One of Walt Disney World’s most popular and loved restaurants just got better. California Grill offers the chance to have…
California Grill, which underwent a nine-month refurbishment last year, opened back up in the fall. You’ll now find shades of yellow, blue, orange and red, along with dark wood and nods to famed Imagineer Mary Blair. The effect is both chic and comfortable at the same time. And of course, you’ll still enjoy that spectacular view.
With an entirely new look, it’s not surprising that the menu has changed a bit as well. While the menu has some incredible new additions (hello, banana fritters with salted caramel sauce, I’ll see you in two weeks), I’m going to focus here on two standbys that guests have grown to love over the past few decades: The filet and the pork loin.
I have a confession to make: I’ve been having a deep, personal relationship with the pork two-ways from California Grill. You may say “Oh, it’s just another pretty dish” or “How can it be any better than its previous incarnation, the pork loin?” Well, it’s better, trust me. And it’s completely worthy of its own post.
If you dined at the California Grill before the recent refurbishment, you know that the pork loin was its number one dish for two decades. It was simple peasant food really, just a basic polenta flavored with goat cheese and topped with a few slices of lightly seasoned tenderloin and some button mushrooms. It’s simplicity, of course, was also what made it perfect. But while it was filling and satisfying, it had gotten a little bit boring. In recent years, I’d found myself straying over to the scallops or, if I was feeling especially adventurous, the sushi. It, not unlike the décor and the overall feel of the rest of the restaurant, was in serious need of an overhaul.
When the California Grill opened back up a few weeks ago, I was pleased to see that they had updated, but not removed entirely, some of its best dishes, the pork being one of them. Now you’ll get a smaller serving of pork loin topped with fried sage and another serving of pork belly. Pork belly, you say? Think a big square of bacon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
Disney’s particular brand of magic does not usually require augmentation with spirits, unless you’re at the Haunted Mansion, but when…
The California Grill has always been my restaurant of choice when I wanted to celebrate a big event, so I was a bit nervous when they announced a major makeover for the space. But I needn’t have worried. The space is beautiful and the food still wonderful. If anything, I think they were a bit conservative in their vision.
You can now get your first look at the re-imagined California Grill as it is now open for dining, or drinks and a snack in the lounge (they serve the full menu there too), but the transformation didn’t happen overnight. Since the signature restaurant at Disney’s Contemporary Resort closed to guests in January, the space has been humming with activity. The wood-burning oven is just about the only thing that stayed in place as the kitchen and dining rooms got major makeovers.
Shortly after the installation of new floor-to-ceiling windows, a time-lapse camera went into place on the fifteenth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, capturing all the construction and remodeling between June 2013 and the last test meals before opening to guests September 9th. I have a cameo during the 1:44 mark. But don’t blink!
Below the jump is a video featuring General Manager Michael Scheifler discussing the changes:
California Grill Chef de Cuisine Brian Piasecki spent nearly a year perfecting a new menu with seasonal ingredients and a lighter touch, such as baked local prawns and wild Columbia River salmon with Zellwood sweet corn pudding. He’s been a part of Disney’s excellent foodservice team since his apprenticeship in 1991, rising through the ranks to eventually take over The California Grill in 2009. I had the chance talk with Chef Brian a few days before the restaurant officially reopened after a long remodel process:
Full bio below the jump:
Last night I was invited to attend a gala party to re-open the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort. In addition to a revamped menu, they remodeled the dining area with a mid-century modern look inspired by Disney artist Mary Blair, added a new show kitchen, even upgraded the exterior with new windows and allowed easy access to the south observation deck for the first time. On both observation decks they added new lights and a new sound system that delivers the fireworks soundtrack clearer than ever before.
After dinner we were all invited outside to watch Wishes performed in the air over the Magic Kingdom. We choose the new south observation deck which allows a better view of the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella Castle. You’re able to see the front of the castle, which if you have great vision or a zoom lens, lets you get the digital projection show too and I’m sure will be spectacular when it’s lit up for Christmas season.
Below is a video of Wishes taken from the very end of the deck.
If you twist my arm and force me to pick my favorite restaurant at Walt Disney World, I’ll probably say…