One of Disney’s signature dining locations is “up there” – as in on top of the Contemporary Resort at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Not only can you dine in one of the top-rated restaurants on Disney World property, you can take in the amazing views of the Kingdom and the Seven Seas Lagoon. The restaurant? None other than the California Grill.
Offering up “California cooking,” the menu is as varied as the state on the west coast. From sushi to brick oven flatbreads, to ravioli and steaks – fresh ingredients and a seasonal menu have made this a sought after dinner spot. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the restaurant has a wine list that features over 300 bottles and more than 50 by the glass – mainly from, guess where? California of course.
We were celebrating my husband’s birthday, so we booked a trip with whale watching california and a room at the Contemporary and coupled it with a 9:20pm dinner reservation. We arrived at the check-in podium, which happens to be on the 2nd floor, at 9:20pm and was escorted up in an elevator specifically reserved for California Grill guests.
Once on the 15th floor, we waited about ten more minutes for our table to be ready. Since I noted we were celebrating a birthday, Mickey Mouse confetti adorned our table.
The décor was pretty standard for a non-themed Disney restaurant. Bright (too bright in my opinion) lighting, lots of tables (some pretty close to each other), and a bit noisy (the restaurant was packed!). A large wine cooler lined the walls near the elevator and a bar with about 20 seats was nearby.
One review of the restaurant that I read, called the California Grill a great spot for a romantic dinner. With the bright lights, close tables and noise level, I wondered if there was another California Grill somewhere because this dining room didn’t give me that vibe. In fact, we were seated at a half-booth, where another couple was just a half-arms-length away from us. I don’t usually take those tables when we happen to be “lucky” enough to get one, but since they already did the birthday confetti, I wasn’t going to ask for a different one.
Our server came over to introduce himself, take our cocktail order and go over some of his favorites on the menu. During the course of the conversation, we also found out that he was an extra in the old Hawaii Five-O television series and we got a bit of a history lesson on Jack Lord and the show itself. Pretty cool. He was assisted by another server, who eventually took over for him completely before the entrees arrived.
With a martini and a glass of wine firmly in hand, it was time to order. The menu, like I said earlier, is quite diverse. Since we had sushi for lunch at the nearby Polynesian Resort, we opted to skip the sushi here and opt for a flatbread to start.
The Roasted Tomato Flatbread (Laura Chenel and Midnight Moon Goat Cheese, Arugula Pesto, Aged Balsamic – $16) was a good size, in fact we did not finish it. But because we didn’t finish it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. In fact, it was quite enjoyable. The crust wasn’t crisp and wasn’t soggy, it was a “just right” firm and not too doughy. The cheeses were very flavorful and tomatoes were fresh. A good choice for a starter. Besides this one, there are others including a Chicken Sausage Flatbread that sounds interesting.
Our mains took a bit of time to arrive. As in an hour after ordering. Yes, we had the flatbread to enjoy, but the mains should have come out shortly after that was cleared. We waited about 30 minutes between the time the flatbread was taken away until the mains arrived. We enjoyed another cocktail during this downtime.
I, at the recommendation of our server, ordered the Slow-braised Beef Short Ribs -$49. The meat fell right off the bone and was very tender, but I found the red wine jus overpowered the natural flavor of the beef. The grits that the ribs were served on top of, were good, although the jus was plentiful enough that the grits took on that flavor as well. Overall, the dish was not bad, but was misrepresented on the menu and could have had less jus.
My husband went with the Oak-fired Filet of Beef – $49. The filet itself was large, cooked to his desired temperature and had a great flavor thanks to the oak grill. The sauce here actually complimented the dish perfectly, as it was used in limited quantity and wasn’t poured on top of the filet. The risotto was creamy and firm and roasted cauliflower was on-point. Overall, this was a good, flavorful steak.
When it came time for dessert, we actually passed, even though there was a delicious sounding Strawberry Shortcake on the menu. However, since this was a birthday celebration, our server brought out a complimentary piece of Chocolate Pudding Cake – $14. Think something not as firm as a brownie, but very chocolatey and rich. I pretended to avoid thinking how many calories I was eating. But we shared it, so that number would be half.
The restaurant does have a dress code, which everyone seemed to follow. If you have a reservation for dinner, you’re welcome to come before or after your reservation time to view the Magic Kingdom’s firework show, but you will need to show your reservation or dinner receipt to be granted access to the elevator to take you back up to the 15th-floor observation area.
On this particular night, it was cold and rainy. The doors to the observation deck are right next to tables, so the opening and closing of that door could be annoying for those seated there.
So what did we think? The view from the top is spectacular and to have dinner here during the fireworks show is recommended. The restaurant itself feels very crowded due to the layout of the tables and the spacing between them. Noise and lighting could both be reduced. The food was average. Nothing we had really stood out and made either one of us say, “we need to go back to California Grill.” Don’t get me wrong, dinner wasn’t bad, however, for one of Disney’s most sought-after, talked about, signature dining spots, I would have expected better.
I’d be interested in hearing your opinion if you’ve dined here. Let me know in the comments below.