Opening Night at Walt Disney World’s Re-Imagined California Grill

| September 10, 2013 | 3 Replies

Review by Kevin Klose

The California Grill in Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort reopened yesterday after a lengthy refurbishment and we were there to see how the old place looks.

Just about everything “decor-wise” has changed.  Upon exiting the elevators, you are met with wine storage that reminds me of the beverage coolers at 7-11…only filled with wine.

Reception area - wine cooler

The rest of the space has a modern / vintage vibe with a vague mid-century feel.

California Grill dining room

One of the things we noticed and discussed was how wonderfully wide spaced the tables were and how this felt much better than in the past. We also figured this wouldn’t last very long. Once they figured out that they could fit more tables…they would.

Low and behold…a manager was overheard saying, “We can fit 20 more tables in here.”  So much for widely spaced tables.

Several large pieces of stationary furniture have been removed and I’m not sure if this is the reason, but the California Grill seems louder than before. While we weren’t shouting, we had to speak up in order to be heard.

California Grill open kitchen

California Grill lounge

California Grill dining room/walkway to balcony

As this was opening night, there were several little glitches that will certainly work themselves out over time. Ordering a drink at the bar took far longer than it should due to difficulties running the new register. Dessert was served with a spoon that wouldn’t fit in the vessel containing the food. Again…these things can be forgiven, as it’s the first night.

California Grill Bar

As with any Disney restaurant opening…it seemed that there was an executive / manager present for every patron. On a trip to the restroom, I was asked 6 times how everything was going.

Upon arrival, we weren’t sure we liked the new decor. It had a less “special” feel about it.  After spending some time there, it grew on us. It’s a lovely space that needs a bit of sound reduction. The noise level is loud with full widely spaced tables. Once they fit “20 more” full tables, the noise can only go up.

Lighting fixtures

While there were new things on the menu, the California Grill frequently changed their menu. They have kept some of the classics, but updated them in a good way.

Some of the hits…

All three entrees were great. We had the short ribs, scallops and the classic pork tenderloin with polenta. Everyone “oohed and aahed”.

Entree - Short ribs

Image: Short ribs

Entree - Scallops

Image: Scallops

Entree - Pork tenderloin

Image: Pork tenderloin with polenta

The sushi was, as always, top notch. It’s ridiculously over priced (in the $25 per plate range) but it’s darn good.

Sushi bar

We had the mixed California Roll, the Tuna 4 ways, the Spicy Kazan Roll and the pork belly sushi. (think bacon and rice). All were devoured quickly. Good, but expensive sushi.

Sushi - Mixed California Roll

Image: Mixed California Roll

Sushi - Tuna Four Ways

Image: Tuna Four Ways

Sushi - Spicy Kazan Roll

Image: Spicy Kazan Roll

Sushi - Pork Belly Nigiri

Image: Pork Belly Nigiri

We ordered a carrot and cilantro soup and something called “Duck In all Its Glory.” We decided that you had to make friends with the soup. Once you got past it’s shocking color and that fact that it seemed to have clover floating…it was delicious.

Appetizer - Carrot soup

The duck was served as a charcuterie board.  Both were deemed good, but didn’t get the raves the entrees and sushi had received.

Appetizer - Duck Four Ways

Some of the misses…

We had a tomato flatbread that didn’t work (in my opinion). It arrived cool and quickly turned cold. Not all of the sliced tomatoes were ripe and the flavor was okay…not great.

Appetizer - Sundried Tomato Flatbread

The server announced that the new bread was lavender scented bread.  It was noted at the table that it reminded us of Grandma’s dresser drawers. It was okay…but once you had that image….it was hard to shake it.

Bread basket

Desserts were a bit hit or miss. We had the cinnamon banana fritters, which were lacking banana flavor. They seemed to be made of wheat bread rather than a fritter dough.

Dessert - Warm banana fritters

We also had the mini sundae dessert, which included a caramel corn flavored sundae, a coke float and a strawberry basil sundae. I will say that this dessert looked great. That’s about as far as I can go.

Dessert - Sundae Sampler

You might be happy to hear that the “house water” (their term…not mine) has been filtered five times. I don’t know about you, but my first thought was, “Where did you get this water and what was in it?”

My final thoughts…the California Grill is the same restaurant as always with new clothes and opening night jitters. The location and view can’t be beat. The food is mostly terrific and you’ll probably have a great time.

View of the Magic Kingdom from California Grill

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Category: Disney World

  • Linda Tompkins

    Thanks for the review and pictures, defiantly a miss restaurant for us.

  • momeja

    How did you like the Mary Blair reproductions on the wall? We’re big fans of Mary Blair and were wondering how they looked at Cal Grill.

  • Paul&Sarah

    We’ve been coming to California Grill for years now, and just experienced the new make over. Not impressed. The decor looks like a 1950s Howard Johnson restaurant (I guess that’s “vintage”?). And I’m not sure if they did, but price feels like it went up. Sushi options, which were so creative under Yoshi (the previous sushi chef there), have been limited to five options (and if don’t like their creative ways or overpriced selections), no sushi for you. Of the items we had, the taste was bland and nothing special. Sadly this loyal couple will no longer be coming back to the Grill.