“Book Early” Series: California Grill

California Grill Logo

California Grill Logo

I’m sorry, but it has to be done.

I know it’s redundant, expected, and utterly stereotypical (three things I try to avoid), but I have to give props to the California Grill.

The General Overview (e.g. My Opinion)
I have had good meals there, and I have had not-so-good meals there. There’s been good service and bad service. And the tables that aren’t window tables make the dining experience decidedly “less than.” But, all in all, California Grill–sitting high atop the Contemporary Resort in Disney World–is essentially a great, expensive restaurant with good food worth paying for. And while you might expect the atmosphere to be a
little “nose-in-the-air,” the staff, in my experience, have been knowledgeable, down-to-earth folks who just want you to have a great time and enjoy yourself. For this, I love the California Grill.

Sunset at California Grill

Sunset at California Grill

Booking Early and Watching the Fireworks from California Grill
So why do you need to book early? Well, most of the time, you don’t. But I put it in my “book early” series
because one of the much-touted experiences in Disney World is watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from your table at California Grill. This makes the reservations around the fireworks hour go quickly–you’ll need to book the full 180 days in advance to get a table during the fireworks if you’re headed to Disney World in a busy season, and at least a month ahead to get one during the slower months. That said, fireworks-view
tables aren’t guaranteed–all you can do is request a window table when you check in for your meal.

And if you don’t care whether you’re there for fireworks or not, you should be able to get a table at California Grill realtively easily, as long as you’re willing to eat at unpopular times.

Potato Celery Soup

Potato Celery Soup

I will say that I actually don’t enjoy watching the fireworks from California Grill. The vantage point of the restaurant is too far to the right of the castle, giving you a rather skewed view of the show (many of the fireworks are actually set off about a half mile behind the castle–being able to see this distance could essentially ruin the show for some people). Nope–I don’t care about the fireworks; but one of my absolute favorite Disney World experiences is watching the sun set from my table at California Grill. It sets behind the Grand Floridian, and the resulting skyline reflecting off of Seven Seas Lagoon is phenomenal. This I can highly recommend!

Soup Ingredients

Soup Ingredients

Finally–the FOOD!
California Grill food is amazing. Now, I’m not a food critic by any stretch of the imagination; I have a 12-year-old’s palate at best and still LOVE me some chicken fingers and fries. But the fact that California Grill can please the food critics AND me has to be saying something!

On my most recent trip, I fell for the new potato-celery soup. It was so delicious that I asked our server for the recipe and, unable to do so, kindly brought me a list of the ingredients. California Grill’s market inspired menu means that the soup and other highlights change frequently, but I can only hope they’re all as wonderful as this.

Cheese Board

Cheese Board

My other favorite (as you know if you’ve been following the food blog) is the cheese plate. California Grill has a lovely one, and every time I’ve tried it (it changes occasionally as well, of course), I’ve been pleased. I’ll do a blog in the near future highlighting the plate here.

My companion and I also tried the famous (it’s been on the menu since California Grill opened in 1995) Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, shiitake mushrooms and basil. This was superb. Along with the interesting (and surprisingly light) flatbreads, you could easily make a meal out of the appetizers at California Grill.

But why would you want to?!? From there, I indulged again in the always delicious Oak-fired Filet of Beef with cheesy Yukon gold potato mash, sautéed broccolini, and teriyaki barbecue sauce. Yes, it’s 44 bucks. But if a meal is going to be worth 44 bucks, it’s this.

One of the Many Flatbreads Available

One of the Many Flatbreads Available

Desserts are never the highlight at Disney’s “signature” restaurants (and nothing’s going to come close to ‘Ohana’s bread pudding), but California Grill is quite famous for its butterscotch and banana creme brulee.

Of course, with a theme like California, the Grill is known for its wine list (and extremely knowledgeable accompanying staff). And the restaurant also has a selection of sake to accompany its sushi bar.

Just Go. You’ll Be Glad You Did.
My parents recently asked me to suggest a “signature” restaurant where they could celebrate their anniversary in Disney World, and I immediately settled on California Grill. Although I do enjoy most of the

Filet of Beef and Cheesy Yukon Potatoes

Filet of Beef and Cheesy Yukon Potatoes

other “high-end” restaurants in Disney World, one of the most celebratory and beautiful–not to mention delicious–in my estimation is easily the California Grill.

Make your reservations up to 90 days out by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Don’t forget that California Grill has a dress code (no ripped jeans, bathing suits, flip flops, etc.), and that the check-in desk is on the 2nd foor of the Contemporary Resort while the restaurant itself is on the 15th.

Mickey Waffles

Mickey Waffle

Mickey Waffle

Every time I visit a Disney message board, the restaurant posts are always filled with questions about Mickey waffles. I thought I’d stick up a picture and give a little info about these yummy little guys.

Disney restaurants have “waffled” through the years, and many have gone back and forth in recent years between serving them and not serving them. For example, Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom served square waffles with Pooh characters on them for a long time, and have now switched to Mickey waffles. Also, Wilderness Lodge’s Whispering Canyon Cafe and private dining served waffles shaped like pinecones for many years, and have in my recent experience served Mickey waffles. I have no idea whether this is because they run out of their original waffles, or if Mickey waffles are in such high demand that all restaurants are beginning to carry them as a staple.

Here’s where you can safely rely on Mickey waffles for breakfast. Please send me an email at webmaster@disneyfoodblog.com with your updates!:

  • Chef Mickey’s: Contemporary Resort
  • Donald’s Safari Breakfast: Tusker House in Animal Kingdom
  • ‘Ohana and Captain Cook’s: Polynesian Resort
  • Crystal Palace: Magic Kingdom
  • Cape May Cafe: Beach Club Resort
  • Whispering Canyon Cafe: Wilderness Lodge
  • Food Courts: Most food courts at the value and moderate hotels
  • 1900 Park Faire: Grand Floridian

Most folks recommend that the “secret ingredient” in Mickey waffles is Carbon’s Golden Malted Flour. Here’s a good recipe to use for Mickey Waffles:

4 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
2 cups flour
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

Beat egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until light. Add cooled melted butter, milk and vanilla extract. Add flour, baking powder & salt, beat well. Beat egg whites until stiff and gently fold into batter. Bake and serve.

Purchasing your own Mickey Mouse waffle maker is proving to be a bit difficult these days. The maker that produces waffles that most resemble those served at the parks and resorts is uniformly out of stock or not sold anymore online. The next best version was recalled in 2007 for bad wiring causing risk of shock. Of course, you can buy it on ebay if you want to take the risk.

So, my friends, your options for make-at-home mickey waffles are reduced to: the Mickey Then and Now waffle maker and the Disney Mickey and the Gang 5-in-1 Tasty Baker and Waffle Maker.

Animal Kingdom Picnic in the Park

Picnic Under the Tree of Life

Picnic Under the Tree of Life

September 2012 Update: Picnic in the Park in its original format stopped being offered in 2010. After, a grab-and-go option was offered from Beastly Bazaar in Discovery Island. The Grab and Go meal came with a reusable bag. Meal choices for two ($17.99), three ($24.99) or four ($32.99) persons. Meals included: choice of sandwiches, chips, desserts, plus a bottled water. Guests with the Disney Dining Plan could use quick-service credits.

Beastly Bazaar closed in August 2012. Therefore, we are unsure if the grab and go picnic option was moved to another merchandise location. Stay tuned for more information.

May 2010 Update: Picnic in the Park has been downgraded to a grab and go area in Discovery Island’s Beastly Bazaar. Head there for sandwiches, chips, and drinks. The latest info can be found here in our Picnic in the Park Updates Post.

New options everywhere, yes indeed. The Animal Kingdom is now offering a way to make use of all of those beautiful “spots without use” throughout the park!

NOTE: See November 2009 Changes to Picnic in the Park as well as photos of the meal here

Here’s the “skinny:”

UPDATE: As of 6-27-09, Picnic in the Park is also offering meals for two people. Tier choices are the same.

Tier One features sandwiches:

Meal for Three – $24.99 + tax
3 Sandwiches, 1 Large Gourmet Side, 3 Desserts or Fruit, 3 bottles of
Dasani water

Meal for Four – $32.99 + tax
4 Sandwiches, 2 Large Gourmet Sides, 4 Desserts or Fruit, 4 bottles of
Dasani water

Meal for Five – $40.99 + tax
5 Sandwiches, 3 Large Gourmet Sides, 5 Desserts or Fruit, 5 bottles of
Dasani water

Meal for Six – $48.99 + tax
6 Sandwiches, 4 Large Gourmet Sides, 6 Desserts or Fruit, 6 bottles of
Dasani® water

Gourmet Sides (16oz)
Chips, Mac & Cheese, Fruit Salad, Coleslaw, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Tomato & Cucumber, Corn Medley, Orzo Pasta Salad, Green Beans, Oven-Roasted Potato Wedges

Apple, Brownie, Cookie, Cornbread, Crisped Rice Treat, Orange

Tier Two offers a choice of rotisserie chicken or ham

Meal for Three – $29.99 + tax
6 Pieces of Rotisserie Chicken or 1 lb. of Ham, 2 Large Gourmet Sides,
3 Desserts or Fruit, 3 bottles of Dasani water

Meal for Four – $38.99 + tax
8 Pieces of Rotisserie Chicken or 1 1/4 lb. of Ham, 3 Large Gourmet Sides,
4 Desserts or Fruit, 4 bottles of Dasani water

Meal for Five – $47.99 + tax
10 Pieces of Rotisserie Chicken or 1 1/2 lb. of Ham, 4 Large Gourmet Sides,
5 Desserts or Fruit, 5 bottles of Dasani water

Meal for Six – $56.99 + tax
12 Pieces of Rotisserie Chicken or 1 3/4 lb. of Ham, 5 Large Gourmet Sides,
6 Desserts or Fruit, 6 bottles of Dasani water

Gourmet Sides (16 oz. container)
Chips, Mac & Cheese, Fruit Salad, Coleslaw, Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Tomato & Cucumber, Corn Medley, Orzo Pasta Salad, Green Beans, Oven-Roasted Potato Wedges

Apple, Brownie, Cookie, Cornbread, Crisped Rice Treat, Orange

Picnics can be picked up (and paid for) at a pre-set time at the Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery in Harambe Village (it’s hooked into the Tusker House), and can be eaten in one of 14 designated picnic spots in the park. You’ll get a plates, utensils, and a map of picnic spots when you pick up your grub.

Guests on the Disney Dining Plan will use counter service points for this meal.

Ten Commandments of Disney Dining

Casey's Corner

Casey's Corner

I. Thou shalt not think thou is better than the turkey leg

II. Thou shalt use up every single snack credit, even if thou thinks thou’s stomach lining has probably already burst

III. Thou shalt not feel in any way juvenile for eating things shaped like giant mouse heads

IV. Thou shalt forget about thou’s diet and just order the No Way Jose already

V. Thou shalt gladly again pay too much for a funnel cake even though it made thou sick yesterday because it’s just that good

VI. Thou shalt take pity on the ‘Ohana cast member and stop asking them when the potatoes are going to come back. There have trans fats, people. They’re never allowed to come back. Sniff…

VII. Thou shalt not build thou’s entire trip around maybe, just maybe, getting a table on the patio of Rose and Crown for Illuminations

VIII. Thou shalt eat at at least one restaurant where thou gets to use chopsticks and potentially eat something that isn’t a hamburger

IX. Thou shalt eat in the castle. Thou just has to. It’s the law.

X. Thou shalt not even tell thou’s daughter that dining with the princesses even exists until thou has secured the ADR. It’s just not worth the pain.

(Thanks to Caitiesus on the WDWForGrownups.com forums for inspiration!)

Cheese Plate Series: Narcoossee’s

Narcoossees Cheese Plate

Narcoossees Cheese Plate

One thing you will quickly discover is that I LOVE CHEESE PLATES. Cheese plates–especially at Disney World–are truly what I look forward to. Even more than steak and dessert most of the time.

I wanted to do a series on these because they’re beautiful, but also because I think they’re a good opportunity for the restaurants to do a nice little piece of branding. They usually serve cheeses that reflect the ethnicity and geography of their menu, and therefore what they want to be known for.

I’ll start with Narcoossees because it’s one of my favorite restaurants and serves one of the tastiest and most beautiful cheese plates I’ve seen at the World:

Extra Old Black Diamond White Cheddar, Cow’s Milk: This is “the official cheddar of Disney World” as far as I’m concerned, and since tillamook has been so conspicuously lessened on Artist Point‘s menu lately. You get Canadian Black Diamond just about everywhere cheddar is required (Le Cellier and Yachtsman to name two), and I like to believe that’s because Black Diamond is simply the best of the best. Black Diamond on a crisp with honey is absolutely delicious.

California Humbolt Fog, Goat’s Milk: This is a mild and tangy cheese. It’s got a cream cheese-like texture and an edible rind. Most distinctive is the thin layer of ash running through the wheel (don’t worry, you can eat this, too). Narcoossees serves it with dried cranberries, which I greatly enjoyed.

Rogue River Blue Cheese, Cow’s Milk: You see this in one or two other places in the land of Disney cheese plates, and it’s meant to be one of the stronger cheeses served. The wheels are hand-wrapped in grape leaves soaked in Clear Creek’s Pear Brandy, which helps to maintain the cheese’s moist texture. This is a straightforward blue cheese–you’ll have to remind your kids that eating mold is OK sometimes.


UPDATE: I had a horrible revelation as I walked down the street to Tower of Terror that my french fries are now gone. They have been replace with a turkey leg stand. Alas. Are McDonald’s french fries a thing of the past throughout Disney World? I do believe so. Oh well, continue on and read–it’s a good point, regardless.______________________

Our stake-out in DHS

Our stake-out in DHS

It’s fine if you disagree. You can perch on your high horse, peer down from your ivory tower, stand slick on your soap box if you wish. You’re welcome to save your tastebuds for the maximum in culinary virtue and purity. Go ahead and preserve that appetite for the masterpiece cuisine that graces tables at the most expensive of Resort restaurants.

I’m gonna go ahead and have me some McDonald’s french fries instead.

Now, seriously, folks, you know I love the pricey places, too. I’d eat at Citricos every night if my wallet allowed it. But for some unknown reason–some shift in the earth’s crust, maybe, some crop-dusted Disney magic drug, perhaps–those McDonald’s french fries that you find in a few of Disney’s parks (we’ve sadly lost our stake-out in Frontierland) taste better than any McDonald’s french fries I’ve ever gotten at an actual McDonald’s.

Just goes to show that setting DOES make a difference. Restaurant architects and designers of the world unite! (And meet me for some fries later.)

Epcot Food & Wine Festival Countdown

The Epcot Food & Wine Festival is one of the premier foodie events in the nation, welcoming specialty chefs, wineries, breweries, and other food professionals from around the globe to showcase their talents in an extravaganza of cultural tastes and experiences.
Food and Wine Festival

No. Disney did not pay me to write that. But if they want to use the text, they can send me an email.

This year, the Food & Wine Festival is scheduled for September 25-November 8, 2009.
The festival will share tastes from several countries through over two dozen kiosks set up around Epcot’s World Showcase. Kiosks serve tapas-sized portions of regional specialties for between $2 and $5 each, and recommended wines and beers for pairing.

The event also features several special dining events and culinary programs; you’ll have to make reservations for these and pay for them separately and in advance. These will (likely) be announced sometime in July 2009 and be up for booking starting in August 2009 by calling 1-407-WDW-FEST. (All bookings are non-transferable and non-refundable.)

For those of us who can’t wait the three months until the 2009 agenda comes out (and for those of you who want to see an idea of what you might be able to expect from the festival this year), here’s the 2008 Epcot Food and Wine Festival Guide.

Free Dining at Walt Disney World–The Pros and Cons

The pros and cons of this offer are different for everyone, so I thought I’d take a minute to give you my specific “set of learnings” from my previous free dining experiences:

  1. Free dining means I get to use up all of my table service credits in three days by eating at California Grill every night
  2. Free dining means that Yachtsman Steakhouse stops serving Ribeye because it takes up too much space on the grill
  3. Free dining means I leave for the airport with about 20 bottles of water because I wasn’t able to use all of my snack credits (blame California Grill)
  4. Free dining means I get to discover that Casey’s Corner hot dogs and french fries are the best hot dogs and french fries in Disney World, and that’s that.
  5. Free dining means I should leave more tummy room to use snack credits on Dole Whips!
  6. Free dining means I have to book my advanced dining reservations even earlier than before!
  7. Free dining means that the ghost town that was September in Disney World has now turned into a literal free-for-all! Use fastpass!
  8. HAVE FUN!