Longtime readers may remember how much I enjoyed Sunday brunch at California Grill last October based on this review. With scenic panoramic views, live music, bottomless mimosas, a great buffet, terrific entrees, and stellar service, I didn’t think Narcoossee’s would be able to hold a candle to the experience. But I had wanted to try Grand Floridian’s waterside brunch since it started all the way back in late November 2015. Erin and I went back and forth over returning to California Grill or giving Narcoossee’s a shot, but ultimately decided that we’d prefer trying something new over comparing a second Cali brunch with our first experience. And I’m glad we did.
Narcoossee’s is the ordinarily-dinner-only signature restaurant located outside of the main building. To get there, head straight through the lobby and exit out the back doors near the Grand Floridian Cafe. Then take a left around the Courtyard Pool and you’ll arrive.
If you’re traveling via watercraft from Magic Kingdom or Polynesian Village Resort, the restaurant is only about a minute away from the dock on the left.
Unlike recent reviews of Jiko Wine Tasting and Highway in the Sky Dine Around, Narcoosee’s brunch makes Nine Dragons look like it’s hard to book given the vast amount of availability. It’s incredibly unpopular.
And a lot of that may come down to the price, which is $69/adults and $41/children nine years and younger. Here’s the menu:
Looking over it, I think it’s initially difficult to find a lot of value in the offerings. 70 bucks for French Toast topped with berries seems pretty nuts. But I think we’ll get there.
As a signature restaurant with some of Disney’s highest dinner prices, the restaurant’s nighttime atmosphere has never done much for me. Coastal and breezy, sure.
But this is not “really” some beach-side hot spot at the Cape and the casual setting doesn’t make me “feel” like dropping 70 bucks on lobster tails.
But it “felt” right for a sunny daytime brunch and it was a lot of fun to watch the monorails fly by in the distance along with the various watercraft gliding by from Magic Kingdom and on their way to the Polynesian. We’re probably not in California Grill view territory here, but the water is calming and the scenery is pretty, particularly without the Contemporary’s parking lot involved.
The meal begins with “Prosecco, Mimosa, or a Signature Bloody Mary.” I’d suggest going with the Bloody Mary as you can switch to bottomless mimosas or prosecco after finishing it. Or if you don’t like spicy tomato juice and vodka, you can go straight to the sparkly.
The cocktail is packed with stuff and reminded me a lot of Paddlefish’s $20 version or the $17 drinks they serve at the California Grill brunch. I’m not crazy about Bloody Marys myself, but at 70 dollar brunches, I’m “all in” as they say. And the version at Narcoossee’s was palatable I thought – thin enough to be easily drinkable with a little spice. A sliced crab leg, jumbo shrimp, blue cheese stuffed olive, and slice of bacon accompany. All good stuff and easily worth $15 in my opinion.
Glasses of prosecco flowed for the rest of the meal. Our server, Jason, was excellent all afternoon, offering friendly, yet refined service – present but never in the way.
A pastry basket is delivered to the table in short order with cheese danish, croissants, and lemon muffins. The danish were the highlight – impossibly fluffy, light, and sweet. The croissants were good too with the appropriate amount of soft bread and butter, but I’m not sure they’re worth filling up precious tummy space.
I’m not crazy about lemon-flavored bread, so the lemon muffins didn’t do much for me – but the tart muffin was sweetened up nicely with the sugar topping and it ended up being a tasty couple of bites. Our server packed a couple of extra danish in with our leftovers, which was a welcome touch.
The sweet jam and salted butter helped brighten everything they touched as well. The pastries otherwise tasted so fresh that I have to imagine they were baked on-site that morning. A promising start.
Five appetizers are available. After having enjoyed California Grill’s Shrimp & Grits as part of their main course, I thought I would give the Narcoossee’s offering a shot.
This is their “Shrimp and Grits – Creamy Antebellum Grits, Green Tomato Chow-Chow, and Cherrywood-smoked Bacon” with five large shrimp on a bed of impossibly creamy, cheesy grits. The menu doesn’t really play up the barbecue slant as much as it probably should – the dish reminded me a lot of Paddlefish’s $20 “New Orleans Shrimp” that they serve as part of their weekend brunch, though you actually come away with a larger portion here. There’s a ton of smoky bacon dispersed along with some tang from the green tomato relish with some pepper, vinegar, and turmeric notes. A similar item is available on the dinner menu as a $19 appetizer, where the first word in the description is “barbecue.” Go figure.
This is what I was served over at California Grill and I think I personally preferred that presentation with the Espellette-spiced Tomato Ragoût. On the other hand, it might have been tomato overkill with the Bloody Mary to start.
Erin went with the “Brentwood Corn and Crab Soup – Sweet Corn Bisque with Lump Crab and Roasted Corn.” This was a really creamy, rich, decadent corn soup with a nice amount of fresh lump crab occupying the center of the bowl. A very satisfying dish, particularly if you luck into a cooler morning brunch.
Seven entrees are available and at these prices, it seems like ordering something heavy on steak or seafood makes the most sense. This is the “Steak and Eggs –
Black Angus Hanger Steak, Two Cage-free Brown Eggs-Any Style, Marble Potato Home Fries, and Truffle Aïoli.”
The hanger steak was pretty straightforward, cooked well, and spiced up with a pepper rub. It’s a flavorful cut with a bold, beefy flavor, perhaps a bit overcooked here.
There was actually no pink in the center whatsoever, so they replaced it with this better looking version. More leftovers that way, at least.
These are some rather large “marble” potatoes, I think, with a really firm texture that almost “feels” like they’re barely cooked. But the truffle aioli elevated the flavor profile adding a very subtle earthy flavor along with some garlic, lemon, and salt. It was a nice textural contrast to the soft eggs and tender meat as well. Altogether, very good and quite filling.
Erin asked about ordering a half portion of two different entrees and our server obliged the request, but I’m certain that we received two full-size entrees. This is the “Brioche French Toast – Summer Berry Compote with Whipped Mascarpone.” And it was really good with soft, silky bread that held up well against the egg and the bright, fruity berry topping. The mascarpone added vanilla and a nuanced sweetness. It was really good and you might consider asking about a “half portion” for the table. It was nice to have something so sweet in between a few bites of the heartier dishes, but I’m not sure I’d go to town on two full pieces.
Adequately capturing Eggs Benedict in photographs is something that’s always eluded me. Maybe there’s a book about it.
This is otherwise the “Lobster Eggs Benedict – Toasted English Muffin, Butter-poached Maine Lobster, Country Ham, Soft-poached Eggs, and Citrus Hollandaise.” I was surprised how much lobster was packed in underneath the egg – there’s a ton of it on each side in between the crunchy muffin, salty ham, and creamy egg with a really nice, light, slightly sweet hollandaise sauce. Really exquisite.
This is what was served at California Grill – smaller, but chunkier lobster. We both preferred the version at Narcoossee’s with a more flavorful sauce and more lobster meat.
A trio of desserts follows, from left to right – Valencia Blood Orange Bar, Triple Chocolate Cake, Lemon-Blueberry Timbale.
The Orange Bar was light and sweet with layers of cream and citrus-y filling along with the orange-y chocolate bits on top. The raspberries on the side added some tart sweetness to a couple of bites. Really good.
The Chocolate Bar was creamy and decadent and thankfully, surprisingly light and airy after a filling meal. Really good.
The Lemon-Blueberry Timbale was my favorite of the bunch. Like the word “thimble,” the name is derived from “thabal,” the Arabic word for “drum.” And that’s sort of what we’ve got here with the layers of cake, cream, and custard with a vibrant lemon flavor sweetened up further with the tang of the blueberries. Really good.
It’s always difficult to capture “feeling” with pictures, but Narcoossee’s brunch was an incredibly relaxing, pleasant meal, particularly with our relatively late 1:15pm reservation. Nobody was seated after us and by the time we finished, there was only one other party in the whole restaurant. Unlike California Grill, where there are people walking about as they head to and from the buffet, the atmosphere at the waterside restaurant is much more calm. I enjoyed meeting people on the buffet line at the Contemporary, but there’s something to say for every whim being attended to by competent, friendly staff.
I did not expect Narcoossee’s to compete in any meaningful way with California Grill’s Sunday brunch offering. But my expectations were exceeded in swift fashion and if I were to choose which one to return to, my choice might even be a return to the Grand Floridian. Everything about the morning was so pleasant with the charming walk out to the restaurant and the boats and the monorails gliding by in the distance.
And while the price might initially seem high, I think there’s a considerable amount of value here if you consider what’s offered:
- $15 Bloody Mary
- $18 for two $9 glasses of Prosecco
- $19 appetizer
- $30 entree
- $10 dessert
That’s $92 worth for the $69 fixed price meal. So even if you skip the wine or attribute less money to any given course, you’re still getting your money’s worth.
And consider what three courses and a glass of wine would cost you at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant:
- $10 soup or salad
- $34 steak
- $8 tiramisu
- $10 glass of prosecco
That’s $62 for two fewer drinks and a dramatically lesser experience. I think I’d take the seven dollar upcharge for Narcoossee’s.
Overall, Narcoosse’s Sunday Brunch was a fantastic time and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It’s a very different experience than California Grill, but I appreciated how relaxing it was and how little effort it took to enjoy everything. The later reservation worked perfectly, whether you want to spend your morning enjoying Magic Kingdom with lower crowds or sleeping in a little bit. It also means fewer people will be around when the entrees arrive. Expensive….maybe…but it’s a signature restaurant with bottomless sparkling wine in a lovely atmosphere. I’d go back any time.