Carthay Circle Restaurant Review

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Snow White Ceiling

When I heard that Carthay Circle Theatre in the “new” Disney California Adventure was going to house a restaurant and two lounges instead of an attraction, I was quite disappointed. After a couple of visits to the downstairs lounge and a meal at the upstairs Carthay Circle Restaurant, most of that disappointment melted away. Carthay Circle Restaurant is the latest fine dining establishment at the Disneyland Resort and compares quite favorably to Steakhouse 55, Club 33, and Napa Rose.

This should come as no surprise, since Disney has been touting the restaurant and its chefs Andrew Sutton and Gloria Tae, who have both helped to make Napa Rose one of the premier restaurants in the Anaheim area. The menu that they’ve crafted for Carthay Circle Restaurant is like no other in any theme park, and surpasses any in-park dining at either Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Seeing this menu had us convinced that we’d need to experience the restaurant on its opening day, June 15, 2012.

Carthay Circle Restaurant

After drinks at Carthay Circle Lounge earlier in the day (expect a more detailed review on this exceptional lounge at a later date), we returned for dinner at 8 p.m. and opted for terrace seating so that we could experience Magical!, Disneyland’s fireworks show, near the conclusion of our meal. As we were escorted to our table, we noticed incredible details and ornateness all around us. Seeing the beauty of the interior quickly had us wishing that we hadn’t requested a terrace table.

Carthay Manhattan

We started with drinks. My strong recommendation if you’re ordering drinks is the Carthay Manhattan. Over the course of our trip, we sampled several drinks in the lounge, and while all were great, the Manhattan was the real standout. Mixed with the excellent Bulleit Rye American Whiskey, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters, the drink alone is excellent, and not something you’d find at other Disney bars, which typically use the generic bi-coastal Disney Parks Drink Menu (you know, the one with drawings of both Typhoon Lagoon and the Matterhorn in it–I cannot stand this menu), which contains mostly sugary concoctions. However, what really sets apart the Carthay Manhattan is the pressed ice sphere (literally, a single large sphere of ice) that sits in the center of the drink, prolonging its life and perfectly cooling the beverage. If you order this drink from the lounge, head to the bar to watch the bartenders press this sphere from a block of ice. It’s really neat!

Carthay Biscuits

We initially planned on only ordering two appetizers for the four of us: the Halibut Ceviche and Carthay House Biscuits, but once we each tried one of those biscuits, we had to order another basket. Biscuits is a bit of a misnomer, as they’re more like breaded balls stuffed with cheddar, bacon, and just a touch of jalapeno. I suspect these will quickly become one of Carthay Circle Restaurant’s signature dishes that everyone must order (like the Cobb Salad at the Hollywood Brown Derby). The Signature Fire Cracker Duck Wings also looked excellent, and I suspect we’ll try those the next time we dine at the restaurant.

Rib-eye

For our main courses, two of us tried the Grilled Rib-eye, and two of us tried the Bacon-wrapped Shrimp. With the exception of one Grilled Rib-eye that was ever-so-slightly overcooked, all four dishes were fantastic. My Rib-eye was an excellent cut that was cooked to perfection, and the mushrooms and blue cheese were the perfect complement to the meat. In terms of overall quality (though not in type of cut), I found that this Rib-eye compared quite favorably to Club 33′s Chateaubriand or Napa Rose’s Filet Mignon. In fact, I would put it ahead of the famed Club 33 Chateaubriand and just behind the Napa Rose Filet Mignon. It was that exquisite. The Bacon-wrapped Shrimp that I sampled were similarly very good, with the creamy corn-salsa giving them a very unique taste. During our meal I saw the $22 8 oz. Angus Burger pass our table; $22 may seem like an absurd amount to pay for a burger, but after seeing that little (or should I say HUGE) gem pass by, I already know what I’ll be ordering next time!

Fried Banana Split

Dessert was next, and was the perfect way to cap off the meal. Portion sizes of the desserts were small, and I would not recommend them for sharing. I tried the highly recommended Fried Banana Split Monte Cristo Sundae, and it absolutely lived up to the hype. The emphasis here was on the fried banana, with the ice cream taking a smaller role, but balancing off the banana very well. The presentation on each of these desserts was wonderful, although I didn’t have a chance to sample the other desserts because they were all gone by the time I had finished mine. I guess that says something about the desserts! Right as we finished dessert, Magical! began, and we had a clear view to it from the terrace. The music was not pumped into the restaurant (understandably given the clash of themes), but it was still enjoyable to watch the fireworks from a new location.

Service is one issue at both Carthay Circle Restaurant and the lounge downstairs that clearly has some kinks to be worked out. The impression we gathered from our visits is that most (if not all) servers and bartenders at Carthay were poached from other locations on property. We found that some of the servers we encountered weren’t quite as polished and familiar with working in a fine dining establishment as others. Other patrons with whom we spoke whose servers had come from Napa Rose or Steakhouse 55 raved about the service, so it appears that at this early stage, service is very hit or miss. It is worth reiterating that we dined at the restaurant on opening day, so if you’re visiting in a couple months, this may be a non-issue, as by then (hopefully) these issues will be ironed out.

Carthay Hall

After the fireworks, we took a proper tour of Carthay Circle Restaurant, and that’s when the true quality and beauty of the restaurant hit us. From rich wood paneling to photos of Walt Disney to a gorgeous ceiling with art inspired by Snow White, Disney went all out to make this a truly luxurious Disney dining experience. If you do dine at Carthay Circle Restaurant, make sure you tour the restaurant, including all of the private rooms, and make sure to look up at the ceilings, at the walls, and even under the tables. The level of detail and exquisite craftsmanship are astonishing. I’ve already mentioned that I thought my Rib-eye was better than the Chateaubriand at Club 33; well, I also thought the decor and design of Carthay Circle Restaurant is better than Club 33′s (or Napa Rose’s). Club 33 still does have its advantages in exclusivity, history, and service, but that it’s being surpassed by Carthay Circle Restaurant in terms of cuisine and interior quality is interesting–and speaks volumes about the quality of Carthay Circle Restaurant.

Overall, Carthay Circle Restaurant is undeniably one of the elite Disney restaurants, with cuisine and drinks that justify its incredibly expensive prices. (Unofficial Guide to Disneyland co-author Seth Kubersky and TouringPlans.com Researcher Guy Selga dined at Carthay Circle Restaurant on separate occasions after us, and they shared similar high praise for the restaurant.) Given its high prices, Carthay Circle Restaurant certainly is not a place most people will be able to eat everyday, but it is the perfect meal for an occasional splurge or an adults-only date night before enjoying a viewing of World of Color (excellent reserved seating is included for guests who order at least two courses) or dancing the night away at the Mad T Party. It may not be a ride proper to add to Disney California Adventure’s slate of attractions, but Carthay Circle Restaurant is definitely a culinary ride and a great way to enjoy a relaxing and leisurely evening in the park!

Have you dined at Carthay Circle Restaurant or visited the lounge? Want to dine there? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Posted on June 22, 2012

9 Responses to “Carthay Circle Restaurant Review”

  • Nice review, Tom. I agree with almost everything you said. I ate lunch at Carthay on the Saturday after the grand opening and was lucky to get good service. The decor of Carthay is beautiful, I think it’s more swanky than Club 33 and Napa Rose. I prefer the menu at Napa Rose, but that’s just my personal preference (the sword fish and marconi and cheese at Napa Rose are my favorite). The Carthay House Biscuits were amazing. I was shocked when I first saw the $8 price on the biscuits but after eating a few I just wanted to bathe in them. Delicious.

  • Great review! I’ve eaten there twice this week (once for lunch, once for dinner) and thought it was one of the best Disney dining experiences ever — better than WDW’s California Grill, and only a little behind Victoria & Albert’s. A few recommendations: the Carthay Mojito is strong but smooth and not too syrupy; Halibut Ceviche is amazingly fresh with a nice spicy kick; Grilled Quail and Kobe Beef Cheek Sliders were both so fabulously rich and savory that I couldn’t finish them; and the Heirloom Tomatoes with Lemon Olive Oil Sorbet is one of the most heavenly salads I’ve ever had. Ditto on the decadent decor, save for one room featuring photos of latter-day ABC executives that should be taken out and burned (the pictures, not the people); my favorite is the giant image of Walt with Shirley Temple. Finally, my service was professional and attentive each time, but the staff have a little ways to go in terms of effective teamwork and menu knowledge.

  • by Keith C (TheFugitiveGuy) on June 25, 2012, at 11:08 pm EDT

    Wow, how interesting!

    I initially was very excited about dining at Carthay Circle, and actually had hoped to dine their twice last week, but dinner reservations were incredibly tough to get, so I had to settle for only one lunch ADR. In the end, I had such a disappointing experience that I was glad I only had made one reservation!

    To start with, although our reservations were at 1:40, we didn’t get seated until after 2pm, even though we saw later arrivals seated before us. After 20 minutes I went back to check with the cast member to make sure we hadn’t been forgotten, and she explained that they were waiting for tables to clear. So imagine my surprise when we went upstairs to find a nearly empty side room where we were seated.

    From there, the next disappointment was that our server really wasn’t very good. As mentioned in the review above, this is hopefully something that will sort itself out eventually, but I was surprised at the lackluster level of attention, which wasn’t even up to snuff of non-signature dining at Disney. There were so many delays that our lunch ended up taking two hours, which might have been partly due to kitchen delays, but even initially ordering took quite a while.

    Unfortunately, the food didn’t blow us away either. I had stuffed grape leaves which were fine, the house biscuits were definitely yummy, but our entrees weren’t all that special. The steak with my Cobb salad was really dry, my wife’s lamb pasta was ok though the lamb cuts were quite fatty, and my kids’s meals were incredibly small (more like toddler size). The desserts were really good though, and the only thing that excited us about the meal.

    Overall, I would rank this far below V&A, well below Napa Rose, below California Grill, and even below Brown Derby. During the meal I actually kept thinking to myself how Brown Derby does a much better job of being an in-park signature dining experience. Heck, I would rank getting apps at Trader Sam’s as being a better dining experience!

    Maybe I just had bad luck all around, and over time these types of problems will sort themselves out. I just know the next time I’m at Disneyland, that Carthay Circle won’t be one of my “must do” dining experiences.

    Sorry for the long comment, I guess I needed to vent a little :)

  • I’m wondering if kids are allowed at this restaurant? I’d love to go (Sounds wonderful!) but can’t really leave my kids alone to fend for themselves, IYKWIM. Also. when you say that you can get reserved seating for WOC, is this the regular dining area, or a brand new section altogether?

  • Let me first start by saying – I’m a lover of all things Disney, and as soon as I saw the pictured menu items and their descriptions, I was SO excited to dine here. Upon reading the first posted Disney blog reviews, I just knew we were in for a fantastic dining experience. I had booked our Disneyland holiday through Dreams Unlimited travel service in May, and I had my agent promptly book July 9 reservations for our party of 5. We arrived about 5 minutes ahead of our scheduled 7:30 reservation time. We were escorted to an outdoor patio table at 7:40, and our waiter took our orders at about 10 of 8. It went downhill from there – as we waited, waited, and waited for meals that would never come. It was 8:25 when I had my husband track down our waiter to find out what was going on. At this point, my 10 year-old was starving and due to that began to get a headache. My husband came back to the table, and said our waiter had told him “our meals were being plated – 5 more minutes”. We waited another 15 minutes and it’s now nearly 8:45 – we couldn’t wait any longer and my son was now feeling worse. My husband went to the reception lounge to pay for our drinks (which were comped, as they should’ve been) and to tell them we were leaving. We wasted almost an hour and 1/2 sitting and waiting for nothing. Hubby and 2 older sons went about the rides in DCA, but unfortunately now I had to take my ill child back to the hotel. On the way back I stopped and got him a dinner box to-go at Taste Pilots Grill, which took all of 5 minutes. The night was ruined for him and I. I don’t understand what happened with Carthay Circle restaurant, as it wasn’t even that busy. As we were walking to our table we passed many empty tables. The patio where we were seated had only 2 other tables besides ours with patrons. Service definitlely isn’t up to Disney standards – TERRIBLE and won’t be back. What a shame.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your experience.

      That said, even the best restaurant has horror stories like this about it. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great restaurant, it means someone screwed up. In this case, I think the screw-ups might be a little more common right now because it’s still a new restaurant, but I would not write-off a restaurant or assume it’s bad because of one negative experience. Especially if others are reporting great experiences. I would complain loudly to Disney, but not never go back.

  • I agree with most of the above positive comments. We had dinner there with our son, daughter-in-law and grandson two weeks ago and the food was excellent. The biscuits and butter were amazing. Service was a little mixed up – different people coming in to ask the same questions.

    I am hoping that there was a wine list of some sort to compliment the wines listed on the menu. With a total of three wines to choose from – two Cabs and a Chardonnay, the pricing was a bit steep for the reds. While the Cab was excellent the $67 price was a bit steep. I think they will need to add some additional wines to their list.

  • Thought I would do something nice for my wife on her birthday. Made reservations for 1:00 pm. After waiting 30 minutes I asked how much longer, they said we were next. After watching 2 more parties seated I told them I would be canceling my reservation. No offer was given. I think waiting 30 minutes after making reservations is rediculous and I won’t be going back.

  • I made World of Color “dinner combination” reservations for August 6th at 7:30. I’ll post my follow-up after.