Sitting on the top floor of Disney’s Contemporary resort, the California Grill has been on our Signature Dining “bucket list” for quite some time. Finally, on our most recent trip, Dave and I were lucky enough to snag reservations at this highly popular Signature Dining location and after reading some recent stellar reviews (Thanks, Disney Food Blog!) we were very anxious for this experience!
We purposefully arrived early for our 5:40 reservation only to learn they don’t even let anyone up the exclusive elevator until 5:25. No worries though, being early pretty much guaranteed us a window seat and gave us a few minutes to sit at the bar.
Drinks were an easy decision, a French Martini for me and a Booker’s Small Batch Straight Bourbon for Dave. Both just hit the spot! We asked our bartender, Erin, if she had any dinner recommendations. We mentioned to her that we had heard California Grill had the best sushi on Disney property. “On property!? More like in the country!” She replied. Can’t get a better recommendation than that! Erin also noted a new first course that she had not personally tried, but many of her co-workers were giving it high praise.
We were soon seated and since we had already perused the menu, we were ready to order. We started with the Dragon Roll. Erin was right on target with her comment, this sushi was fabulous! So fresh and an amazing blend of flavors and textures. This could be a meal unto itself (so much so that we returned a few nights later to sit at the sushi bar just for some drinks and another Dragon Roll!) If we weren’t in full view of everyone arriving at the restaurant, I would have licked the plate clean. (I have done this, though not in public.)
That was an amazing start. We didn’t think anything could top that, but out came our First Course. We had to try the Squash Blossom “Oscar” with Petite Crab Cakes, Farmer Jones’ Asparagus and Sauce Béarnaise that Erin had recommended. Oh. My. Goodness. I can’t say that this “topped” the sushi, but was fabulous on a whole different level. This selection actually got its own post a few weeks ago. A full squash blossom, the flower filled with a blend of provolone, parmesan and asiago cheeses, lightly tempura-fried just enough for those cheeses to melt without separating. (Tough to do with cheese!) Crispy and cheesy, like heaven for the mouth! And then the crab cakes – all crab, no breadcrumb filler, a little fresh tarragon, chives and lemon and just enough mayonnaise to hold it all together. These were pan-fried and served on a dollop of béarnaise that perfectly complimented and did not overwhelm.
So our first two courses were amazing and we still had our main course to enjoy. We had ordered the Oak-fired Filet of Beef with Zuckerman’s Farms Delta Asparagus, Truffled Potatoes and Teriyaki Barbecue. Could this signature dish possibly hold rank to our first two? Unfortunately, not so much. The kitchen was good enough to split the entrée between two plates for us, which seems to be typical at Disney’s better restaurants (and very much appreciated!) We had asked for the filet to be cooked medium rare, but it came out pretty rare straight through. There were portions of the beef that were melt-in-your-mouth tender, but then you might get a bite that took some chewing. The flavor was still delicious; the truffled mashed potatoes were very good (not sure I could taste the truffle. Not sure what a truffle really tastes like…) and the asparagus was perfectly cooked. Would I order this again? Maybe, but not before I tried some of their other entrées first.
Because we ate so early, our dinner was over well before that evening’s scheduled “Wishes” performance. You can still come back to view the fireworks from the observation platforms outside of the California Grill even if your dinner was early in the evening. So we had time to walk over to Magic Kingdom and enjoy a couple of hours of park time before we walked back to the Contemporary well before 10pm. This allowed us to enjoy another drink (Twisted Mai Tai for Dave, Kahlua and coffee for me) before heading outside for a totally new perspective on the fireworks.
Its a close call, but California Grill may take over first place from Todd English’s Blue Zoo as our new favorite Disney Dining location. It was more than just great food, a knowledgeable staff and a world famous Sushi Chef but also perfect ambiance and location. (There is no restaurant on Disney property with a more magnificent view!) I love a restaurant where you can easily make a meal with just a sushi course and a first course, more variety, not as filling and sometimes even less money than an entrée alone. If you’re not a big sushi fan, they also had some interesting flatbread combinations on the menu. Unfortunately this time we did not save room for dessert. So we’ll just have to come back on our next trip for Flatbreads and dessert. And Sushi. Must have the Sushi.