Wolfgang Puck is the epitome of “celebrity chef.” Having successfully taken LA and several other USA cities by storm, he’s created a global empire (and worldwide name recognition) the likes of which have yet to be attained by any other chef that I know of.
Puck’s empire exists in Disney World’s Downtown Disney in the form of two counter-service restaurants, both named Wolfgang Puck Express; and two table-service restaurants — Wolfgang Puck Cafe and Dining Room.
On our visit, we headed to Wolfgang Puck Cafe — the less upscale and more boisterous of the two table-service restaurants — found in Downtown Disney’s West End.
Upon entering, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for. On any given evening, this restaurant is bustling. During busy dinner hours, it’s loud (due to the echoing-ly high ceilings and tile decor), colorful, and energetic.
The bright colors and geometric shapes of the decor here will remind 80’s kids of their Saved by the Bell years! But they add vitality and life to the restaurant, to be sure. This is a place for family, food, and fun — after all, Puck’s motto is Live. Love. Eat.
To help you get your bearings, once you walk in you’ll see the sushi bar to your right, the pizza ovens and open kitchen to your left, and the stairs to The Dining Room — Puck’s more upscale restaurant — straight ahead.
The sushi bar is set aside from the rest of the dining areas, so this might be a great idea if you’re hungry and want a bite while you’re shopping in the West End or about to head over to La Nouba. Puck is well known for sushi, and this spot together with California Grill, Kona Island Sushi Bar, Tokyo Dining, and Kimonos at the Swan will make any sushi-lover feel right at home in Disney World.
Puck is also well known for popularizing gourmet pizzas in California during his rise to fame, so be sure to check out what’s coming from the pizza ovens as you walk past to your table!
The dining areas in the Cafe, in my opinion, aren’t great. The seating is a bit uncomfortable, the tables are close together, and the loudness of the restaurant when it’s busy means you’ll have a difficult time hearing your dining partners. This atmosphere issue is my biggest complaint about the restaurant.
Wolfgang Puck created a name for himself stepping outside the box with interesting menu items, chic California cuisine, and fun flatbreads. This is all reflected on the Cafe menu, which happens to be pretty long when you take into account all of the sushi and drink options!
After perusing the drinks menu below, I went with a Wildberry Lemonade.
The Wildberry Lemonade was as expected — sweet/tart with a feeling at first that you weren’t even drinking alcohol. (Dangerous!)
We also were served this yummy…foccacia, I’d guess…with ample butter to tide us over while perusing the menu.
You can pretty much call our choices on this particular evening “everything that Wolfgang Puck Cafe is famous for.”
We chose the Butternut Squash Soup and the Artichoke 5-Cheese Dip for starters (along with a salad, of course); Macadamia Nut Crusted Chicken and Pumpkin Ravioli for entrees; and Snickers Cheesecake and Carrot Cake for dessert.
The Butternut Squash Soup was very similar to the version I had at Wolfgang Puck Express (natch), which means it was “very thick and ‘squashy'” ;-). To be more technical, it really tasted like a squash puree rather than a soup full of butter and cream. So, depending on what you’re looking for, order accordingly!
The Caesar was standard, but the addition of a crostini with tomatoes on top was fun!
We couldn’t help ourselves and had to order that Artichoke and Five Cheese Dip, which had mascarpone and fontina cheeses along with California artichokes served with crispy flatbread for dipping.
We thought this was great, but admittedly the burndy bits at the top weren’t the best aesthetically or taste-wise. We ended up having to ditch those (sadly, as usually the browned part at the top of a cheese dish is the best part), but the creamy dip was decent. I could have used more cheese, as I usually expect dips like this to be extremely rich. (Maybe this was slightly healthier cheese dip!)
The famous Macadamia Nut Crusted Chicken was in fact crusted with Macadamia nuts and panko breadcrumbs, and coupled with sho-yu cream sauce (a Hawaiian sauce using cream, soy sauce, and sometimes coconut and/or onions) and garlic mashed potatoes. The red stuff is a red papaya marmalade for a touch of sweetness.
This was a great dish with lots of opportunities to mix and match flavors to your liking. I would have preferred a bit more spice and/or flavor to the chicken coating…maybe it just needed a bit more fat…straight up. 😉
The Pumpkin Ravioli is one of those great vegetarian dishes that seems to be renowned in Disney World. Everyone I know who goes to Wolfgang Puck Cafe mentions it and either loves it, or wishes they’d ordered it. The dish is served with a brown butter sauce, port wine glaze, pine nuts, fried sage, and aged Parmesan.
It is quite good, though I’m not a huge pumpkin fan. The brown butter sauce was spectacular, and together with the sweetness of the pumpkin, it was practically a Thanksgiving dessert. The port wine glaze was rich and flavorful, giving that sweetness in the dish an answering tang. The pine nuts offered good crunch, and the Parmesan gave a nice strong saltiness to the whole thing. There were lots of flavors here that could contend with one another in such a small dish, but actually worked pretty well.
Desserts here are fantabulous.
The Snickers Cheesecake was overwhelmingly rich, dripping with fudge and caramel, and piled high with big chunks of Snickers candy bars. Heavenly. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for a pre-fab dessert sometimes.)
But the true winner was the epically delicious carrot cake. A huge slab of cake showed up on the table with more cream cheese frosting than even I would put on my homemade version! (Shocking — I know.) Everything about this cake was superb. If you are a carrot cake fan, you must — and I mean must — order it.
And while I didn’t sample these chocolate-o-rific desserts, I did snap a pic for ya as I wandered past the open kitchen!
If you love Wolfgang Puck’s food and can get over a loud and kind-of-uncomfortable dining room, this is a great place to go in the West End of Downtown Disney.
Regarding the food, I love the mixing and matching of flavors Puck brings to the menu. There’s always something interesting going on, and the pizzas are top-notch.
That said, I think this restaurant sits in a difficult place between gourmet menu and comfort food. I could have used more richness of flavor in a few of these dishes — for example, the artichoke dip could have been more flavorful and the chicken could have used more salt/spice/fat-based richness.
So while many of the dishes resemble comfort food (breaded chicken, ravioli, pizza, cheese dip), ingredients — and sometimes taste — don’t necessarily reflect that moniker. Guests just need to go in with the correct frame of mind and they should be fine.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you’ve been. Did you love it? Hate it? Were you indifferent? Let me know some of your favorite menu items!
While we didn’t order anything from the sushi, kids’, or lunch menu, here are a few sample shots so that you can get a good idea of what’s available:
And the kids have their own special menu, of course.
Here’s a sample lunch menu:
Let us know your thoughts about Wolfgang Puck Cafe in the comments section below!