As those of you who are familiar with the TMSM Nation Facebook page know, my favorite resort is Disney’s Contemporary. It’s not surprising then that the restaurant my wife and I frequent would be the California Grill. I should forewarn you that if you are looking for a high end restaurant with an equally matched level of decorum, you should probably try the Grand Floridians Albert and Victoria. At the California Grill you will find an eclectic mix of patrons ranged in dress from less than casual to ballroom dinner attire. This can throw you off a bit if you expect a quiet romantic meal as the Grill can be quite noisy, but don’t despair and read on.
You’ll arrive at the second floor for check in near the escalators, there are usually two cast members who will greet you with warm smiles. Here you are given a pager and invited to come back when it goes off or to go up to the Grills well-appointed bar. This is your opportunity to ask politely for your table of choice, but remember that the cast member may not be able to fulfill your request.
There is only one elevator which is allowed to go to the top floor for patrons and you will be escorted up. When you walk out of the elevator, you will be greeted by the restaurants concierge and ground to ceiling cabinets full of wine. While this spectacular sight will overjoy the wine lovers, the Grills raison d’être is its view. Simply put, you get to eat a fine meal with the World as your backdrop. There are two decks outside which are only accessible from the restaurant, but these decks are closed when the weather turns bad. It’s a good idea to remember that this is Florida and Hurricane season often turns the sky overcast for the late afternoon and evening, which ruins those picture perfect sunset photo ops.
The Grill reopened in September of 2013 with a refreshed sophisticated look (highlighted by the atomically inclined lighting.) As I mentioned before, the bar is well stocked. Over 80 wines by the glass, some 250 wines by the bottles. Beyond that you have a wide choice of Sake, Microbrewery beers, Ciders and a host of delicious cocktails. My favorite is the Sake Martini, which includes an edible orchid which provides a little bitterness to this sweet concoction. No California styled restaurant would be complete without a Sushi bar. The Sushi always looks appealing to the eyes, but I can’t stand the taste. I can only live vicariously through the enjoyment of other patrons and I am yet to see anyone leave disappointed.
After devouring a few cocktails and enjoying the view, your beeper will go off and you will have to walk the fifteen feet back to the concierge desk before being escorted to your table. The layout of the dining area is comfortable, but intimate. My wife and I have had some great conversations with fellow diners. The menu changes not only to match the season, but to remain fresh. I often enjoy the three meat meatballs as a starter, which used to come with a delicious herbed Orzo. The moral here is to not get too attached to menu items and enjoy the change, even if your favorite pilaf is replaced with parmesan grits. As with almost every eatery in the kingdom, the California Grill is well equipped to deal with allergies. The chefs I have dealt with have all been well versed in food allergies and they are ready to adapt their menu. I found myself one time asking the chef if I could have the same meal he was preparing for my wife as it sounded delicious, my taste buds were not disappointed.
The dessert list is not long, but the choices are all fantastically delicious. Our personal favorite is the vanilla bean crème brulee, but the inner child in me often craves the medley of throwback flavors found in the flight of ice cream sundaes. Liqueurs and coffee are available to finish off the meal. The coffee is great, but problems such as wondering how I am going to move my stuffed stomach has denied my desire to taste the bevy of after dinner alcoholic beverages. This of course means you will always want to come back for another culinary adventure.
Depending on your reservation time, the ambiance and experience can be quite different. This is the best place in the park (excluding the DVC Bay Lake Tower,) to see the fireworks. Arrive at the restaurant early enough and it starts fairly quiet and ends with the bustle of chattering patrons. You will obviously end your meal well before the fireworks display, but don’t fret. As long as you hold on to your meals receipt, you will be allowed back up to the California Grill to watch the show. This gives you a chance to walk off some of those magical Disney calories. On our last visit we even had time to knock out a fast pass to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train before returning to the Contemporary. The restaurant does tend to quiet down considerably during the show, this is not a bad time to get a reservation as it gives you the opportunity to eat while being entertained in a very romantic setting.
Finally, enjoy one final drink after the show or savor the view from the balcony. While the restaurant uses the entire bank of elevators to exit out of the restaurant, it can take some time for the post show rush to filter out. Why rush to end a fantastic evening?
~ Guest Blog by Jason Jeans
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