California Grill May 11, 2017

TLDR: Fireworks view is the best outside of Magic Kingdom. Food and service are good, but not the best on property.

FOOD
California Grill has a brand-new vegan menu. I specifically asked about the curry we had last time, and that was still on the online menu when I booked, but it is completely gone now. The only vegan option now is the “unplugged,” but now you get to pick your 4 items instead of the chef surprising you. I like the change of getting to pick your items, because last time I got the unplugged, I was not happy with 2 of the selections, and would not have picked them if I’d been given a choice. What I don’t like about the change is that our options of appetizer and salad are gone, and essentially rolled into the “unplugged,” which means vegans can only get an entrée, which means that the bills for vegan tables are going to be significantly less than non-vegans, which I think leads to the servers dreading vegan tables instead of welcoming us like any other guest.

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We got to try 6 of the 6-8 vegan dishes in our 2 “unplugged” dinners. Six of the selections are marked vegan. Two additional looked vegan to me, and looked very good, so I asked what made them not vegan. The server asked the chef and reported that they’re not marked vegan because of potential cross contamination, but they could make them vegan for us upon request. I’m glad we asked, because one ended up being my favorite. We tried the Crispy Tofu Steak (requested vegan), Carrot Ginger Puree (requested vegan), Vegan Fried Rice, Vegan Beet Salad, Vegan Black Truffle Selezione Pasta, and Vegan Bahn Mi Flatbread.

Of the dishes, the ones I’d definitely order again are the Carrot Ginger Puree and Crispy Tofu Steak. The ginger flavor of the Carrot Puree was subtle and complemented the carrots well, and the root vegetables served with it were roasted to perfection. The tofu steak had a nice flavor and mix of ingredients.

The Fried Rice was good; it tasted *exactly* like my fried rice at home. While I am a very experienced cook, I expect something a little more exotic at a fine dining restaurant. The Black Truffle Selezione Pasta was good, but the truffle oil was a bit overpowering to the other flavors, and I had a hard time finishing it because of that. The rice and pasta were comparatively large portions, and made for a very filling meal.

The beet salad was mostly beets, and very good if you like beets. We shared the one portion and it was enough (I couldn’t quite eat that many beets by myself!). The Flatbread was essentially a couple crackers with a tiny bit of the listed toppings—not impressive flavor- or presentation-wise.

One complaint I have with the food is *everything* was garnished with cilantro. A garnish is supposed to complement the food not just in appearance but in taste, and cilantro just didn’t make sense with every dish. But I was able to remove it easily enough.

Dessert options were fruit or an allergy-friendly chocolate-coffee torte that “would take 20 minutes to defrost.” We’d actually had the chocolate cake before (we took it to go while it was still frozen and ate it at our hotel later that night after it thawed). We chose not to wait for it/take it to go this time. I wasn’t crazy about it before because I don’t like coffee, but it’s a good option for coffee-chocolate lovers, if you don’t mind the wait (maybe tell your server at the beginning of your meal if you intend to have it, and that way they can defrost it while you eat your dinner). It’s kind of odd to have a frozen dessert (instead of freshly prepared) at a fine dining restaurant, but since it’s a special allergy-friendly dessert, it kind of makes sense.

SERVICE
I’ve been to California Grill twice now, and both times, I’ve been less than impressed by the service. Our server this time was very nice, at least, but we still went without drinks for very long periods of time, and our experience wasn’t as smooth as I would expect from a premiere restaurant.

AMBIANCE/VIEW
You can’t beat being at the “top of the world.” The view from inside the restaurant before the sun goes down is breathtaking, and the fireworks view is unbeatable outside of Magic Kingdom. Since it’s one of the more expensive restaurants on property, and secluded from other parts of the resort by being on the top floor, the atmosphere feels a little less “resort casual” and a little more formal, which makes an occasion feel that much more special.

There are two terraces for viewing the fireworks, and they are both lined with speakers. The music is piped in, and it’s LOUD—you don’t have to worry about not hearing like at some other locations. Even if people around you are talking, the music drowns them out. You have a birds-eye view of all the fireworks and can relax and enjoy the entire show. Even outside of fireworks times, the view is spectacular. It’s worth spending a little time after your meal just enjoying the terrace.

I can’t emphasize how fantastic the view is. We ate here on the final night of Wishes, and it was the perfect send off to my favorite show.

SUMMARY
While the food was good yet underwhelming, the view and ambiance would persuade me to come back again. If you’re considering going, I’d suggest trying it at least once, especially for a special occasion. Expect to be impressed by the view, and merely satisfied by the food.

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