A Chef's Review of Disney Resorts

Chef Dion

Earning My Ears
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Greetings fellow DISers. I've been a fan of the site for some time now, and felt the urge to weigh in on the conversation. First and foremost I have been a lifelong fan of the Disney organization. I am a trained Culinary professional with my degree in Hosptality Management in Culinary Arts, and have been working in the industry for over 10 years after leaving a career in Healthcare, to eventually become my own boss, and actually do something I LOVE. I am in my late forties and have been cooking since I could reach the stove top at age 8. I am currently an independent pastry chef, and consultant for a local brew pub/bistro, while finalize my brand to open my own Patisserie/cafe.

That being said, as wonderful as the gang is at reviewing these restaurants, and I would agree with many of them, I thought the fans would like some input from a Culinary Professional's perspective.

My wife and I took a recent vaction to Disney World , and visited some of our favorite spots, and a few new ones. I have to say I have always dreamed of eating at The California Grill since i was a teenager, but the price tag associated with the experience was out of my budget. But things have changed, so that made the list, s we splurged for the Delux Dinning Plan this trip (which we fully took advantage of). So California Grill will be, the first of hopefully many reviews for you.

First off, the atmosphere, exiting the elevator you are instantly in view of the wine selection, crystal clear glass cases filled with an array of vintages of more wine than I could possibly drink in a lifetime. Bottles sparkling as though lovingly cared for and polished. You turn to the right, and your eye are immediately drawn toward the floor to celing widows overlooking the twinkling lights of The Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, with Cinderella's Castle nestled of in the distance. Once you force yourself to look where your host is leading you, you are escorted to your table, if you're as luvky as I was, or requested ahead of time, it would be next to one of those windows, but fear not every table can see through these windows, tjere are very few obstructions, even with the low walls separating the bar and sushi bar from the dinning room. The lighting an decor are minimalistic, but I'm pretty sure that is to avoid distracting you from the view, because the finishes are quite elegant in their simplicity.

You walk past the bar, open kitchen, and sushi bar if you are seated in the Southern end of the dinning room. This is one thing I love about this venue, you see the kitchen (well, at least the hot line, very rarely to open kitchen concepts show you the prep areas, for good reason). The team had an energy that carried out into the front of house staff, but noise was not a concern. I was impressed with the organized communication and efficiency I witnessed in passing. And boy was it clean, had to pull off with a busy kichen, but not impossible. What can I say? I like kitchens, and if I can see into it, you can bet I'm looking and watching.

The serving staff was excellent. He brought water straight to the table, and explained some details about the menu, and highlighted some of his favorites. As we were on the dining plan, he explained how it would work, especially with the wine list, and inquired about the allergy alerts for the table. And suggested things on the menu to avoid, but said that they could work in some substitutions if need be (something Disney Restaurants does very well). He gave us time to go over the menu on our own. He was well versed in how food was prepared, and wine/beverage pairing.

The Meal

The wife and I ordered our meal in one go, but had our server pace it as usual. That just how we roll, we plan out our whole meal before we place our order (except desset, that we leave open in case the server had a suggestion, or we change our minds). Ours server's pacing was spot on.
I opted for a surf and turf route by ordering the Sashimi Crudo appetiser, paired with the Oak Fired Filet. The wife had the Apple Salad follwed by the Black Grouper.

Apps:
Plating exceptional, on both appetizers.
I recommend eating the crudo as it is listed in the menu, you get a better feel for the progresion of flavors, and it paired pretty well with the Maple Bourbon Old Fashion I ordered. While I would not ordinarily use popcorn with sashimi, I got the reasoning behind the choice of textural component. You couldn't have gotten fish any fresher for a sashimi platter, unless you just caught it yourself. And the Habenero Tobiko was not as svary as it sounds (it was surprisingly mild and well balanced). Each crudo also came on it's own plate to prevent muddling of the flavors across the platter.

My wife enjoyed her Heirloom Apple salad. It came to the table already dressed (and adequitley dressed, not enough to over power the other flavors, nor not so lightly that it fell flat). I loved the combination myself. The mustard dressing tied into the sweetness and tartness of the apples, goat cheese, and candied pecans, bridging them eith the field greens into a cohesive dish.

The Mains:
One thing you should know about me is that I an not ordinarily a Filet fan. When given a choice between a filet or a ribeye or NY strip, the order of preference is ribeye, strip, filet. The filet is a great cut, but I find it lacking in flavor owing to its leanness. But I would absolutely order this steak again. I was a perfect medium rare (edge to edge), with a beautiful ear from the grill, and a nice subtle smokiness. It played nicely with the red wine reduction beneath it (notice it was not covered with the reduction). By plating it this way, the steak picks up what sticks to it and no more, the other way around and some cooks cover it to oblivion, overpowering any chacteristics the steak nay have on its own. The grilled onions were a nice touch, nicely carmelized not overly sweet (again accenting the smokiness of the steak (Nicely plated Chef). I've rarely had spinach prepared so well, it still had some bite and freshness to it. It wasn't over cooked to the point of mush, nor was it creamed. If you think the fat was missing from the steak, look inside that crock of Aged Gouda Mac & Cheese, you'll find it. I'm pretty sure Steve would kill for this stuff. While I personally would have liked the breadcrumbs to have had a little more color, this side, could very well carry its own as an entree. It may look like a side portion, but the creaminess, richness, and depth of flavor (from the Gouda) that came from this side, oacks a wallop. And it is very filling. Almost too filling. I found myself not finishing all of the Mac & Cheese just to save room for dessert. I say if you bulk up the portion size, and toss in a heathly amont of lobster meat, California Grill could have another entree entirely. Maybe some grilled Ciabatta along side.
My wifes grouper was another case of a well executed dish. The fish was fork tender, it just flaked apart. But as I was finding a new found appreciation the filet, the look on my wifes face as she was enjoying this dish, had me jealous. I mean i had my work cut out for me later that evening if I was going to wipe out perform that meal.. i just tasted the rice, and almost got a fork in my hand for the effort. But then i offered a bite of my mac & cheese, and all was forgiven. Not to mention the Chardonnay was aided with in ordering to accompany her meal. Did I not not say our server was really good.

Dessert:
Here is were I think California Grill missed the mark for me. Maybe I just got the wrong dessert, but I personally think it did not live up to it's description. As a pastry chef I'm hard on desserts, but I'm also easily pleased and open to interpretation.

I ordered the Apple tart tatin. After the heaviness (all be it pleasant and enjying) of the Mac & Cheese, I wanted something lighter, without sacrificing my sweet tooth, or a depth of flavor. As descriped this dessert boasts both with its "Applejack brandy-roasted Granny smith apples, cinnamon Streusel , and gooey butter cake ice cream." While holding up to the lighter side, it lacked the depth from roasting. It was cold, but that is a viable means of serving a tart tatin. However, it lacked any of the caramelization one would expect that is a characteristic hallmark for this dessert. It came across textureally as a poached apple dessert, and less of an oven roasted tart. And in so it fell flat. The streusel topping was plated as a side component (it to was lacking) and i found a caramel sauce on the plate as well. But the overall point of a tart tatin is the caramelized apples, which was missing. The gooey butter cake ice cream, i was familiar with from Ample Hills, but for some reason it was icy, as if impropperly stored.
That being said, our server noticed i was not exactly pleased with the dessert, and inquired. A manager offered a different option, but my sweet tooth was wrecked, so I declined. He suggest a refill of my cocktail instead, and I accepted, as he was attimate that I get something to replace the value of the dessert. So, nice guest recovery there.

My wife had a different experience all together. She ordered the plant-based Lavender Doughnut, which I tried. Talk about a night and day experince in execution. The flavor was phenominal. Pete has said that he is impressed with Disney's abilities with plant-based menu option, and I for one agree after experiencing this dessert. I hardly would have thought this to be vegan in any respect.

I applaude the pastry chef for their ingenuity in the area if plant-based options, but they totally failed, in my regard, with their execution of a more traditional and classic dessert in the Tart tatin.

Overall:
I was, for the most part, highly pleased with our experience. I would wholeheartedly go again. I found the value of the meal well worth the 2 dining credits a piece. The atmosphere is breathtaking. The restaurant staff care about the overall experience and quality of the food and service.
Despite my dissatisfaction with dessert, which I'm willing to chalk up to just ordering the wrong thing, I highly recommend this restaurant. Ì'll give a 9 out of 10, owing to the value, quality, and service.
 

Chef Dion

Earning My Ears
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
I know this was long, but the intent was to give a comprhensive review of The California Grill, from a professional chef's perspective. Hopefully this is the first of many Chef reviews. We did stay at WDW for 4 days and did have a lot of fun dining. I look forward to sharing more of our experiences in the near future.
 


hereforthechurros

Here for the spring rolls too
Joined
Dec 26, 2017
Looking forward to more reviews! I did not expect to care for california grill (just the name alone turned me off at first) but the intuitive service, spot on flavors and quality ingredients completely won us over. Few questions if you don’t mind:

Was any cocktail on their menu available to the DxDP? How did you like your old fashioned?
Are flatbreads and sushi considered appetizers on the DxDP?
You return and can only have the grouper or filet... which do you choose?
 
  • auntfrannie

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 30, 2001
    In general I enjoy the food across the Disney properties. But the one area where I feel they're not as good as they once were, is in the dessert category. I hate the deconstructed stuff that tastes nowhere near what it's supposed to taste. I remember going to the Flying Fish years ago (way before the remodel) and always enjoying the pastry chef's creations. Now, not so much. As a matter of fact, I rarely order desserts at Disney because I don't think they're worth the calories. Or maybe I've just gotten old! o_O

    It will be interesting to hear your take on the desserts!
     

    Chef Dion

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Mar 13, 2019
    Looking forward to more reviews! I did not expect to care for california grill (just the name alone turned me off at first) but the intuitive service, spot on flavors and quality ingredients completely won us over. Few questions if you don’t mind:

    Was any cocktail on their menu available to the DxDP? How did you like your old fashioned?
    Are flatbreads and sushi considered appetizers on the DxDP?
    You return and can only have the grouper or filet... which do you choose?
    Regarding the DDP. We had the Deluxe plan. Every specialty cocktail on the mrnu was covered, plus most wines avaiable by the glass (there was a price cap on the wine, but not sure what it was). You can also have your favorite cocktail made for you, if you do not one of their specialties.

    The Flatbreads and sushi are listed in the appetizers categories for the DDP.
    As to a return visit, I rarely get the same thing twice at a destination restaurant, so it would probably be the grouper. But I would have to get that mac & cheese as a side enhancement.
     

    Chef Dion

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Mar 13, 2019
    In general I enjoy the food across the Disney properties. But the one area where I feel they're not as good as they once were, is in the dessert category. I hate the deconstructed stuff that tastes nowhere near what it's supposed to taste. I remember going to the Flying Fish years ago (way before the remodel) and always enjoying the pastry chef's creations. Now, not so much. As a matter of fact, I rarely order desserts at Disney because I don't think they're worth the calories. Or maybe I've just gotten old! o_O

    It will be interesting to hear your take on the desserts!
    I've had some pretty good desserts on Disney property (for example: Sanna's Candy bar, Enzo's Hideaway's Cannoli or Chocolate Tart, and few others). Saddly this one under performed, as it was described. I do like the creativity of a deconstructed plating style, but the components have to be done right (ie. If the original product was baked, then the flavors and characteristics need to match), and the components have to come together cohesively to resemble a complete dessert.
    In the case above, if those apples EVER saw the inside of an oven, it was too low. They baked, but did not caramelize, yielding a more poached apple texture, and less depth of flavor.
     

    Victoriasponge

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jun 4, 2019
    We ate at CG just a few days back and also had an amazing meal. We were on the regular Dining Plan (1QS & 1TS per day) and we’re told that any of the cocktails were available to us plus almost all the wines by the glass including the Champagne! We were also told that 2 of the appetisers could be substituted for a desert, I think one was the soup and the other was the selection of cheeses.

    Our meal was amazing - we shared the cheese plate as an app and both had the filet of beef (med rare) which was amazing! Agree with OP, dessert was not all that, we had the chocolate cake.

    Not a cheap meal but well worth it in my opinion. We were celebrating our anniversary, had a fantastic table by the window overlooking MK, we were given a complimentary glass of Cava each and our waitress, Osiris, was excellent.
     
  • 2xcited2sleep

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 5, 2008
    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your "insider" perspective and hope that you'll share more reviews from your trip. I love the crudo dish at California Grill - SO good!
     

    shellybaxter

    Dis Veteran <br>Disney Restaurants for one hundre
    Joined
    Sep 20, 2003
    Thanks so much or sharing your insights. I look forward to more reviews. I would love to see a list of your dining experiences so I can look forward to what is to come
     

    ksack

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 8, 2005
    Your attention to detail in your report is outstanding! DH and I are considering a 2 point meal on our next trip.
     

    loves to dive

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 21, 2011
    Good review. We loved CG as well. Because there are so many places to eat at WDW, we rarely repeat but I'm sure in a year or two we will eat there again. The service impressed us probably more than the meal. Our server was spot on. I love to do wine pairings and asked about one. He told me they didn't have one per se but he and the chef would be happy to make one that would go with my order. They were spot on.

    I come from a food background as well. Although I don't cook myself my grandmother owed a small restaurant when I was young. I have 5 older brothers, 4 of which have always been involved in the restaurant business one way or another. One manages high end resorts, two are chefs - one specializes in pastry, one was a cook at a local well known hang out.
     
  • Chef Dion

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Mar 13, 2019
    Thanks so much or sharing your insights. I look forward to more reviews. I would love to see a list of your dining experiences so I can look forward to what is to come
    Up coming reviews. Now that Holiday mode is over.

    Jungle Skippers Canteen
    Toledo
    Grand Floridian Cafe
    Sabastian's
    Le Cellier
    Blacspire Outpost (Ronto roasters, Docking Bay 7, and Milkstand)
     

    sparkle78

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Mar 23, 2019
    Curious to see your reports on skipper canteens and Toledo. We had 5 different adult entrees at skippers and none of us enjoyed the meal. However, that was over 2 years ago.
     

    Chef Dion

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Mar 13, 2019
    Finally, I'm back. Holidays, and drumming up new clients has kept me busy. As a refresher, our stay was during the first week of December, and if there is are a few gaps in some details, I am doing this based off of my notes and memory. I will try my best to fill in as much detail as I can.

    As promised in this post I will be revisiting our experience with Jungle Skipper Canteen. A bit of a heads up for this review is in order. I have some rather bizarre food allergies, which I developed while in the military, so this particular location posed some challenges here. I have a Latex allergy, which means I am also allergic to fruits that come from any plant with rubbery leaves (so many tropical fruits fall into this category especially Bananas, Avocados, Kiwis, and Mangoes, despite having grown up loving these, but I like breathing so....). Also we were visiting on a Mickey's Very Merry Christmas ticket, and we had a split stay with our change in resorts occurring earlier that day. We moved from All Star Sports (which we booked separately, after we booked our original stay at Coronado Springs Resort because we had to come in a day earlier to save on air fare). As with California Grill, we were dining on the Deluxe DDP, and used snack credits earlier in the day at Galaxies Edge, as this was our check in day of our stay at Coronado Springs. I say this because we had an issue with the DDP here. Our reservation was at 6 pm for dinner. Now whether or not the Christmas Party came into play here or not, I am unsure.

    Check-in
    I found it odd that the check-in at this location was in two stages. First we walked-up to the podium at 5:45 and were given a pager device to wait. The exterior waiting area was too small, we had to go out to Adventureland and sit on planter benches in front of Sunshine Tree Terrace (there were only enough seats for about 10 people and there were people standing). When the pager went off, we returned to the podium and were then escorted to another waiting area where we waited an additional 5-10 minutes.

    Atmosphere/Theming
    I LOVED the theming here. The first check-in booth is set up as an outdoor patio which fits in beautifully with the Adventureland motif. After being shown into the second waiting lounge with the circular tufted bench, you wait for another host/hostess. But while waiting there are plenty of "Articles" which you can glance over with as much witty commentary as a Jungle Cruise Skipper's Narration, in addition to all of the Award Certificate for Victoria Falls (boy did this gal get around). After you've had some time to meander and peruse, your host/hostess will escort you to your table, sharing much of the same witty banter indicative of a Jungle Cruise Employee. We were told that we were very fortunate to be seated in the reading room, because it's always "booked", as she points out the bookcases encasing the doorway. There are tons of "Old World" exploration maps, and from our table we could see into the next dining room which had glass cases holding various collectibles and knickknacks from the S.E.A.'s various adventures. Lots to look at and enjoy. If you come, feel free to browse to your hearts content. We had plenty of time to.

    Specialty Beverages
    Here the Mrs. had the white house sangria, which was crisp and refreshing, and paired well with her main course. I ordered the Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale, which despite its name, lacked any spice that I could pick out in its flavor profile.

    Appetizers
    The Mrs. ordered the S.E.A Shu Mai, which was plated very nicely in a steamer basket. The flavor was pretty flat in these guys. I think the pork filling needed some seasoning (like salt), otherwise they were cooked well. But they really needed the soy dipping sauce with which they were served. I had the Orinoco Ida's Cachapas, which came highly recommended by our server and many of our fellow Disers. They did not disappoint. The pork was tender and flavorful, and was well balanced with the corn and Fresno pepper salsa (which was very mild). The pork was a great foil for the corn pancakes which we closer to a corn tortilla in my opinion. I honestly don't think it really needs the avocado cream, which our server did have left off the plate for me, which was greatly appreciated, and earned her some much needed service points, which will be touched upon later in the article. I would totally order these again.

    The Mains
    The entrees pretty much followed the pattern here. One failed (bit of an understatement), the other was excellent. Let's start with the positive. The Mrs. ordered the Sustainable Fish. In this case it was a Mahi mahi fillet, which was perfectly cooked, it just flaked apart with a fork, and well seasoned. In my wife's words, "the sauce was stellar". The wilted greens were not overly wilted which commonly happens. It made me jealous watching my wife enjoy her meal as I struggled through mine. Now for the bad news. I really hope my experience, was the exception, please let me know if you had a different experience with the same dish. I ordered the "Hardy Har Char" Siu Pork. While it appeared pleasing to the eye, my first suspicion was confirmed when I stuck my fork into one of the thin medallions. These were completely over cooked. Shoe leather is the word that comes to mind. I had difficulty cutting it with my fork. And because it was overcooked the actual pork had no flavor to marry with the sticky sweet sauce that was drowning it. Any flavor from the Char Siu marinade was long gone. I wondered if these medallions were sitting under a heat lamp waiting all day for someone to order them and got a quick dunk in the sauce before plating and sending them out the kitchen (yes, I've sadly worked in kitchens that do the very same thing to chicken marsala or chicken parmesan). Please Disney tell me that was not the case here. Even the Jasmine rice was overcooked to the point of gummy mush. This dish was a complete and utter failure in my case. I had to ask for extra water to help wash it down.

    Dessert
    Again, this course was hit and miss. And I had to be careful with my choice here because there was only one dish on the menu I could eat. As the restaurant is themed on the more exotic side, tropical fruits are featured heavily in the dessert listings. I opted for the Chef Dion friendly option of the Coconut Bar with Pineapple-Basil Compote and Vanilla Ice Cream. This was a much needed joy after the disaster of a main course. While it read more as a small cake than a "coconut bar", it was light, refreshing, and flavorful. I could have done without the ice cream in favor of a larger piece of cake, but I was happy none the less. I would come back for the dessert. The Mrs. on the other hand had a different experience and even asked for my opinion with what I was able to taste. She ordered the "Quick Sand!!!!", which was a Jasmine Rice pudding, with a mango sauce (which she asked for on the side), lemon curd, hibiscus meringue, and pineapple. She the only thing she liked about this dessert was the tartness of the lemon curd.
    The rice pudding had no flavor whatsoever. I think they just added sugar to the same rice they used for my entree. My guess is that the rice was just a means to carry the other flavors from the curd, mango sauce, and meringue (which boasted a floral flavor, but failed in delivering it). I skipped the mango sauce for obvious reasons. As a pastry chef myself, I would not have served this one up. Most pastry chefs add some flavoring component to the rice pudding, and with the tropical theming of the restaurant, I would have used either some Chinese Five Spice, or Cardamom, which would have played nicely with the other components on the plate, but no attempt was made here to add any flavor to the base of the dessert.

    Service
    Our service experience here was absolutely abysmal. I don't usually speak badly about overworked and underpaid serving staff, because in most cases they try hard, and have other things working against their favor that is out of their control. But this was terrible. It started out okay, she arrived with water for the table, and inquired about the allergy alert for the table, made a couple of suggestions that one the menu that were in line with the allergy requirements. She asked if we were dinning with the DDP and tried to scan our bands when we informed her of our Deluxe DDP. Her reader wasn't showing our plan on file. Which was odd, because as I stated earlier, we were using our snack and meal credits at Galaxies Edge that morning and afternoon. I told her that we just changed our resort this morning, and that we had used the DDP earlier without any problem. She told us that she would see if her lead could help with the error, left the table without taking a drink order, and that was the last we saw of her for over half an our. When she finally returned, she told us that the issue still was not resolved but she would take our order and they would work on getting it taken care of during the meal. By then, we were hungry, and thirsty as we'd already consumed our water while waiting. We placed our orders, and asked for more water, she said she would be right back.... 15 minutes later, after our appetizers were brought out by the kitchen staff, to check on us, we had to remind her of our still empty water glasses. 10 minutes later we got our water. Then the mixed bag that was the entree course came out. We finished our plates and waited patiently, looking about the room, and noticing that the table next to us had been cleared, resat, and served. Our server was nowhere in sight. When she finally reappeared approximately 20 minutes after we finished, she inquired about dessert (so we are assuming by this point that they've cleared up whatever technical issue was going on with our DDP account), we place our order for dessert. By this time it is after 7:30pm. The table next to us gets there dessert and bill, we get our dessert. That table is resat. We flag our server down, and tell her we are ready to sign for our meal, (um we're still working out that technical issue). While we are waiting on our server we ask the server from the other table for some water, as our server seems to be missing in action. 20 minutes later our server returns with our bill, and we sign for our meal, begrudgingly leaving a tip. Not once did a manager come to our table to inquire or inform us with what the issue with the DDP was, nor to check on our experience. Which should have happened well before our meal was ordered, or as a kitchen manager if I saw a half eaten entree, come back with a dessert order. By the time we left it was 8pm (remember this is a Christmas Party night so we've unnecessarily missed an extra hour of party activities) and the table beside us was sat and billed twice before we left. So something went really wrong here, and nobody from management checked up on the guest. I'm pretty sure our server wasn't up to speed either.

    Overall:
    With all that happened, I'm willing to give the Canteen another chance. However, with this review, it may be a while before I revisit. Lackluster food, poor service, no guest recovery attempt whatsoever, I'm hard pressed to give it more than a 5. My dessert and appetizer were good, but I will not be getting the same entree. I'm surprised at the experience I had, because I've heard rave reviews about the Canteen. But this experience was a huge disappointment.

    Follow up:
    We had zero problems with either of our magic bands making DDP purchases at any other site during this stay
     

    sparkle78

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Mar 23, 2019
    So, some food is better and others hasn’t changed. I liked my chimchuri sauce ( sorry math brained, bad speller) that came with my steak. But the actual steak had no seasoning. We thought the rice was mushy too. Another member of our party had what he thought was going to be a pasta dish with noodles, but was more of a soup with just a few noodles and way too much salt added. Bummer, because atmosphere was really cool. Thanks for the detailed description, perhaps we will try it again in a few years when my kids are older and more adventuress eaters.
     

    Deeleebaker

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Sep 3, 2019
    I’ve only had good experiences at Skipper. I had the steak last week and although the server forgot to bring a steak knife, I easily cut it with the regular knife. I can’t speak to the service because I was very distracted that night trying to get a meal delivered to my mothers room as she was ill.

    looking forward to your next review. I’m always interested in trying new places at Disney.
     





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