With the 50th Anniversary now over, California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort has brought out a new and refreshed prix fixe menu service. Naturally we decided to visit the Signature Dining experience tonight on its very first day to see how the new tastes stack up!
The new California Grill dinner costs $89 per adult, or $39 per child. Signature Wine Pairing is available for $39, and a Deluxe Wine Pairing is $69.
We started off with a refreshed starter bread course — sourdough prepared with an onion starter. The service comes with the tomato and oil, but also salted butter.
The bread is perfection, so crispy on the crust, soft and delicate inside.
Market Inspirations (Appetizers)
We chose the cheaper of the two wine pairings, the signature choice for $39. Deluxe pairings can be added for $69. From the left to the right, we have a Grgich Hills Estate 2019 Fumé Blanc Sauvignon Blanc, L’Ecole No. 41 2018 Syrah, and a Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2018.
Reviews on the wines will be included with their paired dishes.
Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli
Basil-Saffron Pasta, Tomato Broth, Mushroom Ragoût, Fennel
The king has returned! The goat cheese itself if so rich and creamy, seasoned to where it offers a slight-zesty flavor. The pasta is soft and doughy, and thankfully thin enough to not fill you ahead of two additional courses.
The ragout fills out the dish with big chunks of mushroom doused in a fine tomato sauce. This is a must-have for sure.
This pairs with the Honig Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford Reserve 2021. Honig describes it as “Floral notes ranging from honeysuckle to orange blossom are wrapped in peach and exotic citrus tones. The extraordinary interplay between fruit and oak creates a richly textured mid-palate that is seamlessly balanced on solid acidity and minerality. The lengthy finish includes notes of vanilla bean and ruby grapefruit.”
Black Truffle Pizza
Salt-baked Marble Potatoes, Leek Fondue, Crispy Potato Chips, Spicy Honey, Shaved Black Truffle
Expertly prepared, the thin, light, crisp crust is complemented with an unlikely cast of ingredients, including shaved truffle, spicy honey, and curiously, potato chips. The chips provide a great crunch and the spicy honey is the star of the dish.
A nice spicy note left on the lips more than the tongue, lingers for several minutes, providing an enjoyable reminder. This is a fairly large pizza for a single person, so make room in the fridge or enlist your friends to help.
This pairs with the L’Ecole No. 41 Syrah 2018. L’Ecole notes the wine “offers sweet & savory complexity, with dark aromas of blackberry, black cherry, violet, licorice, and crushed rock. Fruit forward and velvety on the palate, this varietally expressive Syrah presents silky tannins, plush mocha, and spiced cinnamon carried by notable freshness. It finishes tangy, flavorful, and persistent.”
Tuna, Salmon, and Hamachi, Avocado, Mango, Pickled Watermelon Radish
An inoffensive and well-presented sushi dish, but we would opt for the Spicy Kazan Roll which our server indicated can be substituted. In fact, the server said most of the lounge items could be substituted in if you wish. This dish is good enough, it stays assembled and the seafood was high enough quality, but it wouldn’t be something we would run back to have again.
This pairs with the Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2019. The winemaker notes “This 2019 Sauvignon Blanc (Fumé Blanc) will tantalize your senses with notes of green pepper, snap pea, lime and star fruit. On the front palate, enjoy the fresh fruit flavors of lemon, lime, and green apple supported by an undertone of sea salt. This wine’s chiseled texture, linear acidity, and long finish make it the perfect pairing with filet of sole, pork loin and savory goat cheese.”
Chef’s Journey (Entrées)
For our three entrées, we got three more types of wine to pair, which will be noted in their respective reviews below. All three this time were red wines.
Wagyu Strip Loin
Kimchi Fried Rice, Steamed Dumplings, Bok Choy, Crispy Lotus Root. (Available for additional surcharge of $47)
The presentation of this is amazing. It’s beautifully sliced and presented on a California Gril-branded board. The main attraction here is the strip loin, and while it was not bad, for the $47 up charge on an $89 dinner, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.
It’s a bit chewy, but the flavor is enjoyable.
The accompanying items outshine the steak itself, starting with the delicious and expertly prepared kimchi fried rice, which contains trimmings from the wagyu strip loin. Hints of sour and spicy are delightful.
The steamed dumplings are absolutely fantastic. They also use trimmings from the wagyu strip loin. While very spicy, the spice adds flavor more than heat, but the warm sensation is pleasing and is the highlight of the dish, which is reminiscent of California Grill’s popular braised short rib wontons. An accompaniment worthy of its own spot on the menu.
This pairs with the Justin “Isoceles” Cabernet Sauvignon Blend 2019. The winemaker describes it as “Full-bodied with ripe complex black cherry, boysenberry, cassis, and blackberry fruit on entry with baking spice. Dusty tannins appear on the midpalate with cedar, dried tobacco leaf, and saddle leather as it progresses. The finish is long, fresh, and balanced with notes of bay leaf, dried red rose petal, oak, and sustained tannins.”
Hasselback Potatoes, Leek Soubise, Artichoke Barigoule, Ramp Pesto
A lot can go wrong with deer meat, from tenderness to a gamey-flavor, but this is perfectly sourced and prepared. It’s tender and juicy, and a nice size portion on top of that. The entire presentation was gorgeous, but sadly the potatoes were chalky in texture. Otherwise, we would recommend it.
For this, we were paired with the Honig Cabernet Sauvignon 2019. Honig describes this wine as “A very aromatic red, offering baking spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and anisette, as well as notes of ripe blackcurrants, plums and dark chocolate. Full-bodied with soft tannins and a ripe yet vibrant and juicy fruit core. Long, warming finish.”
Pan-seared All-Natural Chicken
Sunflower Pea Pesto, Maitake Mushrooms, English Peas, Madeira Wine Jus
This is a perfectly prepared chicken, but you should consider the value before paying $89 for an experience centered around what amounts to a small and basic chicken entree with a somewhat unremarkable presentation. Nobody was wowed, and nobody was offended.
The pea pesto was not our favorite, but the wine jus was fantastic, bringing a sweetness to the dish, though perhaps not enough to make this the memorable dish you should have at a restaurant you booked months in advance.
Finally for the chicken, the paired wine is J. Christopher Medici Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017.
Sweet Creations (Desserts)
Three more wines, all whites, were paired with our desserts.
Meyer Lemon Chiffon Cake
Chevre Whip, Meringue, Blueberry Foam, Blueberry Gel
This is a small but powerful slice of cake with prominent lemon flavors between the layers. The blueberry accompaniments are placed thoughtfully to add in proportions that suit your taste.
Overall a nice touch of vibrant flavors presented tastefully.
The lemon cake was paired with Veuve Clicquot “Ponsardin” Brut champagne, which is described as “made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grape varieties, and is noted for its crisp, dry flavor and delicate bubbles. Aromas and flavors include citrus, green apple, and toast.”
Peanut and Banana Torte
Shortbread, Peanut Ganache, Miso Caramel, Nut Crumble, Caramelized Bananas (Plant-based)
This plant based dessert option should probably be called peanut and coconut fudge, based on the dense texture and the most prominent flavors. Powerful peanut butter flavors with a coconut finish. The banana flavors were much more subtle, and took a backseat. But no complaints here!
We were paired with the Kracher Beerenauslese Cuvée 2018, an Austrian wine described as “On the nose it is sharp, with aromas of lemon and saline touches. On the palate it is precise, spicy and refreshing, with hints of quince. Creamy and concentrated, with lively acidity. Very long, succulent and spicy finish.”
Citrus Crème Brûlée
Angel Food Cake, White Sangria, Sorbet, Ginger Crumble, Mandarin Crémeux, Tangerine, Lychee Gel (Dessert made with or containing alcohol)
One of the best desserts in all of Walt Disney World. The crème is rich and milky and does not have an overt citrus flavor, with a sweetness added by a white chocolate base. There’s then the ability to add a tartness with the sorbet, or some texture and strong cinnamon flavor from the crumbles. It’s a good portion size and is sure to please.
We were paired with the Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2017, which is described as “Dark amber in the glass, this Tokaj Aszú has aromas of honeycomb, jasmine and freesia. In the mouth are intense flavors of ripe yellow peach and dried apricot.”
We do want to preface this review that we’re somewhat spoiled, both being locals and running a website that reviews this sort of food. It’s still amazing, and we recognize how special this experience is for so many people.
The entrées were probably the most underwhelming part of the experience. None of them were bad, but all of the sides and desserts were excellent. Everything we loved from this place, we could probably get at the bar, like the pizza, wontons, and creme brulee.
Fortunately, the views and the service are still incredible. There is absolutely no beating that beautiful vista of the Magic Kingdom and the surrounding area, especially in the evening. The Cast Members are knowledgeable about each of the menu items, and have extensive knowledge of the wine list and pairings. Our service was everything you could ask for and more.
Our entire experience here was better than what we got at California Grill for the 50th Anniversary meal last year, which was a review so negative we didn’t even post it. We certainly don’t think the wagyu entrée was worth the $47 upcharge, since its sides were so much better than the fatty, chewy beef itself.
If you’re coming for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Walt Disney World, we would say yes to California Grill for the atmosphere and experience alone. But you can also come at the right time to the bar and lounge, still take in the view, and enjoy the smaller dishes and craft cocktails. You’ll have that amazing experience, be able to see “Happily Ever After,” and probably save some money. The bar can be accessed by going to the second floor podium and asking whether space is available.
Really, if all you’re looking for is an excellent signature meal, we’re much more likely to point you towards Jiko or Flying Fish rather than here. But the overall experience of the view and service here makes it worth a visit at least once.