For many years the first thought that surfaced upon a mention of Disney World was Space Mountain. Watching the people come and go in the parks and their various states of joy, exhaustion, or misery leads me to believe that is about par for the course. Further discussions with the uninitiated reveal much the same result. Rides. For kids.
The first year we discovered the Dining Plan (it was actually the Silver Plan at the time), was the year I truly fell in love with Walt Disney World as an adult. I had spent many years working in a variety of restaurants in the urban sprawl I call home, and developed a taste for finer foods, and suddenly Epcot’s World Showcase became my mecca. To say that the dining plan opened this door is an oversimplification and will be discussed further in a later post. For now we’ll set that, as well as the wealth of amazing flavors around the World Showcase Lagoon, aside and focus on what became and still stands as my favorite restaurant anywhere.
The California Grill sits atop the Contemporary Resort, fifteen floors up, behind walls of windows that provide amazing views all the way around. The food is billed as internationally inspired California Fusion and the menu adjusts to reflect fresh ingredients. There is an extensive wine list, both standard and reserve, bearing a distinct focus on California (it’s a theme, right? The California thing?) vineyards but does offer vintages from several other locales from around the globe. And yes, dear readers, there is a fully stocked bar to fill in the gaps.
I must first admit that while I have dined here every single year since we discovered it, I cannot seem to steer myself away from the same dishes every time. If, however, these flavors are any indication (and I have it on good authority that it is) everything offered is nothing short of magnificent. Here is my typical meal:
- Gin & Tonic
- A bottle of Pinot Noir
- The Cheese Board (I promise you there is magic in it’s pairings)
- Sushi (Yoshi, the genius behind these incredible rolls, changes the name and presentation of my favorite every so often, but I have never been disappointed)
- Oak Fired Filet (Perfectly cooked with a light Teriyaki BBQ glaze. I shudder even thinking about it)
- Whichever desert seems the least chocolatey (I do love chocolate, but it always seems so heavy when I reach this decision)
- Coffee, black (Whatever their blend, it is always perfectly balanced to follow these culinary dreams)
We always make our reservations about 45 minutes prior to the fireworks going off at the Magic Kingdom. During the show, the interior lights are dimmed and the soundtrack is piped throughout the restaurant, guests are also invited to take their cocktails with them to the outside observation deck. Either choice is special and has become one of our most romantic times.
What brings all of this together is the experience itself. Reservation check in happens on the 2nd floor of the hotel, followed by an escorted elevator ride to the top. We are always given a pager and invited to the bar but can only think of one occasion where we were not sat immediately upon exiting the elevator. The atmosphere is elegant yet subtle and very warm with a show kitchen at its heart.
And here I start a special paragraph on the staff, many of whom we have gotten to know on a very basic level as they are there every year. From the check in to the seating to the waitstaff to the management, these people are incredible. Fun if you like, almost invisible if you prefer, but always timely, friendly, and knowledgeable. Their recommendations have never failed me and the conversation never dull. My glass is never empty and my table never cluttered. Like so many of my fondest memories of Disney World, it is once again the people who elevate an already amazing restaurant to a magical experience.
We never miss this one and I spend the intervening days between visits dreaming of Yoshi’s flawless sushi. I’m thinking of starting her fan club, let me know if you want in.
- The California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Two points for those on the Dining Plan, estimated at $60 per person otherwise
- Reservations strongly suggested
- Perfect spot for fireworks viewing
- G’s favorite restaurant in the universe…don’t miss the sushi