California Grill Review Post Refurbishment and Bonus The Wave Review

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.

Dessert:





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 menu:




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.

Comments

  1. Ed says

    I can’t believe they didn’t select you for the free blogger’s meal (AKA bribe). Must be afraid that you might tell the truth.

  2. Cindi says

    Personally I liked the old restaurant look better, and the carpet looks unchanged. It was ugly then and it’s still ugly now. But they did change up the menu leaving off my favorites. I’m starting to see a pattern here…

  3. snickers says

    no dessert from the california grill? oh the humanity…

    thanks for all the recent updates and especially this review. we have 7:00pm reservations for MLK day in January, and we are still excited, but a bit cautious about what we’ll order. maybe a few of the issues you had will be worked out by then. i loved the “old” steak and the teriyaki sauce and hate to hear this version is a bit lacking.

    keep up the good work. love the website.

  4. keri says

    The Contemporary’s swizzle sticks are so cute with the little A-frame profile on top!

    And here I thought the Wilderness Lodge’s arrow-style sticks were adorable. What do the Grand Flo’s look like, I wonder? (presumably the Polynesian has that little tiki man on top)

  5. Carol O says

    Hey, I’m all for enjoying oneself in this life, and if one has the funds, they should spend it as they wish. But I could not enjoy a $1000 bottle of any drink no matter how much money I had. It’s just wrong, IMO, and seems, at some level, to be a pretentious rip-off.

    Re the $50 gift: wow! that’s great-you deserve it.
    And 4 posts since Friday?! Love it!

  6. BV says

    Before I even read your review I just can’t get over what Len of TP posted in response to Disney Food Blog in the link above.

    “I’m sorry to hear that my activity lessened your experience, and I apologize. Had you not decided to leave the site, I would have also included an offer to buy dinner for your group the next time I’m in town.
    As the host for the evening, I felt responsible for ensuring my guests were fed and entertained during the long delays between servings. I was also trying to point out which dishes the kitchen seemed to be doing well, so that everyone could say they enjoyed something at the end of the night.”

    The TP bloggers should be embarrassed. If I am not mistaken they are all adults yet they need to be entertained between courses and can’t figure out for themselves what food is appealing. Len also shows us how not to be a gentleman, he would buy Disney Food Blog a meal but since they are not renewing he won’t.

    I am a business owner and I could not imagine writing something that so negatively reflected upon my character and that of my employees. That is one way not to take the high road. Maybe Len needs to lose a few bloggers and hire a PR person with actual credentials.

    These are my opinions and no way reflect those of easywdw.

    Now to read your review

  7. Bill says

    Thank you for drinking the beer out of the correct style glass. Too bad they don’t get the Californian based Russian River beer there, that would be a treat.

  8. Jen says

    Great review! As far as the TP review and comments, BV summed up my feelings about the matter very well. I am also a business owner, and cannot imagine speaking to one of my clients in the way Len Testa did. Thanks for all you do Josh, I’m happy I have no need to give him any of my money.

  9. BV says

    Great review, the warm fritters for dessert sound really good. I would have ordered what Lisa did sans the sushi not a fan of sushi. I’m with you I would prefer to sit at the bar and enjoy the atmosphere and order something to nibble on than a full meal. I am more of a nibbler than a big meal person. I’d say your review was very fair and balanced and you did not distract from the other diners enjoyment 😉

  10. Shannon says

    It looks like(with the exception of the bar) every hotel restaurant out there. That’s disappointing.

    Thanks for all the posts this week!!

  11. Allan says

    I remember when the California Grill was quite cutting edge. Now they’ve brought up from 20 years behind the times to 10 years behind.

  12. Tricia says

    Interesting to read your review and the other two you posted. Everyone is a critic! Either way, I don’t think CG is on my list of places I really want to try. Thanks for posting about the Wave, it may be a place we check out during our trip.

  13. Traci says

    Well, I kinda like the look of the old chairs in the lounge over the new..cheaper looking…chairs. Other than that, it looks about the same to me.

    My DD and SIL had the ravioli a year ago and said it was HUGE! After eating that she was ready for dessert. :)

    Thanks for the review, one question; did you and Lisa sample all those drinks? Just wondering….

  14. Psac says

    Funny, I think that touring plans article and comments captures TP/Unnoficial Guide and Len (from what I’ve seen elsewhere) perfectly… a ton of great information (UG was essential before places like this and Disboards), but wow, what a self-absorbed jerkwad.

    Thanks for the good article, “Josh.”

  15. Dan says

    I’m wondering if you hosted a group of 22? That’s what i’m thinking with all those drinks! Love all the posts, lately. I say keep going with ”extra” night photo posts, those were awesome!

  16. Ellie says

    Thanks for the review! We’re going in Oct. Interesting Reds and Whites. Hmm. Interesting. Might have to try a glass and a Twisted Mai Tai. The meatball and ravioli appetizers have looked good. The short rib filet was intriguing but not one positive review yet – the word dry keeps reappearing. The desserts unfortunately aren’t appealing to me.

  17. Marianna says

    I’m so annoyed with Touring Plans for putting that kitchen through that. So inconsiderate to bring 22 people in that early in the run and then review them

    Anyway, I’m not really bowled over by the menu. Even less by the catch phrases. I agree, cocktail and appetizers in the bar would be fun. Can’t hurt to stop in at 5:00 and hope for a table.

  18. Molly says

    Thanks for the review! We were fans of California Grill before and look forward to trying out the new menu. The oak fired beef looks really good, especially paired with risotto. I prefer it over a potato but that’s just me :)

    As for the TP review, I wasn’t impressed at all. Firstly, they overwhelmed the restaurant on opening night with 22 people who sound like they were a tad hard to please. I can’t imagine how much fun it was in the kitchen serving 22 people multiple dishes every 30 minutes. And Len’s retort was unprofessional at the very least. I agree that it would have been extremely distracting to have people in that large of a group getting up and mingling around their table the entire meal. Maybe rather than ban children from restaurants, they should ban TP food reviewers lol 😉

    Loving all the updates lately too! This site is my go-to for planning now, I’ll never renew my TP membership, even if Len agrees to buy me dinner BEFORE I cancel.

  19. Lisa says

    So instead of customized mousekeeping envelopes, we will need customized Josh envelopes to carry around in case we see you!!! Also,do you and Lisa drink all of those drinks in one sitting? It makes me hungover just reading this.

  20. Mike says

    Thanks for posting the wine and beer menus. It’s always interesting to me how so many restaurants, Disney or otherwise, ridiculously overprice alcohol. I have no problem paying a $20 up charge over retail for the effort of the waiter and the restaurant, but several of those wines are $50-100 over retail… Makes a $50 steak not look so terrible. Guess I’ll be enjoying a beer or two next time. Those are still a couple dollars over the “local bar” prices but a world away from their wine extortion.

  21. RoonieRoo says

    Thank you for the review. I’ve been waiting as your dining reviews tend to pretty closely mirror our experiences and opinions. We have a reservation in December and I’m glad to have a “Josh data point” before we go.

  22. Helen says

    Thanks for all the updates this week Josh, and for a professional review of Cali Grill!! I’m not going there but it’s nice to look around.

  23. Dan Young says

    The CG has long been my favorite restaurant on the planet, and it looks like it will remain so. I plan on enjoying the spicy Kazan roll and the beef filet on my birthday in a couple weeks, chased down by a couple glasses of a fine viognier. Thanks for the review – looking forward to seeing it for myself!

  24. RebeccaMcK says

    I know I’ll try CA Grill or The Wave (or both) some day….my hubby wouldn’t like most of the food unless they can make changes for him (like leave any sauce off a beef or lamb entree, as long as it wouldn’t be too dry without it). Looks like I probably wouldn’t like any of the drinks….being a lightweight and sort of allergic to rum, I’d probably stick with water or soda. But there seems to be a sake there that says “cream soda” – I wonder how strong that one tastes? I only like moscato and white zinfandel as far as wines go (no red….a rose/blush would be okay but I didn’t see any). People have suggested reisling to me before but I just don’t like it. Anyway, we’re hoping to stay at the Contemporary next year unless we go with the Poly again (which Hubby really liked) or try Art of Animation….but if we’re at the Contemporary it would be nice to try both places for lunch or dinner some time. I think the key for hubby (a meat and potatoes guy, no salad) is to get stuff with no fancy sauces. Very basic. Maybe they’ll do that if we ask. He hated Brown Derby, whereas my mom and I really liked it. He hated the fancy place at DCA, too. Just not a gourmet person, lol.

  25. Renee says

    You have listed the top restaurants in each of the parks, but where is your list of top restaurants on the entire Disney property? I was considering CG as my top choice for a signature experience, but after this review and some others, I am thinking that there are better options out there. Do you already have a breakdown of the top Disney World restaurants (including DD and resorts)? What are your top 3 (or 5) if you don’t already have a list?

  26. Megan says

    Josh, your reviews are very funny without putting other people down. Thanks for all you do and all the fun memories you give to those of us who can’t visit often. I look forward to trying Cali Grill next summer.

  27. Clayton says

    You know we want to give you money! Tell me where to send my thank you card and I will send you some. As an aside, those shots of the bevvies would make some mighty fine CafePress coasters along with my previous request in the forums for some artsy tilted drinks-on-trash cans coasters.

  28. Ivy says

    Thanks for the great reviews. Your photography is better than professional. Ditto your advice and jokes. I can’t believe I paid $12 to have TP tell me to get on line for Expedition Everest at 1:59am and wait 420 minutes. Yeah they did.

  29. Kirsten says

    It’s $50 bill Kirsten here. Wow that sounds terrible.
    I was very happy to be able to thank Josh in person for the valuable Disney info and the laughs. You probably wonder how I managed to pull it off? I just got lucky. I was posting on a string about the reopening of California Grill, and I saw Josh’s post about his ADR. I realized it was the same night I was going to be there – woo hoo! I bought a thank you card and slipped the oh so classy cash inside. That’s easier than slipping a bottle of scotch in an envelope.
    My husband thought I was completely nuts because I walked around the restaurant 3 times looking for Josh. Then my husband went to the men’s room and on his way back he saw a guy at the bar, “who looks like the guy from the Cookie Monster photo” and has a big camera.
    Josh and Lisa were very nice to my daughter and me. I think my daughter was equally excited to meet Josh as she was to see Mickey.
    I think Josh needs to make it easier for people to thank him!!!!! With money!!!!!! Just an address would do.

  30. pfalcioni says

    Did they really take out the cool Mid-Century Modern stained glass-looking carpet for something that looks like a Las Vegas version of feathers? Yuck.

  31. Karen says

    I understand the contemporary is the oldest on property, but since they did a CG refurb could we have come into the 1990’s at least? The colors are hideous, the carpet and chairs hideous and looks like the interior of the Brady Bunch, the Wave does not look much better.

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