LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – With sweeping views of Walt Disney World Resort from the 15th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, California Grill features a spacious dining room with a modern style that captures the spirit of California throughout the design, reimagined in 2013 from the original dining room that opened in 1995.
When guests step out of the elevator on the 15th floor, the panorama view is the first sensation. Whether watching the sun dip slowly over the Seven Seas Lagoon or the bird’s-eye perspective of the Magic Kingdom, diners know it’s going to be a memorable evening.
“The wall of windows and the vast horizon reminded the interior designers of mid-century modern California residences high up on hilltops,” says Eric Jacobson, senior vice president of creative development, Walt Disney Imagineering. Mid-century modern describes mid-20th century design from about 1933 to 1955, a form that flourished in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“The prime position atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort really spoke to us,” Jacobson continues. Warm oranges and yellow hues inspired by the magical sunsets of both California and Florida are foundational colors. A touch of Disney from that era is incorporated into the carpet design reminiscent of the sketches of artist and Disney Legend Mary Blair, who created the character designs for Disney attractions such as it’s a small world, and inspired the100-foot-high colorful mosaic tile art on the fourth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Reproductions of Blair’s original artwork are displayed.
A show-stopping wine display as guests exit the elevator houses 1,600 bottles in a dramatic, climate-controlled, state-of-the-art showcase. Focal piece at the entry is an oil painting of California’s Napa Valley by California landscape artist Ann McMillan.
Stretched fabric artwork also adorns the walls, expanding the color palette with bright, fun prints. Replicas of mid-century modern ceramics, as well as all-new custom lighting with colorful globes complement the vibe.
At night, the Magic Kingdom fireworks still are part of the show, with music piped in at two outdoor viewing areas – one on the northwest side, another new deck on the southwest side.
The onstage kitchen includes stacks of wood for the wood-burning oven, “bringing organic nature into the space,” says Jacobson.
Dining room highlights include two communal tables, each seating 10, strategically positioned at the north end of the dining room for optimal fireworks viewing. The 10-foot teak tables get a touch of color from hot pink chairs with leather seats, a bold departure from the rest of the room with linen-draped tables and wooden chairs.
Servers in crisp silver shirts, black slacks and classic mahogany bistro aprons with silver pinstriping add an air of casual elegance to the dining room. The Napa and Sonoma private dining rooms are available for private functions, as well as a glass-walled wine room in the main dining room.
Cuisine features seasonal ingredients and a lighter touch, such as heirloom tomatoes, local seafood including Gulf Coast prawns and Cedar Creek clams, and Zellwood corn in salads, soups and paired with fish. An expansive sushi bar features pristine seafood.
“California Grill always will be a place that’s creative, seasonal, sophisticated and fun,” says Chef de Cuisine Brian Piasecki. Piasecki’s menu is “all about the composed dish, tastes that are designed to complement each other” he says. For instance, Pacific halibut with parsnip silk, roasted heirloom beets, arugula, macadamia vinaigrette and beet syrup: “taste the silky puree, the salt-roasted beets, the delicate fish, crunchy macadamia nuts . . . together it’s a symphony,” says Piasecki.
Longtime menu favorites remain, such as pork tenderloin, now Pork Two Ways, grilled tenderloin and lacquered pork belly with goat cheese polenta and mushrooms. The oak-fired filet of beef is served with heirloom tomato risotto, marinated baby vine tomatoes and basil. Popular Sonoma goat cheese ravioli has a tomato fennel broth with crispy shiitake mushrooms.
From the wood-burning oven, a “Surf & Turf” includes New Smyrna, Fla., clams, saffron-infused fennel, chorizo butter and bone marrow. Baked local prawns are served with charred lemon, arugula, and tomato and cippolini onion relish. Signature meatballs come with piquillo pepper grits and eggplant piperade. Flatbreads are still on the menu, topped with house-cured bacon, heirloom tomatoes and local Meyer lemons.
Pastry Chef Jeff Barnes offers diverse sweet endings, such as a light, refreshing Meyer Lemon cheesecake, chocolate pudding cake with banana fritters, and his favorite, the Sundae Sampler, a trio with a Coke float, strawberry sundae and caramel corn sundae. “Such great flavors on one plate,” he enthuses.
Barnes also created two new breads just for California Grill – a whole-grain sourdough and a lavender-infused focaccia made with fresh California lavender, olive oil and herbs.
Wine & Cocktails
Known for its solid wine list, California Grill, under the guidance of sommelier Michael Scheifler, offers about 250 wines on the list, 72 percent from California, another 22 percent Old World wines and 6 percent New World wines.
“We have something for every palate,” says Scheifler, “from a first-growth Bordeaux to a boutique wine from Oregon or South Africa, there are some really special, highly allocated bottles.”
There are 80 wines by the glass, and more than 20 sommeliers on staff make pairing easy. The expanded sushi bar gets an expanded sake list, with nine varieties, from a light, sparkling sake to cask strength, says Scheifler. And there are eight kinds of craft beers and ciders on the menu, mostly from California.
Signature cocktails are recipes created by staff mixologists, from a bold sake martini to a breezy cucumber drink and a San Fran Pisco Sour – and the California Grill is the only Disney restaurant that serves the creations.
Cheese boards pair nicely with beverages, including Point Reyes (Calif.) blue; sharp, earthy Petit Agour from the French Basque region; Cypress Grove (Calif.) black truffle cheese; MT TAM triple cream from California, and SeaHive from Utah.
California Grill opens at 5 p.m. daily for dinner. For more information or to book a reservation, visit www.disneyworld.com/dine or call 407-WDW-DINE (939-3463).