California Grill, Disney Contemporary Resort, Orlando (Part 1)

California Grill was designed as the crowning jewel of Disney fine dining when it opened on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort. It’s the nicest Disney-run option that’s available for families with small children (Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian is adult-only), and it has historically been my favorite restaurant on property.

The view alone is extremely worthwhile. You can see the Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts as well as the Magic Kingdom park easily from the dining room, which is on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort and is ringed with windows. If you don’t feel like looking outside, there’s always the open kitchen, including a small sushi bar where you can sit if you feel like enjoying a different sort of sight while you eat. The banquettes and tables are not extraordinary but they are nice and they sport those clean lines one might expect from a restaurant called California Grill.

The menu is deeper and longer than almost anywhere else on property. There are flatbreads, a small but creative sushi menu, and then the usual list of starters and entrees. This is one of very few restaurants at Disney where it is possible to order foie gras. It is also highly adaptive to seasonality, serving as one of very few restaurants on-site that frequently change the menu.

We know we like California Grill, so we’re returning a second time during our trip. I had that in mind when I chose soup and salad for my dinner. I know it’s kind of a cop-out meal, but it’s what I felt like eating. The soup was a crab and lobster bisque, which was rich and sweet and spiked with just the right amount of pepper. I also enjoyed the restaurant’s variation on caesar salad–hearts of romaine with parmegiano-reggiano, croutons, olives, and excellent marinated anchovies.

My husband is unable to resist foie gras, which arrived seared atop a pan-fried cube of outstanding brioche bread pudding. Microgreens, herb oil and a fruit compote completed the dish. He looked ready to climb into the plate, and a small taste showed me why: the liver was meltingly rich, the pudding crisp-edged, the fruit adding a welcome note of acidity to the other flavors and textures. Awesome. His vegetarian ricotta and spinach raviolis were almost as good, the fresh pasta tasting strongly of egg as quality pasta should and the filling creamy and minerally from the cheese and greens.

My son’s whole-wheat pizza was fine, although he was too distracted by the view to eat much.

Service was acceptable but not extraordinary, but we were too involved in the view and the wonderful food we were eating to mind much.

Expect more after we return to the restaurant in a few days.


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