California Grill reopened on September 9th 2k13 after a refurbishment that lasted about nine months. Considering it takes Disney approximately seven years to build a kiddie coaster, it should be no surprise that it took most of a year to replace the carpet. I was excited to give the restaurant another try, after enjoying my meal there last year. I perused a few early reviews to get an idea about what to expect, but most were based on one of the free fake media previews or the Disney Parks Blog meetup. Fortunately, our friends at Touring Plans ran a 22-person $2,500+ blow out review (please read the comments) the day after the restaurant opened in addition to Inside the Magic’s review and Disney Food Blog even found a camera for their review.
Your culinary cruise of delight begins on the second floor check-in podium. If you don’t have a reservation, California Grill has a large bar area that serves the full menu. Kids are welcome. Just ask at the podium if there’s room and they’ll take you up. It’s easiest to find a spot early in the evening and again about 20 minutes after Wishes concludes. The restaurant opens at 5pm and (as we found out) the bar stops serving drinks at 11:15pm. We were first introduced to the restaurant’s “vibrant and charged atmosphere” on the elevator ride up, where the poor cast member had obviously been coached to plug that and the “legendary wines” every time the elevator doors closed. I don’t think anyone has ever described Cali as “vibrant and charged” and it felt sort of corny by the fourth or fifth time we heard it from someone. You’re reminded of the atmosphere on the back of the chopsticks in case you forget.
The restaurant “feels” similar as before.
The sushi bar looks to be expanded and offers a 12-course omasake menu that I think costs $169. But I might be making that price up.
The bar itself now has 14 chairs.
This section is also open seating.
The bar area used to look like this.
And the restaurant like this.
Upon arriving, you’ll be welcomed by this wall of wine.
There are apparently 250+ wines available:
Magnum pricing has always struck me as a bit odd as prices are typically 3x the 750ml price for 2x the wine. But I guess big bottles look neat.
While you wait the couple of minutes for your table, you can have a seat at the bar. After ordering our drinks, Kirsten and family came up and said hello to us and slipped me a thank you card with a $50 bill in it. If everyone else could do that it would be great.
I requested a window table when we checked in. Since our reservation was 9:25pm and after Wishes, there was not a wait. But those tables are going to be tougher to score if you’re dining closer to fireworks time.
Of course, you can still head outside for the show. I am not that big of a fan of the view as the fireworks are off-center and look like they’re being shot off from behind Space Mountain (which they are). But it is a different vantage point and you’ll only be fighting a handful of people for a spot instead of several thousand.
I would just remind you that you can get virtually the same view “for free” by heading out to the Contemporary’s 4th floor observation deck and climbing the stairs to the 12th floor.
The view of the parking lot is otherwise above average.
Disney has installed a Natura water filtration system in the restaurant and you can order still or sparkling water “for free” without having to go the $6.75/bottle Perrier route. We were not sure if the water was going to be “complimentary” when it was first offered, but it is.
Service starts with lavender foccacia and sourdough rolls. The foccacia is light and airy with a subtle lavender taste. The sourdough is pretty standard.
It’s artsy because it’s tilted. Our server was careful to point out that the butter was unsalted and then salted on top with some more lavender getting in the way.
The restaurant offers eight cocktails, nine beers, and nine sakes.
The $9.75 Sake Martini – Karen “Coy” Sake, Licor 43, and Cruzan Mango Rum with a splash of Pineapple and Orange Juices was Lisa’s favorite. It was sweet, but not in an off-putting way. It is not particularly boozy and would be a good choice for someone that doesn’t want to be smacked with a drink that tastes like vodka or bourbon.
The bar closed before I could squeeze in the Mai Tai, so it will have to wait. This is the San Fran Pisco Sour – Porton Pisco, Lime Juice, Agave Nectar, Egg White and a dash of Angostura Bitters – $9. My parents came back from a South American cruise raving about pisco sours, which were apparently served everywhere you went. In fact, there is a national holiday in Peru celebrating the drink on the first Saturday in February. They are in a constant struggle with Chile over who invented pisco. This one happens to be in the Peruvian style (Chile’s is served with powdered sugar). Anyway, this drink was a little different to say the least. Lisa didn’t like it at all. It’s sort of like a cross between a margarita and a whiskey sour.
The Napa Blue Martini – Charbay Vodka and Olive Juice with “Point Reyes” Blue Cheese-stuffed olives – $9.75. Don’t tell Lisa’s dad about this one, which is garnished with two large olives that you can sort of see. This one is “literally” vodka and olive juice and it tastes like vodka and olive juice. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll love this one.
The Cucumber Fizz – Hendrick’s Gin, Limoncello, and Cucumber Water with a splash of Sprite – $9.75. The cucumber water masks the other flavors so well that you might not even realize there are other ingredients. That isn’t a bad thing if you <3 cucumber, but that’s what it’s going to taste like.
Passion Fruit Margarita – Patron Silver Tequila and Cointreau Noir with Passion Fruit Puree – $10.50. Mostly alcohol, this is a strong margarita.
The Monte “Ray” – Mount Gay Rum, Pineapple Juice, and Licor 43 with a splash of Sweet and Sour – $9. I guess this is part of a hilarious Monterrey joke. Licor 43 pops up a couple times and is a fruit liqueur from Spain. I’m not sure you’ll be able to pick it out from the juice, but it does add a fruity quality to the drinks without diluting the punch.
The Classic Side-Car – Remy Martin VSOP and Cointreau with a splash of Sweet and Sour – $11.50. My favorite drink, the sugared rim sweetens things up, but it was perfectly balanced with high quality ingredients.
As the bottle states, Napa Smith Organic IPA is a 7.1% IPA that typically comes in a 4-pack for $8.99. It’s otherwise a below-average IPA at a premium price point with lingering bitterness and a sweet, pine-y taste up front.
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, on the other hand, is a world class beer coming in at 7%. A six-pack typically runs $15. This one is a lot hoppier than than the Napa Smith with more distinct citrus flavors – particularly tangerine.
Another entry from Napa Smith, the 9.2% Hopageddon Imperial IPA has one of the higher alcohol contents. Since a 4-pack usually runs $14, it also has a lower markup than most of the other beers available. This hop-bomb is a bit grassy for me, though that might help it pair with some of the salads and other appetizers. Fortunately, the alcohol flavor is masked well.
Coronado’s Orange Avenue Wit is another California beer, coming in at 5.2%. A six-pack typically costs $10.99. This one is easier to drink than the hoppier IPAs that precede it on the menu. The orange flavor is not as dominant as you might expect with the wheat backbone and strong coriander presence. Of the beers offered, it’s my least favorite.
If you’re bothering to read these silly beer reviews, you’ve probably heard of Ommegang Three Philosophers, the excellent quadrupel ale brewed in Cooperstown New York. A 4-pack will run you around $13.49 and it’s $11/bottle here. This is a complex beer with layers of dark fruit and malt. It would probably pair best with a chocolate dessert. Despite being 9.7% ABV, the beer is incredibly smooth and creamy. It’s the best beer on the list, but at eleven bucks, you’re paying for it.
I had to go out and get this Corsendonk Pater Dubble / Abbey Brown Ale special. It’s an outstanding Dubbel that comes in at 7.5% and would cost you a whopping $17 for a 4-pack if you can find it. As is typical with this style, the dominant flavors are caramel and toffee with subtle hints of chocolate and cocoa. It’s surprisingly light considering all that’s going on, making it easier to drink than something like Chimay Red.
Finishing up, the Coedo Shiro runs $15 at California Grill. I picked up a bottle from Total Wine for $7.
The Shiro is incredibly bread-y and banana-y. It is not my favorite flavor, so I personally did not care much for this hefeweizen. But it’s pretty neat that you can order a boutique beer straight from Saitama.
The menu is similar to what was served previously. You can compare it to the old one:
Yoshie, the long-time leader behind the sushi bar, retired back in January, but similar items are still available. If sushi is otherwise of interest, the website recommends seeing Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which is a fascinating look at Jiro Ono, who operates a restaurant with three Michelin stars. A meal there would run you $300 and purportedly lasts about 15 minutes.
We started with the Oven-dried Tomato Flatbread – Beefsteak Tomatoes, Mozzarella di Buffala, Aged Balsamic – $13.
This was a lot more garlic-y than I was expecting, considering there’s no mention of it on the menu. The flatbread is also messier than you might expect as the tomatoes easily slide off each piece as you try to navigate it to your mouth. Lisa didn’t care for it and I wanted to like it more than I did considering how good it looks. Overall, it was soggy, messy, and the flavor was kind of flat.
Our server described the $14 Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli – Tomato-Fennel Broth, Crispy Mushrooms, Basil, Benziger Estate Olive Oil as one of her favorites and one of the restaurant’s “signature dishes.”
While the flatbread was a lot of food for the money, this is “literally” one ravioli in a bowl. But it was also much better with the soft ravioli surrounding warm, powerful-tasting goat cheese. The broth, which is much lighter than your typical tomato sauce, is excellent dipped with the sourdough bread. The mushrooms on top did not have a lot of flavor.
Lisa ordered the Spicy Kazan Roll – Crab, Shrimp, Scallops, Tuna, Fireball Sauce – $26 served with cucumber and ginger on the side. The tempura crunch is hiding a large portion of hot scallops in the center, which seemed a bit odd for a sushi dish. The fireball sauce did not overwhelm the flavors from the fish. We thought the sushi was just as good as before the refurbishment and it’s a deceptive amount of food on the plate.
Interested in seeing how it had changed post-refurb, I ordered the Oak-Fired Filet of Beef – Heirloom Tomato Risotto, Baby Vine Tomatoes, Petite Basil, Tomato Butter – $49.
The filet itself is prepared exactly the same as before. The tomato butter replaces the teriyaki sauce and the risotto replaces the mashed potatoes.
The meat was almost fork tender. You might be able to cut it if your muscles are bigger. I ordered the steak medium and it came out slightly overcooked, but not enough that I put up a fit over it. Otherwise, there is a lot of tomato going on. The risotto was perfectly cooked, creamy without being gritty like is sometimes the case, though I prefer the more traditional potato. The $49 price point may be absurd and you’re talking to someone that was otherwise content with his $56 ribeye at Le Cellier. The meat is decent quality for the cut, but certainly nothing amazing. There is not a whole lot of value here.
Two glasses of Louis XIII please.
Service was very good after initially waiting for a few minutes before our server happened upon us. In what may or may not be strange fashion, the server brought the food menus rather than the hostess providing them after we were seated. I’m not sure if that’s normal.
I’d be much more likely to pop up to the bar to enjoy the view rather than dropping serious coin on one of the entrees. The sushi is expensive, but the quality is there and it’s usually a lot of food for the $25. At around $14, the flatbreads are large and easily shareable. The drinks and beer are better than most restaurants on property as well. But I’m not in a big hurry to order another $50 steak.
The Wave is the first-floor-restaurant at The Contemporary that’s about a ten-minute walk from Magic Kingdom’s entrance.
Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it’s virtually never crowded for lunch.
Actually, the restaurant was so empty it was kind of depressing sitting there with only a handful of people around.
A large bar is located in the back of the restaurant in its own area that “feels” removed from the rest of the restaurant.
Lunch is fairly inexpensive with prices just a dollar or two more than you’d pay upstairs at Contempo Cafe. Orlando Brewing beer is pretty good, though overpriced considering what we saw at Cali.
I ordered the Seasonal Soup and Sandwich with Hand Carved Roast Turkey on a Foccacia Round – $12.99.
I switched out the seasonal soup for the black bean chili, which is priced pretty crazy at $8.49 ordinarily. The bread was extremely fresh and similar to what’s served upstairs at Cali Grill, minus the whole lavender thing. The cranberry spread helped liven up what is otherwise a pretty typical turkey sandwich. My only complaint is that it was not a tremendous amount of food.
Lisa ordered the Soft Flour Tortilla filled with Fajita-seasoned Tofu, Regionally-sourced Seasonal Vegetables, Pepper Jack Cheese served with Rice and Pico de Gallo. The rice was extremely dry and lacked much flavor, but the crispy tortilla was packed with interesting vegetables.
If you’re planning to spend the day at Magic Kingdom and want to get away from the hustle and bustle, The Wave is an excellent choice, particularly in the afternoon. It’s only a monorail stop or short walk away.
That’s two meals at the Contemporary. We enjoyed California Grill, even if that $49 steak was overpriced, even by Disney standards. I am not sure the food is as good as Flying Fish, Jiko, or other signature restaurants on property. The sushi remains excellent and it’s relatively easy to pop up for some of the less expensive fare.