Kona Cafe is the table service restaurant located on the second floor of what is now known as Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. It’s long been a favorite for a casual, reasonably priced breakfast, lunch, or dinner away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.
As recently as last year, you would have run into this menu at lunch, which includes items like the Grilled Teriyaki Steak for “just” $16, along with an assortment of entrees that all come in under $20, at least before adding the shrimp.
Sushi prices were also reasonable, for the most part, with prices ranging from $13 for Vegetarian Nigiri up to $24 for the Large Kona Sampler.
Earlier this month, Kona went considerably more upscale, adding several Specialty Rolls that come in at $24 or more. Above is the current menu.
I think you’d have a tough time differentiating Kona’s selections from what’s offered at California Grill, the signature restaurant on the top floor of the Contemporary. Above is their current sushi menu. In fact, the average price of Hand-rolled Sushi at California Grill is now lower than the average price of a Specialty Roll at Kona Cafe. That is not a sentence I ever expected to write. You can read about some of the new Rolls, including the $26 “Polly Lolly – Fried Soft Shelled Crab, Shrimp Tempura, Crawfish Tails, Grilled Asparagus, Chives, Spicy Mayo, Tobiko” and $28 “Surf and Turf – Kona Coffee-spiced Filet, Cucumber, Chili-spiced Lobster, Avocado, Yuzu Aïoli, Sriracha” here. There are still five “regular” Sushi Rolls that come in between $16 and $18.
Here’s the current dinner menu:
The direction of the menu is a bit strange, now with four steaks that come in between $38 and $95, in addition to an assortment of Dashi Bowls. Despite a higher price point on a number of entrees, there are still several less expensive burgers and sandwiches served all day. We are definitely in $25 hamburger territory here with the Big Kahuna coming in at $24. Yesterday, we saw the $25 Bell Burger at Liberty Tree Tavern, topped with Lobster. I’m not sure that’s a price point that I’m comfortable to be paying.
I’ll review Tambu Lounge separately, but it’s worth noting that the menu there has changed focus as well. Gone are the Pulled Pork Nachos and Chicken Wings. Instead, we have items like Conch Ceviche served in a Coconut and Beef Tataki – not exactly classic bar menu mainstays. You actually can’t get the Sticky Wings at all anymore. Instead, the serving is three “Fire-roasted Pork Wings” each served with a slice of bacon over the top.
Back to Kona, meals still begin with sweet, pull-apart rolls served with whipped honey butter.
They’re as delicious as ever.
Classic Cocktails like the Backscratcher remain available. This is “Bacardi Superior Rum, Myers’s Original Dark Rum, and Passion Fruit Juice topped with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and a Bamboo Backscratcher” – a rare fruity drink that’s actually on the strong side of things.
This is $38 worth in the “8-oz Black Angus Beef Tenderloin – Arugula, Braised Cipollini.” We thought it looked kind of sad on the plate – dry and grilled to death with just a handful of Arugula to brighten things up.
Inside, things are considerably better – the meat is grilled to a beautiful medium and is just as tender as you would expect from Beef Tenderloin. Still, I’m not sure who is going to Kona for a small, $38 steak with no sides or sauces.
Here’s the $42 “14-oz Prime New York Strip – Arugula, Braised Cipollini.”
Again, it’s prepared nicely, perhaps with a little more fat than I would like to see. But it was seasoned well and like the Tenderloin, as tender as you would expect from a Prime piece of beef. I do not have current grocery store pricing on this.
We were actually interested in ordering the $95 “Perfect Porterhouse Steak – 8-oz Tenderloin and 14-oz New York Steak, Roasted Bone Marrow, Sourdough Croutons, Loaded Bakers, Wedge Salad,” but the restaurant didn’t have the Bone Marrow or the Loaded Bakers, which I’m guessing is some form of a Baked Potato. Instead, we got the two steaks that make up the main event. Of note for Dining Plan users – the restaurant is still a single credit and you can order anything on the menu outside of the $95 steak. Currently, they won’t serve the $95 steak for two credits, either. At $55, the “20-oz Bone-In Black Angus Rib-Eye” should be the most expensive entree at a regular table service restaurant. Keep in mind that you’ll be paying out of pocket for sides and sauces.
Speaking of sides, here’s the $8 Grilled Asparagus.
They were grilled to a nice al dente, but there was so much salt involved that it was almost unbelievable. I found myself shaking the asparagus free of some of it in between bites.
The $8 Creamy Mashed Potatoes were unequivocally terrible, perhaps due to a lack of butter and cream. They reminded me of the potatoes in those frozen Banquet Fried Chicken Meals, which can actually be on the comforting side when you’re paying $1.50 for the meal. But the potatoes here almost had the consistency of water and would slide right off the fork every time one of us tried to take a bite. If only we never got any to our mouths.
Obviously, sauces cost money, but I’ve always found it off-putting to be charged extra alongside a $40+ piece of meat. You have four options here – Green Peppercorn Sauce, Poly-churri Sauce, Togarashi Hollandaise, and Horseradish Cream Sauce, each of which will set you back three bucks. The Poly-churri above is your typical, garlic-forward Chimichurri with a little bit of oregano and cilantro going on. I like some pepper in mine for a little bit of a kick, but the sauce helped bring out the flavors of the steak nicely without being overwhelming.
Kona has offered a Dashi Bowl for a few years now, but now we’ve got four different options. Dashi refers to the Japanese soup stock with what looks to be four different preparations depending on which bowl you choose. Above is an example of the “Asian Noodles in a Mushroom Dashi Broth with Seasonal Fish and Seasonal Vegetables,” which arrives with a surprisingly complex, delicate broth with the bonito flakes and kombu serving as the base. There’s a ton of vegetables that maintain some crispiness even after soaking in the flavorful broth along with the flaky fish and citrus. The noodles probably won’t impress ramen purists, but they did a nice job of soaking up the flavors and added an incredible amount of heft to a tasty, filling dish.
Here’s a look at the $24 “Pork Belly Noodle Bowl – Bone Broth, Rice Noodles, Soy Egg, Mushrooms, Bok Choy, Hot Sesame Oil” with a regular egg substituted for the Soy Egg. It’s a ton of food with a hefty pile of tender, flavorful Pork Belly served up with plenty of sift Rice Noodles and Vegetables. The Bone Broth is beefier and saltier than the Duck Broth, Jasmine Broth, and Katsuobushi Broth found in the other dishes.
While I think it’s nice to see some dishes that are a little out there for most people, I’m not sure how much of the Polynesian’s typical clientele is going to be familiar with Katsuobushi Broth or what a Kanpachi tastes like. As someone that finds themselves “reviewing” far more food than I ever thought I would, I look forward to trying some of these interesting, unique dishes. If I was on vacation, chances are that I’d be looking for a known entity – something that I’m familiar with that I know that I’ll like. Of course, that is one nice thing about an expansive menu like this one. The Steak and Potatoes crowd is still covered by an assortment of spendy propositions, while $20 Hamburgers are offered alongside Soy Velouté and Wasabi Caviar.
Speaking of less expensive options, here’s the $18 “Hawaiian-style Reuben Kalua Pork, Corned Beef, Kimchi, Havarti, Root Vegetables, Mustard-Tomato Aïoli.”
It’s way more food than it probably looks like in the picture. I found it to be off-puttingly soggy on the bottom, under the weight of all the sauces and juice, but it was certainly meaty with a distinctly sour flavor. Going with Kimchi over the usual Sauerkraut is an interesting move here and one that definitely adds the pungent quality that you’re looking for against the salty meat. I enjoyed it well enough, but you may want to share it. Just half was incredibly filling. The Fries are disappointing – almost identical to McDonald’s without the salt. I’d like to see the return of the Pasta Salad.
Under the Steaks and Seafood header, the least expensive option is the $28 “10-oz Verlasso Salmon Steak – Wakame and Grilled Lemon.” The silky salmon arrives with a classic lemon butter taste and just one thick bone in the middle. Typically, I think most of us are more familiar with the Salmon Filet. The Steak is typically juicier and more flavorful and that was appreciated here, despite some initial surprise from the look of it on the plate. It does “feel” like it’s an incomplete dish without any sort of side. You’re welcome to order some, of course, but it seems like pairing the fish with rice or something would be intelligent.
Kona typically does Sushi well, here with the $28 Large “Kona Sampler- Tuna Poke, Three pieces of Nigiri, Three pieces of Sashimi, and Five pieces of our California Roll.” It’s a nice, refreshing way to start a meal.
Kona has gotten into the miniature dessert game with a platter of six choices, each of which will set you back five dollars.
On the left is the “Banana Rum Trifle with Banana Pastry Cream, Chocolate Ganache, Banana Caramel, White Chocolate Pearls, Chocolate Tornado, with a Dark Rum Spiced Pipette.” There’s a lot going on and it all works really nicely. The Pastry Cream is light and creamy with a delicious banana flavor and there’s plenty of chocolate and caramel going on to sweeten things up. The Spiced Rum adds a fun little boozy element as well.
The “Tapioca with Pineapple Compote and Fresh Fruit” was also delicious. Tapioca usually weirds me out on the texture front, but the fresh flavors of the fruit accented a pudding that tasted richly of vanilla. I think it came down to the fact that the little pearls were on the larger side, which made it taste much less mushy.
On the right, we’ve got the “S’more – Graham Cracker, Chocolate Pot de Creme, Marshmallow Fluff, and Marshmallows.” This was surprisingly light with a rich chocolate flavor anchored by the Graham Cracker crust on the bottom.
Moving to the other side, on the left is the “Key Lime – Graham Cracker, Key Lime Curd, Passion Fruit Curd, Orange Marmalade, Passion Fruit Boba, and a Chocolate Swirl.” It was the only major miss on the dessert front – it was way too sweet and syrupy for our tastes.
In the middle, we have the “Tiramisu – Mocha Cremeux, Coffee Soaked Chiffon Cake, Baker’s Cream, and Chocolate Espresso Beans.” This is another rich, creamy dessert that might be my favorite of the bunch. There was a nice luscious quality to it with plenty of different flavors and textures to keep each bite interesting.
Finally, the dessert on the right is the “Strawberry Champagne with Strawberries and Greek Yogurt.” I liked this one too with its bright berry flavor along with the deliciousness of what is probably not actually champagne.
Overall, the Key Lime is the only one that I would recommend shying away from ordering. Your server will bring this tray around at dessert time rather than handing out printed menus. Hopefully somebody out there is impressed that I remembered all of those ingredients.
Overall, Kona “feels” a lot less focused than it once was. In my opinion, the only steak that should be on the menu is the Teriyaki version of yesteryear. It’s potentially nice to see some high-end options, but Kona is so breezy and casual, “literally” located off of the hotel lobby in an open-air space, that it’s not the sort of restaurant that I’d be looking to drop $55 on steak with no sauces or sides during a romantic dinner. $55 is more than California Grill’s “Oak-fired Filet of Beef – Parmesan-Farro Risotto, Butternut Squash Purée, Maple-roasted Squash, Whiskey-Apple Butter.” Over at Yachtsman, the “16-oz Prime Rib-Eye Steak – Truffle Fries with Black Garlic Aïoli, Blue Heaven Shallot Butter” is $57 or just two dollars more than the Ribeye here. That’s with sides and also at Yachtsman Steakhouse, which is actually the sort of restaurant where I’d be comfortable dropping $50+ on a steak with a la carte sides.
Of course, you don’t have to order a $55 steak, but even some of the less expensive items appear a little more uppity than you’d expect from a restaurant as casual as Kona. The Polynesian obviously doesn’t have a traditional signature restaurant, and the menu change may be a way to try to introduce some of those elements, at least in terms of quality and price. If you’re on the Dining Plan, then you may want to consider moving a reservation over here as you can put together a very expensive steak dinner for a single credit.
The fact that I can’t make any sense of the restaurant’s direction probably doesn’t matter and it may be nice to see less expensive items alongside pricier steaks. I’ve long heralded The Boathouse for doing exactly that. But that isn’t traditional Kona. My estimation is that the pricier steaks won’t last, but bring those dining credits over while they’re here.
We’ll get back to Magic Kingdom.