Wednesday, April 19, 2006

California Grill

For our last night at Disney World we dined at the California Grill. Located on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort, the restaurant gives an excellent view of the Magic Kingdom area and the Seven Seas Lagoon. The added bonus, if you time your reservations right, is that you get to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Of course, this added bonus comes with a few minor annoyances. Because of the fireworks, a ton of large family groups descend - no wait - ascend onto the restaurant. Lots of kids. Lots of whiny and tired adults. And the noise! When you step out of the elevator you think you have actually descended into Dante's first circle of hell. Loud boisterous restaurants can drive me into cranky mode. And this turned out to be one of those occasions.

Our waitress, Rachel, came to our rescue. She was calm and patient. We had time to peruse the wine list and the menu. For imbibing we selected a 2001 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. Although California Grill offers sushi and sashimi, I had eaten fish in some form three nights in a row. Thus, we skipped the fish and decided to share a Hearts of Romaine Salad with Green Goddess Dressing and Aged Parmesan. When the salad arrived, the kitchen staff had already separated it onto two plates. This attention to detail and service was a godsend and soon the restaurant noise faded into the background.

For dinner, my husband decided upon the Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta, Cremini Mushrooms, Zinfandel Glaze, and Sage. I ordered Oak-fired Beef Filet with Three Cheese Potato Gratin, Sugar Snap Peas, and Tamarind Barbecue Sauce.

But wait...the fireworks are about to begin. The main course is put on hold until the Magic Kingdom show has ended. We take our wine glasses with us to the observation deck. The music and narrative, complete with Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy, is broadcast over speakers. Gigantic explosions are always fun. And Cinderella's Castle...well, it's a fairy tale vision.

Upon returning to our table, we were relaxed enough to notice that most of the functioning kitchen prepares the meals behind a bar out in the open. Watching kitchen staff coordinating the dance of food preparation is always fascinating. Doing this in a transparent setting takes skill from a management/chef perspective and from a skill perspective. We noticed two seats at the bar closest to the cooking action were unoccupied. Next time, those seats are ours! Watching these professionals will be an entertaining show, too.

We enjoyed our main courses. My husband thought the pork very tender and tasty. The polenta was too cheesy. With my fillet, the sweetness of the tamarind sauce paired well with the grilled meat. The sugar snap peas were very sweet. The potato gratin was too heavy and cheesy for me, but hubby lapped it up. The restaurant was clearing out a bit and dinner was relaxing.

As we were finishing our wine, we needed to decide whether to have dessert. Our verdict: share one dessert. But what to get? After some negotiations we settled upon Braeburn Apple and Brown Butter Tart with Apple Brandy Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce. And while my spouse ordered coffee, I finally had the chance to try G. E Massenez Poire Williams Eau-de-Vie (the pear brandy I could not obtain at the French bistro in Epcot). The apple tart gave us a nice end to the evening. The apples had the right amount of tartness, not too sweet. The sweetness came from the caramel sauce and the ice cream. The brandy packed a lot of alcohol with a hint of pearness, but was drinkable with dessert. Not something I would have after dinner on a regular basis.

Despite all of the noise and chaos in the beginning, California Grill is a place we consistently return to every time we are at Disney. The fireworks, great wine list (with not-too-outrageous prices), and professional and knowledgeable staff have been memorable every time.

No comments: