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.
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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.
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.
Right off the elevator — the first new element I saw was the immense wine cooler.
As we waited for our table we took in the sights.
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 open concept seating remained, providing good views out all the windows.
Even the light fixtures carry the ‘contemporary theme’, right down to different colored globes!
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!
You can’t beat white tablecloths and sharp, branded linen napkins. Classy!
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.
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.
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.
Luckily we got rolls and butter and that gave me something to eat while I perused the menu.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!