Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe, Wolfgang Puck The Dining Room, and Wolfgang Puck Express closed on the West Side in early August. It seems pretty dumb to write a posthumous review, but for the sake of posterity and in an attempt to recoup what I paid for the meal via advertisement revenue, I thought we would take a quick look around.
Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill is set to open next year in the Town Center section of Disney Springs to the left of the Coca Cola Store in a prime location in front of the lone bus stop servicing Disney resorts.
One thing that I always found amusing about the Wolfgang Puck complex is that it houses three very different restaurants, in addition to two full bars, and exactly zero people that walked up to one of these menus realized that fact. Typically when you walk up to a restaurant and see a couple of menus posted outside, they’re both exactly the same. This was not the case at Puck, where each menu was drastically different because it represented a completely different concept. And no matter which menu a potential diner approached, it was always the opposite of what they were looking to experience. You might be looking for a fine dining experience and instead of arriving at the Dining Room menu, see the pizza menu. Or you might be looking for a quick pizza only to find a menu leading with a $47 snapper filet. A host/hostess or better signage outside would have largely alleviated this problem, but none ever materialized. At least in the Downtown Disney days, you didn’t have to try very hard to fill your restaurant, no matter what people might initially be looking to experience. These days, with so many more great options, it takes a lot more promise to get someone through the door.
After stepping through the door, the downstairs bar immediately inside the restaurant was a bit of a hidden gem, offering ample seating, friendly service, and expansive sushi and drink menus, in addition to offering the full restaurant menu.
Wolfgang had let itself go in the weeks leading up to its closure, but at one time you could find eight decent drafts here, in addition to more than 30 sushi options and more than a dozen martinis and specialty cocktails.
How many different places serve lobster sushi propped up inside of a lobster shell? I mean come on.
Otherwise, the restaurant probably went underappreciated in its waning years. All of the original tile work was done by hand.
During construction, more than 200 people worked simultaneously to get everything done.
But it’s possible that the theming didn’t age particularly well as we hold our lighters in the air and remember the 90s during our walk around the restaurant:
The art here is a little strange in that some of these drawings are the actual covers from Puck, a satirical political magazine published from 1871 until 1918. I mention ad clicks during the opening of this post in part because Puck was the first magazine to include illustrated advertising. The cover above is not referring to what we all probably wish we could take a sip of after finishing up at Boma. Instead, it’s a rip on Roger Mills, who was Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, and his efforts to reduce tariffs and promote free trade during the Cleveland presidency. Here, the baby represents “infant industries” or new industries that were propped up by protectionist tariffs common during war times. Hence the pillow behind the baby that “Dr.” Mills is trying to feed his free trade rhetoric, and in turn, cure the overall economy. It seems unlikely that most people dining on chicken nuggets and pizza picked up on any of this.
One of the Springs’ undeniable improvements is just how much prettier everything is, which is why we’re seeing so many more windows, patios, and balconies with the new construction.
Puck’s location on the water is a desirable one, and I would expect Jaleo, the Spanish tapas restaurant that will take over for Wolfgang next year, will take full advantage of that.
Here’s what was the restaurant’s main lunch/dinner menu:
One nice thing that was true about some of these legacy restaurants is that pricing didn’t go up with the same bravado as Disney-operated restaurants. Most of these dishes are the same price as they would have been six or seven years ago.
I’m not sure you can trust a wine list that spells “Markham” as “Markum,” but here we are.
Onto the food – the focaccia tasted like it had been thawed that morning with a dampness not typically associated with bread.
Chef Wolfgang Puck had absolved himself of this property long ago, which may have had something to do with why standards were allowed to deteriorate so much. On the other hand, his Beverly Hills Spago restaurant is often cited as one of the top 50 restaurants in the country. Hopefully the new concept will be closer to that than this.
Our server, who helped open the restaurant, seemed more than a little nervous every time he asked us how each course tasted. “Good,” we repeated. But the chicken meatballs swimming in the $12 bath of herbed ricotta, tomatoes, and basil were mush, hastily dropped into a small iron skillet that was obviously not used in the cooking process. For $12, you could probably hope for more than three small freezer meatballs and a flavorless sauce. But maybe they’re assuming that we’re coming from Tony’s Town Square Restaurant.
The $9 bowl of “Butternut Squash with Cardamom Cream and Chives” wasn’t any better. Served lukewarm at best, the soup was thin and lacked any discernible character. A complete waste of time.
The expansive sushi menu, which includes some classics along with some more innovative rolls:
It seemed risky to order sushi from a restaurant that was closing the next day, so that’s what we did.
This is the $14 “Sushi Sampler – Two pieces of Nigiri Sushi, Four Pieces of California Roll, and Edamame.
As far as quality is concerned, none of us died.
Which, depending on your opinion of Tom Corless, may or may not be a good thing. Otherwise, I think the sushi looks the part more than it tastes the part – everything was pretty bland. But they did have branded chopstick wrappers, which is something.
The $16 “Sirloin Bacon Burger – Lettuce, Tomatoes, Caramelized Onions, Pickles, Cheddar, Remoulade, Garlic Aioli.” The bacon for which was surreptitiously delivered on a separate plate a couple of minutes later. Again, this looks the part, with a generous amount of cheddar cheese perfectly melted on top of the burger, but the beef was under-seasoned, overcooked, and assuredly defrosted. You could do way worse for $15, but the quality and execution were disappointing.
The $23 “Half Pesto Chicken – Crispy Potatoes with Arugula and Tomato Salad” certainly leaves little doubt that pesto is involved. But while the chicken is slathered in the green sauce, there was very little flavor involved and the chicken ended up being largely skin, bones, and slime.
The potatoes were a little thick for the “al dente” preparation, I thought, without the salt required to make them palatable.
I’m not sure the $20 “Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf – Mashed Potatoes, Crispy Onion Rings, Port Wine Sauce” is the right color. The port sauce should also be a much deeper red, rather than this sort of brown-looking puddle that we see here.
We’ll try dessert next time…
Overall, Wolfgang Puck Cafe disappointed. While that may not be surprising given what were mostly poor reviews over the last decade, I was a bit surprised by just how much the kitchen had given up and how little management must have cared about those dining at the restaurant over the last few weeks of operation. We are decidedly in, “if they complain, comp it, if not, send them on their way” territory here.
Jaleo is certainly a welcome addition and we’ll see if the new Wolfgang Puck restaurant shows improvement. With so much competition, it’s going to have to do something to stand out in a sea of great options.
A quick look upstairs at The Dining Room:
They had already taken down my caricature =[
Holding onto those Little League trophies.
Outside of the sushi bar, I’m not sure there’s much to miss with the West Side Wolfgang Puck complex closing.
Luckily, the Marketplace Express location is still open, serving this menu:
I love the Express location over in the Marketplace, though with so much competition from new table service restaurants, you’d sooner find me at the bar at BOATHOUSE, Morimoto Asia, Homecomin’, or what have you for around the same money if you stick to the less expensive entrees.