Best Food on the Grill
Located atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Grill has become nearly as well known for its stellar views as its market-inspired food. And those two factors can make this a tough table to book.
My last visit here, however, when the restaurant had just reopened after an in-depth refurbishment, was somewhat disappointing. At the time, I chalked it up to the kitchen having an off night; after all, I had enjoyed incredible dining here many times before.
If you’ve never visited California Grill, then there’s one thing you should know: you don’t just head to the 15th floor. Your journey actually starts on the 2nd floor of the Contemporary where you check in. Even if you’re just heading to the first-come, first-served Lounge, this is your first stop.
You’ll then be escorted via a private elevator to the 15th floor. In this way, staff act as gatekeepers for the popular spot. If left unattended, it would get pretty busy up there, especially around Wishes-at-Magic-Kingdom time.
Once you make your way upstairs, a bank of Wine Fridges greets you straight ahead.
You walk through the Lounge and Bar to get to the restaurant’s main seating area. That sounds as though these are different spaces; they aren’t. Basically, with the exception of a few private dining rooms, the restaurant features an open floor plan, accentuating the sweeping views and retro-meets-modern vibe.
If you find yourself without an ADR, there’s still hope. You can sit in the Grill’s Lounge and order from the menu, or just enjoy Drinks, Sushi, and Appetizers. Be forewarned, though: it’s not uncommon for this area to reach capacity as the night goes on. Here at 5PM, though, it was pretty bare.
Wrap around to the main seating area, and you see that nearly every table commands an excellent view of the surrounding landscape, including Magic Kingdom and the Resorts situated around Seven Seas Lagoon.
Seating varies here and includes both tables and chairs and booths.
There are also a selection of tables that mix banquette and chair seating. Note that white tablecloths and cloth napkins are the norm here, lending to the upscale air of sophistication.
Booths are somewhat unique in that they are located in the middle of the floor. That means that you can enter from either side, and there will be traffic on both sides of your table, similar to what you find at Jiko. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it does mean that your booth won’t be as secluded as you might like.
But the view outside of the windows isn’t the only thing you have to look at.
The well-orchestrated, professional hustle and bustle that’s happening behind the counter in the on-stage kitchen can be fascinating as well.
Although we will focus today on the food here, the sweeping, panoramic vistas certainly bear mentioning. You can see for miles!
And that’s one of the biggest draws of California Grill — this view, especially when it comes to seeing Wishes. If that’s an experience that you’re after, I recommend that you book your ADR to coincide with the fireworks show. But rest assured — even if you eat earlier (as we did), you can still come back to take in Wishes from the viewing platform outside of the restaurant.
Time to check out the menu items we tried during this visit.
I have my favorites, and you’re going to see them during our journey. But Chef Brian Piasecki and his staff also like to change things up seasonally…sometimes even weekly. So I’d like to think I’m offering you a glimpse of the best of both — classic and new.
We began by taking a look at the Grill’s extensive Drink Menu. You’ll find interesting cocktails with an emphasis on classics, although they’re often reinterpreted with fresh flavors.
We’ve enjoyed the Sake Martini on a previous occasion, and can definitely recommend this beautiful drink to start off your meal.
This time out, my husband decided to enjoy an Innis & Gunn, a Scottish Beer. In addition to a fine wine list, beer and cider drinkers will find several excellent options to choose from. And we’ve enjoyed Innis & Gunn for the last couple of years at the Scotland Booth during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, so we knew this rich, oak-matured beer would be a winner.
Nothing on the cocktail list was speaking to me tonight, so I decided to enjoy another classic, a Long Island Iced Tea. It was strong and tart — perfect.
That wasn’t stopping us from checking out the Wine List, however. And really, if you’re a wine drinker, you have to give it a once over. While the emphasis here is California Wines (natch), you’ll find an incredible — and lengthy — list of wines from all over the world, available by the glass or bottle. I love this, since it makes pairing with different courses a cinch, and allows everyone at the table to enjoy the wines he or she likes.
And I did actually order a glass to go with dinner! Because how better to enjoy this wonderful view? (Yep, that’s right. If you’re keeping track, that’s my second drink of the night. )
The Menu at California Grill isn’t as long as the one at your local Denny’s. But pay attention, because every dish is multifaceted with lots of components. And if you don’t understand something, be sure to ask! The wait staff are well accustomed to explaining the ins and outs of the menu.
After we made our choices, we began our meal with complimentary Bread Service. Breads are baked fresh for the California Grill, and include Rolls and Focaccia. The bread came with a small plate of salted Butter.
In short order, our appetizers began to arrive. My husband, as usual, opted to begin with an Artisan Romaine Salad, the Grill’s upscale take on a Caesar. Baby Romaine Hearts (no babies or hearts were harmed in the making of this salad) are topped with Boquerones (marinated anchovies), Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Brioche Croutons. The salad is lightly dressed with a flavorful Roasted Garlic Dressing. He enjoyed the fresh, sharp flavors and beautiful presentation.