside).

Dining Room Seating

We were here during the day, however, so I was happy to take in the views from my cushy window seat. ;-)

View From Dining Room

We had lots of items to choose from, so after taking in our surroundings, it was time to settle down and decide [Read more…]

Review: The Causeway at the Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic

Just in case you didn’t know, TONIGHT begins the Third Annual Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food and Wine Classic right outside of Epcot! This year’s event will be held October 12-13 (tonight and tomorrow night) from 5:30-9:00 pm, and I think it’ll be even better than last year!

Swan and Dolphin Causeway

If you’re not familiar with this event, let me tell you a bit about it. The Food and Wine Classic is a fun companion event to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, and features seminars and tasting stations from Swan and Dolphin chefs and restaurants as well as other culinary and beverage superstars. Seminars are beverage-related and feature everything from Wine Blending to Modern Mixology (check out our review here!).

But the centerpiece to the Food and Wine Classic is the tasting booths on the Causeway. To whet your appetite for the 2012 event, we have this review from last year’s Causeway. Be sure to check out this year’s menu selections to see what awesomeness is in store for 2012 guests!

Tables and Set Up

And stay tuned all the way to the end of the post, where we have special rate codes for DFB members to turn their Food and Wine Classic experience into a fun-filled weekend!

Atmosphere

This year, guests will choose from over 30 different tasting stations featuring dishes from all your favorite Swan and Dolphin eateries, including Todd English’s bluezoo, Shula’s, and others.

You’ll begin your evening at the check-in table on the Causeway. Here, your reservation will be checked and you’ll receive tickets or a wristband, as well as a plate and glass.

Check In for the Causeway

The Causeway takes its name from the location where the [Read more…]

Review: Victoria and Albert’s Chef’s Table at the Grand Floridian Resort

Today, we travel up the elegant stairway to the pinnacle of fine dining at Walt Disney World, Victoria & Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Join me for an unparalleled experience as I take you behind the opulence to the excitement and camaraderie of the Chef’s Table! And let me tell you… it’s AWESOME!!

Victoria and Albert’s is the crown jewel in Disney’s culinary offerings. And while it is certainly expensive (that might be an understatement), I aim to show you that for the true food lover, the Chef’s Table experience is worth every penny.

By the way, if you read through this review and decide the Chef’s Table is not for you, you can also dine in the Dining Room to the more intimate Queen Victoria Room.

Victoria and Albert's Plate

Reservations for Victoria and Albert’s go quickly. It is recommended that you book as close to 180 days out as possible. As for cost, the menu is prix fixe, meaning that you pay a set price for the meal. Expect your meal to begin at $135 per person for the Dining Room, with an additional charge of $65 for wine pairings. That price includes six courses. Queen Victoria’s Room and the Chef’s Table menus may include up to thirteen courses, and prices start at $210/person for dinner and $105 for wine pairings. Keep in mind that these prices do not reflect tax or gratuity, so be prepared.

While Queen Victoria’s Room offers the height of elegant dining, the Chef’s Table provides interested guests full access to the restaurant’s culinary team in a meal that is as much performance as it is sustenance.

Atmosphere

Once you check in for your reservation at the Chef’s Table, you are escorted through the well appointed (and very quiet!) main dining room. You’ll notice low light, beautiful fresh flowers, and the strains of harp music. The whole effect is quite romantic and very formal. There is a strict dress code here, and men must wear jackets.

Victoria and Albert's Main Dining Room

The Dining Room consists of a mere fourteen tables, beautifully set with spotless crystal and china. Very chi chi.

Victoria and Albert's Seating

We followed the debonaire Maître d’hôtel, Israel Perez, through this space and into the brightly lit kitchen. At that time, we were informed that Chef de Cuisine Scott Hunnel would not be joining us because of a conflicting event. In his place, Sous Chef Aimée Rivera would guide us through our meal.

Maître d'hôtel Israel Perez and Chef Rivera

Both Mr. Perez and Chef Rivera were phenomenal, and it’s clear that their passion and driving force is the comfort and enjoyment of their guests. Chef Rivera invited us to interact at will with the kitchen staff, and suggested that we voice any and all questions that we might have (Mua ha ha ha!!! She didn’t know just how annoying I can be!).

An interesting fact: once you are seated, you can’t [Read more…]