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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!