Every Item Reviewed From California Grill Opening Night

by 60 Comments

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print
desk

California Grill Check-In

The California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort re-opened yesterday after a 9-month refurbishment, and the TouringPlans team was there for a review.

California Grill had been holding “preview” events since at least September 5, including a hosted event for readers of the Disney Parks Blog on Sunday, with free food and drinks. Most of those reviews were effusive, with comments such as “California Grill is even more spectacular than before.” But previews are planned events, with Disney-vetted guests and free alcohol. Monday was for reals, as the kids say, with paying customers and high expectations.

Did California Grill live up to the hype? No.

In terms of best Disney World restaurants that aren’t named Victoria & Albert’s, Jiko is still tops in my book. California Grill might not even make your top 5, depending on how you feel about Citricos, Artist Point, bluezoo, and Yachtsman Steakhouse. But it has potential.

Below is an item-by-item review of everything on the menu. The 22-person TouringPlans team ordered several of each item, and each dish was served at least 30 minutes apart. Doing this allowed us to sample the kitchen’s skills across the evening, and ensures that one sample of one dish doesn’t unduly influence our review.

If you’re looking for a quick summary, here it is: the kitchen was inconsistent all night, with any two servings of the same item varying widely in quality. One order of the Oven-dried Tomato Flatbread would come out undercooked, with soft crust and too much garlic; the next would be crisp and properly seasoned. One table’s order of Georges Bank Scallops would be their favorite, while the next table over complained of grit and too much salt. The kitchen was so inconsistent that we’re not going to assign a rating to California Grill right now.

The kitchen staff seemed completely overwhelmed by the crowds the entire evening. I’ll have to check whether the refurbishment added seats, but it seemed that the kitchen just couldn’t keep up with demand at any point. Granted, we had 22 people spread across three tables, but each course took more than 30 minutes to be served, from the time the first item was brought to the time the last item was delivered. And the restaurant was going to be full, regardless of who was sitting at the tables. We ended up eating each course in shifts, with leftovers being passed from table to table, the fed to the unfed. (The bar staff were also overwhelmed. At one point around 7:45 PM, I counted exactly two bartenders trying to serve drinks to an entire restaurant, plus twenty or so of us needing a little something to, you know, take the edge off.)

I am not one of those people who believe you should give restaurants a break on opening night. That’s what previews are for. The kitchen knew yesterday’s premier date weeks ago. They knew how many people would be seated. If you’re charging $49 for tenderloin beef, you can’t make excuses. They’re professionals, and they know what’s expected.

That said, the servers and roaming managers were unflappable in all of kitchen’s chaos. If there’s one thing that’s going to save California Grill while the kitchen finds its legs, it’s the hard-working men and women who smooth things out between guests and chefs. We ran our servers – Stephen, Abdou, and Jessica – ragged, but they were the stars of the evening. They had assistance from roaming manager Josh and Ray at the bar. Great job, folks.

And now, the food reviews. We used a 5-point scale, with 5 best. Each item’s description comes directly from the menu. Staff Pick denotes the team’s favorites.

From the Wood Burning Oven

  • Oven-dried Tomato Flatbread (Beefsteak Tomatoes, Mozzarella di Bufala, Aged Balsamic) $13

Reviewers’ notes:Inconsistent– they were clearly made one at a time, which would normally be a good thing. First was overly garlicky and soggy, second was more balanced.” Most reviewers preferred the Pork Pâté Flatbread (below).

Average Rating: 3

  • Three-Meat Signature Meatballs (Picholine Olives, Herbed Orzo, Chimichurri, Lavender Mint) $15

    meatballs

    Three-Meat Signature Meatballs

Reviewers’ notes: “Like kefta”; “salty”; “orzo didn’t really add to the dish.” Of the 3 we ordered, one table’s serving was “flavorful and tender”, one described it as “dry”, another as “too spicy.” One table called it among the best appetizers of the evening.

Average Rating: 4 Staff Pick

  • Pork Pâté Flatbread (Roasted Garlic, Mascarpone Cheese, Royal Trumpet Mushroom Chips) $14

Reviewers’ notes: “Tasty cheese”; “great crust”; “dried mushrooms don’t add much” and were “tasteless”; “needs more pâté.” Despite the mushrooms, several reviewers had this as their favorite appetizer.

pork-pate-flatbread

Pork Pâté Flatbread

Average rating: 4 Staff Pick

  • Baked Jumbo Prawns (Charred Lemon, Blistered Baby Tomato and Cipolini Onion Relish, Watercress) $20

Reviewers’ notes: “They’re served with their heads still on, and I can’t eat them that way”; “overcooked”; “Nothing remarkable about the sauce. Kind of heavy, with nothing to brighten it – might have been different with lemon juice”; “meaty”; “creamy, but the shrimp were falling apart.” One reviewer has this as their favorite appetizer.

Average rating: 3

  • Roasted “Surf & Turf” (New Smyrna Clams, Saffron-infused Fennel and Chorizo Butter, Bone Marrow) $16

The bone marrow is presented inside what appears to be a cut bone, and you scoop the marrow out to eat it. The adventurous diners among us generally enjoyed the taste, and liked even more the fact that a Disney kitchen would put this on a menu. I hope California Grill sticks with it.
Reviewer’s notes: “flavorful, paired perfectly with crostini/toast”; “Clams smelled and tasted fishier than normal”; “5 stars, a winning surprise.” Another table said “Marrow exquisitely buttery, but too small a portion of marrow”; “too fatty”; “Awesome”; “Clams tender, slightly spicy, potatoes and roast tomatoes good.” Another reviewer said “Surprisingly flavorful and tasty, but I couldn’t get past the fact that it was bone marrow. I don’t want to eat it again.”

Not everyone tried it, but those that did gave this dish an average rating of 4.

Hand-Rolled Sushi

The sushi dishes were generally more popular than the wood-fired appetizers.

  • Tuna Four Ways (Poke, Tartare, Maki, Nigiri) $26

    tuna-four-ways

    Tuna Four Ways

The most popular sushi plate of the evening across all tables. This was my favorite appetizer. Reviewers’ Notes: “Perfect quality fish”; “Good onion-flavored dipping sauce”; “Would easily feed 2 people”; “Very fresh.”

Average rating: 5 Staff Pick

  • Yuzu-marinated Sashimi (Yellowfin Tuna, Salmon, Hamachi, Snapper, Wasabi Oil) $24

We may have only got one of these – the notes on it are sparse.
Reviewers’ notes: “Salmon smells amazing”; “The marinade makes the sushi not fishy-tasting”; “Too spicy.”

Average rating: 4

  • Dragon Roll

    Dragon Roll

    Dragon Roll (Spicy and Tataki Tuna, Shrimp Tempura, Bell Pepper, Avocado, Chili-Soy Glaze) $29

Reviewers’ notes: “Excellent combination of flavors”; “light and creamy”; “a favorite”; “shrimp a bit soft, but tasty”; “Better than California Combination Roll [See below-Len]”; “Not as much flavor as Spicy Kazan Roll [See below-Len]”; “Chili not too hot”; “Sweet and crunchy – yummy if you like sweet.”

Average rating: 4 Staff Pick

  • Spicy Kazan Roll (Crab, Shrimp, Scallops, Tuna, Fireball Sauce) $26

Reviewer’s notes: “Way too spicy”; “Super spicy, lots of scallop; perfectly prepared”; “Great item from old menu, a crowd pleaser”; “way too spicy – can barely taste the fish inside.”

Average rating: 3.5

  • California Combination Roll (Jumbo Lump Crab, Avocado, Cucumber, and Shrimp Tempura) $24

Reviewers’ notes: “Best sushi if you get the pieces with shrimp tempura”; “fresh fish, real crab”; “somewhat flavorless, under-seasoned rice”; “Dragon Roll better [See above-Len]”; “Not interesting compared to the other sushi options.”

Average rating: 3.5

  • Pork Belly Nigiri (House-cured Pork, Bacon and Yuzu Rice, Spicy Teriyaki) $22

Reviewers’ notes: “Best sushi I’ve had in ages.” “Too much teriyaki sauce – salt obscured most of the pork flavor”; “Almost perfect. All flavors great”; “Could stand to have less rice, but I’d order it anyway”; “The sauce was fantastic. It was not too sweet or too salty”; “One piece was a little too big to have in one bite, so it was kind of awkward to eat”; “Umami heaven!”; “Odd contrast between hot pork and cold rice”; “Meat perfectly caramelized.”

Average rating: 4 Staff Pick

Soups, Salads, and Appetizers

The two standout hits here are the Duck in all its Glory (a charcuterie plate) and the Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli.

  • Crispy Rock Shrimp Salad (Spicy Baby Greens, Asian Pear, Summer Radish, Soy Reduction, Wasabi Cream) $17

Order this if you’re looking for a salad-based appetizer.
Reviewers’ Notes: “Pear and radish super-fresh, shrimp fried and not greasy”, “tender shrimp,” “nice flavor on shrimp.”

Average rating: 4

  • Farmers Salad (Season’s Peak Vegetables, Soft-poached Organic Egg, Honey-Sherry Vinaigrette) $16

    Farmer's Salad

    Farmer’s Salad

Reviewers’ Notes: “Poached egg was overdone”; “Egg was a little soft” [These were at two different tables – Len]; “Interesting veggie mix, great dressing flavor”; “Nothing distinctive about this.”

Average rating: 3

  • Heirloom Tomatoes (Daily Variety with Grilled Bread, Baby Basil, Ricotta, Blistered Shisito Vinaigrette) $17

The one kid we had at dinner absolutely loved these, and was probably willing to stick a fork in anyone who thought about eating the leftovers.
Reviewers’ Notes: “Super fresh, huge tomatoes”; “peppery dressing”; “good variety of tomatoes, wonderful fresh ricotta.”

Average rating: 4

  • Carrot and Cilantro Soup (Spiced Paprika Oil, Lime Blackened Halibut, Citrus-Coriander Bloom) $12

Reviewers’ Notes: “Loved the halibut”, “I loved this soup – it reminded me of Jiko”; “Would not order this again”; “Good carrot flavor, but nothing special”; “Our soup arrived lukewarm, which probably threw off the flavors – all we could taste was carrot”; “Very earthy and flavorful, included parsley overpowered the soup and lasted long after the taste of the soup has passed”; “Thick enough to eat with a fork (in a good way).” It was one reviewer’s favorite, however: “Smooth, thick and probably very filling on its own.”

Average rating: 3

  • Duck in all its Glory (House-made Sausage, Rillettes, Prosciutto, Duck Liver Pâté, Cranberry Compote) $17

Reviewers’ Notes: “The pâté had an incredibly smooth texture and strong flavor. I think newbies to charcuteries would love the pâté if they were brave enough to try it”; “Possibly my favorite menu item”; “salty in a good way. Fatty and flavorful and everything that is wonderful about duck”; “an all-around great dish”; “great presentation”; One reviewer said about the prosciutto: “Duck prosciutto is gamey, very moist though fatty, a little kick on the back end”, while another said “Home run! Duck prosciutto amazing.” Others said: “Best parts are the pâté and rillettes. The cranberry compote is a perfect complement”; “Sausage very flavorful and juicy”; “A unique, wonderful twist on ordinary charcuterie”; “All meats great. Orange sauce was spicier than expected. Pickle was spicy.”

Average rating: 5 Staff Pick

  • Baby Romaine (Roasted Garlic Dressing, Boquerones [a white anchovy – Len], Sun-dried Tomatoes, Brioche Croutons) $15

Many reviewers said the sodium in the dressing overwhelmed the roasted garlic and oil flavors (“Like eating lettuce covered in salt.”) The brioche croutons got positive reviews.

Average rating: 2

Goat Cheese Raviloi

Goat Cheese Raviloi

  • Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli (Tomato-Fennel Broth, Crispy Mushrooms, Basil, Benziger Estate Olive Oil) $14

I thought this was one of the better appetizers. The broth has a concentrated tomato flavor, and I think the chef needs a strong cheese to stand up to it.
Reviewers’ Notes: “Should be California Grill’s signature dish”; “Very cheesy”; “Potent; only one ravioli per order”; “Strong cheese inside”; “Goat cheese very pungent, pasta nicely al dente, small portion.” Another table found their soup “smooth and mild” and were not “fans” of the mushroom garnish.

Average rating: 5 Staff Pick

Entrees

The Pork Two Ways was the only entrée most of us would try again.

  • Pork Two Ways (Grilled Tenderloin, Goat Cheese Polenta, Mushrooms, Lacquered Belly, Apple Sauce) $37

Generally well-received, many felt the cheese flavor in the polenta was somewhat overpowering

Reviewers’ notes: “belly was VERY fatty, but I loved it F-A-B,” “great combination of flavors,” “the pear was interesting and added just an appropriate amount of sweetness,” “goat cheese was way too strong,” “polenta was rich, cheesy, and heavenly,” “very good, terrific,”

Average rating: 4.5 Staff Pick

Pork Two Ways

Pork Two Ways

  • Oak-fired Filet of Beef (Heirloom Tomato Risotto, Baby Vine Tomatoes, Petite Basil, Tomato Butter) $49

Reviewers’ notes: “cooked perfectly, [but] the risotto was grainy and gummy,” “risotto was wonderful,” “weird tomato flavor,” “fabulous,” “tomato risotto intense,” “nothing interesting; it was … a filet,” “salty, so salty”

Average rating: 3

  • Wild River Salmon

    Wild River Salmon

    Wild Columbia River Salmon (Southern Sweet Corn Pudding, Crispy Salmon Cakes, Spiced Saffron Broth) $42

Many identified the corn pudding as succotash, so perhaps there was a last minute substitution.

Reviewers’ notes: “[salmon cake] too dense and wet,” “yuck,” “salmon a little dry,” “salmon cakes were salty, but not overwhelming,” “interesting tasty [salmon cakes],” “too salty,” “[salmon cake] like fried Fancy Feast,” “tasted weird,” “reminded me of some terrible dish I’ve have before,” “a little fishy,” “not offensive, but could do better elsewhere,”

Average rating: 3

  • 24-Hour Short Rib “Filet” (Caramelized Root Vegetables, Olive Oil Potato Puree, Red Wine Butter) $40

Reviewers’ notes: “great mashed potato side, better than the beef itself,” “not as tender as I would have liked,” “a little dry, like chewy pot roast,” “bland,” “great vegetables,”

Average review: 3

  • Georges Bank Scallops (Handmade Potato Gnocchi, Smoked Pork, Grilled Onions, Rapini, Parmesan Foam) $43

Reviewers’ notes: “sadly a bit fishy and sandy,” “much better at bluezoo,” “very disappointed,” “slightly tough, nice flavor,” “great flavor,” “under-sized, salty, and gritty,” “nowhere near as good as the gnocchi CA Grill used to serve,” “couldn’t taste the smoked pork,” “gritty and salty,” “did not disappoint,” “would order again,”

Average rating: 3

  • Bell & Evans Chicken (Teriyaki Barbeque Glaze, Truffle Mac and Cheese, Glazed Vegetables, Chicken Sausage) $35

The key to this dish (and the salmon and halibut) is how fast it gets from the oven to your table, because the chicken will start to dry out immediately. A ten-minute wait is the difference between juicy, spicy chicken and dense poultry. Don’t get up to go to the bathroom.

Reviewers’ notes: “dry,” “mac and cheese very mild,” “mac and cheese was light on cheese, but heavy on truffle,” “chicken sausage had nice flavor but was a little dry,” “[the chicken was] kind of bland and not as tender as it could be,” “chicken good, mac and cheese flavorless,” “chicken sausage was moist, nice texture,” “[mac and cheese] was just so tired,” “sausage had an off taste,” “just OK,”

Average rating: 3

  • Roasted Squash Ravioli (Root Spinach, Parsnips, Summer Truffle, Sage Brown Butter, 12 Year Balsamic) $32

    The elusive Roasted Squash Ravioli

    The elusive Roasted Squash Ravioli

Reviewers notes: None, the kitchen was unable to produce this dish tonight. We got one serving, then were told the ravioli dough kept coming apart while cooking.

  • Pacific Halibut (Parsnip Silk, Roasted Heirloom Beets, Arugula, Macadamia Vinaigrette, Beet Syrup) $42

This was another dish that had vastly different outcomes for us depending on which plate you ate from.

Reviewers’ notes: “well-seasoned, but a little dry.” “terrible, the worst thing tonight,” “dry, over-salted,” “least favorite of the night” “parsnip puree has no flavor,” “like a soggy salt lick,” “parsnip puree was boring,”

 Average rating: 3

Desserts

Try the Seasonal Tasting selection or the Cheese Board.

  • Chef’s Selection Cheese Board (Selection of 5 Unique Cheeses with Accompaniments) $20

Reviewers’ notes: “wonderful,” “definitely fab,” “by far the best dessert,”

Average rating: 4

  • Cheese Board

    Cheese Board

    Chocolate Pudding Cake (Luscious Chocolate Cake with Nutella filling, Meringue Kisses, and Mint Chantilly) $13

Reviewers’ notes: “perfect for those who love dark, DARK chocolate,” “very rich,” “too bitter dark chocolate,” ‘extremely bittersweet,” “could not taste Nutella or mint,” “too rich,” “moderately successful,” “not something I’d want a lot of”

Average rating: 4

  • Warm Homemade Fritters (Banana-stuffed, Cinnamon-dusted Fritters with Toasted Caramel Marshmallows complemented with a Trio of Dipping Sauces) $12

Reviewers’ notes: “Well-fried, very sweet, dark chocolate – slight bit bitter – loved it!,” “very peanut-y sauce,” “Yummy, but very sweet,” “sauces were good, but the fritter was dry and overcooked,” “ a little overdone,” “very chewy,” “salted caramel dip was good,” “one of my favorites,” “pairs well with marshmallows”

Average rating: 3

  • Sundae Sampler (Unique and Playful Sundaes with a Nostalgic Twist: Caramel Corn, Coke® Float, and Strawberry and Basil) $9

Reviewers’ notes: “fun, whimsical, ultimately too sweet, but fun,” “caramel corn – YUM!,” “sweet and salty flavor, but kind of a pain to eat,” “just fun,” “cute, but too small,” “very sweet,” “adorable,” “edible glitter with the strawberry!”

Average rating: 4

Sundae Sampler

Sundae Sampler

  • Lemon Meringue Cheesecake (No Sugar Added Meyer Lemon Mascarpone Cheesecake, Citrus Cookie, and Charred Meringue Clouds) $12

Reviewers’ notes: “tart, but not as lemon-y as I would have liked,” “very light,” “little discernible lemon flavor,” “subtle,” “pretty standard,” “good flavor, could have been more dense to match the thickness of the crust,”

Average rating: 3.5

  • Seasonal Tasting (Heirloom Apple: Apple Cupcake with Cream Cheese and Streusel, Warm Spiced Cider, Peanut Butter-Caramel Apple, and Apple-Cheddar Turnover with Compote and Cardamom Glaze) $12

Reviewers’ notes: “would have this for dinner every time instead,” “LOVED EVERY BIT,” “cupcake OK, cider yummy!,” “like a peanut butter apple cake,” “yummy, the cider was lovely,” “savory components were too sweet,” “could have had 2 Starring Rolls cupcakes for the price,” “cider was fantastic, would order it on its own,” “outstanding cider,” “like a bite of the fair,” “best cider I’ve ever had”

Seasonal Tasting (Apple)

Seasonal Tasting (Apple)

Average rating: 4.5 Staff Pick

Summary

Total bill for the evening, with drinks, tax, a 20% Tables in Wonderland discount, and gratuity, was just over $2,500, or about $114 per person.

Most of us thought that many dishes, including many appetizers and entrees, were over-salted along with various temperature and doneness issues.

If you’re heading to California Grill, your best option may be to order sushi and dessert. Those seem within the kitchen’s current capabilities. And if you’re not ordering expensive entrees, sushi and dessert is a low-risk, relatively low-cost way to see the restaurant.

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print
Posted on September 10, 2013

60 Responses to “Every Item Reviewed From California Grill Opening Night”

  • So, if someone were to order a three course meal, it sounds like it would be:
    * “From the Wood-Burning Oven” or “Soups, Salads, Appetizers”
    * “Hand-Rolled Sushi” or “Entrees”
    * Desserts

    I have an ADR at CG anyway, well, just because. And the view, and the ability to come back and watch the fireworks later.

  • So… the kitchen was so inconsistent that everything you ate except one dish was a three or higher? Grading on a curve? :/

    • Ha! Not really. It’s a consequence of the 1-to-5 scale, in which 3 is the average. Consider the scallops, which one table rated a 1 and another a 5. The average for those two tables is a 3. Or, in a less extreme case, the homemade fritters for dessert. It wasn’t anyone’s runaway favorite, but no one hated it. It got a lot of 2′s, 3′s and 4′s, which are naturally going to average to 3.

      • To alleviate the level of similarities in ratings and increase score dispersion, i’d recommend switching to at the least a 7pt scale, and maybe an 11pt if you really want to identify winners/losers (ref: 8 years in market research).

  • My husband who has been in the restaurant business for 20 years in NYC and LA, working with Michelin star chefs (JG Vongerichten, Marcus Samuelsson, Quinn Hatfield) and opening many of their establishments says you are dead wrong about “opening night.” It doesn’t matter how much much info you have ahead of time, you don’t know how things shake out until 2 months in. You lose 50% of your staff in the first two weeks, front and back of the house. This is the norm and it is because you don’t know what kind of restaurant you are going to be until you open, really and truly open. Previews are by definition, artificial. They tell you nothing about how a restaurant will run full strength.

    You need to visit again in two months in and tell us what you think. Any judgement before this is meaningless. I will be there Oct. 29th, close to that 2 month mark, and will certainly share my impressions. For the record, My husband was not crazy about CG when we there two years ago. His favorites are Jiko, Napa Rose in DL, and getting drunk around the world at the F&W Festival so you know his credential are impeccable…

    • I think I need to meet your husband. :)

      California Grill’s staff have considerably longer tenure than most.
      Many of the waitstaff and kitchen staff working opening night have been with Disney and at the California Grill for years. (The waiter I spoke to had been with the restaurant since 1995.) So Disney didn’t need to re-train them on how to serve or how to cook.

    • If you think getting drunk is a credential, you both need an intervention.
      And if it takes his restaurants 2 full months to re-learn how to prepare and serve food time and time again…well, you’e just found the problem. ;-)

    • Agreed Miss Slim. My husband has been a restaurant GM for years here in NYC and said to me when I was reading reviews out loud the last two days,”Just wait a couple of months.” The kitchen staff, though they may all be the same from before the referb, need to get their sea legs back (so to speak) with the new menu. Working in the kitchen is HARD work and all the practicing in the world doesn’t prepare you for how a kitchen works once it’s opening night and beyond. Any foodie here in NYC knows to wait a few weeks/months before going if you want all the kinks worked out, it’s just how it works, experienced or not staff. If New Yorkers want to be one of the first to try it out, they go as soon as it opens, but most are savvy enough to know you’ll be paying full price for questionable dishes. Just par for the course, Disney or not.

      • I think the big difference is that, unlike a restaurant in NY, where patrons might be willing to give it another try in a couple of months, a visit to California Grill for most people, represents a single opportunity to eat there. Maybe they’d try again next year, if they go every year. But that’s hardly fair for the prices they’re charging and the overall guest experience.

        • I understand.

          But the problem there is NO way a kitchen can operate, as it would after opening to the public, in the weeks before to prepare. Just can’t happen. And the restaurant can’t say, “Well, we will only charge half price for the first month cause we know it’s going to take some time to work out the kinks.” It just doesn’t work that way.

          But part of it is, if you are a real foodie you know the “wait a bit” rule (I was dying to try a new place in Vegas years ago, but didn’t since it just opened). If you aren’t a foodie, a lot of times the food I’d be critical about would be great to the person that only spends a lot on a meal once in a while.

          Was the food sub-par? I personally can’t say until 9/26, but I do know, first night or 10th year, if something tastes off I question the server before sending it back because that may have been the chef’s intentions. But with all these inconsistencies I think it was just an overwhelmed kitchen staff working together for the first time in months on a normal night (not Friends and Family or preview). Is it fare to the paying customer? Again, it’s just part of the restaurant business.

    • Sorry, I guess that I cannot justify giving restaurants that are charging top dollar a “pass” to “find themselves” during the first 2+ months before subjecting them to review. We are not talking about a youth soccer team where the focus is on learning and development rather than game results, we are talking about a group of seasoned professionals who should be at the top of their game. If you feel that you are ready to open to the public and accept their money, then you should be ready to accept reviews and criticism. Plus, this is not like it’s Disney’s first restaurant…

  • I agree with MissSlim. I am a food publicist and no knowledgable writer who EVER and I mean EVER reviews any restaurant in opening night and the – irresponsibly and recklessly posts a scathing review of their food. Most food reviews not only happen 30-60 days at least from their first visit, but they also return a minimum of 3 times and then write a review. This was an absolutely unfair review and if you were responsible you’d take this down from the site until you gave them a fair chance.

    • Thanks for the blog post and tweet. I’m glad we agree that a restaurant’s opening few months (you suggest 30 to 60 days) can result in less-than-spectacular results for guests.

      Where we disagree is that I think consumers should be aware of this, while you think it shouldn’t be mentioned. Who, then, tells people that they’re going to pay full price for sub-par food? Disney? That’s unlikely.

      The blog post tells consumers which dishes the kitchen is likely to prepare best during their training period, and which to steer clear from. That’s solid advice for customers paying top dollar, regardless of how long a restaurant has been open.

    • So you’re going to lower your prices and let every patron know not to expect good food or service for two months, right?
      Yeah, I didn’t think so, Apollo.

    • Just asking out of curiosity – does it count as an “opening night” when the restaurant re-opens and is not actually new?

    • Respectfully, I disagree with the suggestion that the article should be taken down.

      First, this is not a restaurant review in the usual sense of the word. This is Len compiling blurbs from fellow diners for a Disney fan site. I would think of it more as an expanded Yelp or Tripadvisor comment.

      Second, I don’t find anything irresonsible or reckless about the statements in the article. If anything, Len bends over backwards to be far. For example, he gives the caveat that while he doesn’t consider it unfair to comment on an Opening Night dinner, others do. The reader is left to make his own decision. Crazy concept.

      Third, let’s not pretend a Disney restaurant and a restaurant in your average American city are operating under the same rules. Disney pretty much charges Disney (i.e., “massively inflated fantasy world”) prices to a quasi-captive tourist audience. I don’t think the California Grill is in any danger of going out of business due to Len posting his group’s thoughts on their meal.

      Overall: dialing it back a couple of notches on the Indignant-O-Meter would be appropriate here, IMHO.

  • Did anyone see if there is a kids menu?

  • The comments about the food being too salty caught my eye. We dined at California Grill the night before it closed for the refurb. The food was so salty it was barely edible. A member of our party is a food writer/restaurant critic, and it was so bad she felt compelled to mention it to the waitress–nicely, of course. We chalked it up to it being the restaurant’s last night and thought maybe some of the experienced staff had already been transferred to other restaurants. After reading this post, I’m wondering if it is a more long-term problem. In any case, it really hurt to have to pay full California Grill prices for sub-par food, so I think this post is doing people a service. I would hope that if things improve in the next couple of months there will be another review.

    • I encourage EVERYONE that is served a very salty dish (or anything that tastes “off”) to speak to their server about it and kindly send it back. Many restaurants have all the sous + managers taste sauces before the restaurant starts service because salt is a tricky thing, and if numerous people agree that something is off it can be fixed before opening that evening. Perhaps being near the end of their run CG only had one person taste that night? Also, sauces can sometimes change throughout the night so the chef would be happy to know (even though they should be checking throughout the evening).

      • Excellent observation. It could have been that some dishes were being sent out uninspected because of the volume. Next time I’m there I’ll check if I can see into the kitchen to notice whether it’s being done.

  • Thanks for sharing this all – I visited the CG before the refurb and while I did enjoy the experience as a whole, I did not find the food to be so outstanding that it warranted another visit, unless it were to just take a friend that had never been, etc.

  • Bone marrow severd in a bone? That made my stomach turn just reading about it. I would have been done for the evening if I had seen it at my table. Guess I don’t qualify as an adventurous diner!

  • Best line of all the reviews?
    “They’re served with their heads still on, and I can’t eat them that way”
    No, my friend – you choose not to eat them that way!

    When will we Westerners understand that being picky eater is not a valid form of criticism when reviewing a restaurant?

  • I get the feeling that compiling the opinions of 22 different people contributed to the perception that the kitchen was inconsistent. “Belly was VERY fatty” Do they know it’s meant to be a fatty meat – on average it’s 92% fat. Essentially this came across as 22 Yelp reviews mushed together.

    • Yeah, any group of 22 is going to have their outliers. That’s why I included the “Staff Pick” flag on the dishes for which most people formed a consensus. (Does Yelp do that? I admit I don’t spend much time on the site.)

  • by Reggio di Calabria on September 11, 2013, at 2:52 pm EDT

    Back when California Grill first opened, it really was a bright spot in central Florida. I’ve felt it’s been coasting on the view, its reputation, and a semi-captive audience for years now. I thought the once frequently-changing menu had ossified and nothing popped the way it used to.

    The new menu seems to break out of that funk. I’m so all over the duck and the bone marrow, but I’m a sucker for guts and innards anyway.

    Inconsistency is really the one thing that can drive me batty with a restaurant. There really is no substitute for the trial-by-fire of a full house, though. No matter how many years the cast has been there, they haven’t been in what is effectively a totally new place. Most high-profile ventures like this can have a soft-open period, but I don’t see how that’s workable for Disney.

  • by TheDisneyFoodie on September 11, 2013, at 2:57 pm EDT

    We attended opening night at the California Grill. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience despite being seated beside your three table party of 22 people. I think one of the key differences between our experience and yours was that we measured our expectations. There is no way that a few preview evenings can compare to the first full service in a completely renovated kitchen. Our server, Jennifer, also served one of your three tables. She was polite, knowledgable and efficient. When we had an issue with one entree, a manager appeared within seconds (without being requested) and fixed the issue. What detracted from our experience was your party – in particular your insistence on never sitting down and walking back and forth, hovering over our table and the tables of other guests attempting to enjoy a signature dining experience with a large and inconsiderate party monopolizing the entire north end of the restaurant including the service staff. I have been a loyal Unofficial Guide and Touring Plans customer for years and I will never renew my subscriptions now. Your party was entirely self focused and has produced a biased and inconsistent review.

    • by TheDisneyFoodie on September 11, 2013, at 3:16 pm EDT

      Edit: Server was Jessica

    • Which items did you order, and how would you rate them?

    • I’m sorry to hear that my activity lessened your experience, and I apologize. Had you not decided to leave the site, I would have also included an offer to buy dinner for your group the next time I’m in town.

      As the host for the evening, I felt responsible for ensuring my guests were fed and entertained during the long delays between servings. I was also trying to point out which dishes the kitchen seemed to be doing well, so that everyone could say they enjoyed something at the end of the night.

      You are entirely incorrect, however, in describing my group as “inconsiderate” and I witnessed no bad behavior at all from any of my group.

      As to “monopolizing the entire north end of the restaurant including the service staff,” I had perhaps a quarter of the seats at one end. The fact that you intentionally exaggerate this undermines your credibility with the rest of your complaints.

      That being said, let me point out that you had one waitperson for every 3 people at your table. I had 1 waitperson for every 7, and all of them were shared. My tables *should* have got vastly more service than yours just to break even, because I had vastly more people. That’s how ratios work.

      • Len,

        Honestly, I’d suggest the classy thing to do here is offer to dine with them even if they are leaving the site. It’s good public relations to work these things out, anyway.

        I read her post and I read yours when my wife pointed them out to me. She seemed to feel your reply was unkind. I’m not entirely convinced. TheDisneyFoodie and yourself both make a few good points, I think. Large groups at restaurants are always irritating to other people around them, but that’s not the fault of the large groups, so I don’t think people should complain about it much. That’s just how it is. You were there to do a job, and since I like reading your site to get that information, it’s kinda hypocritical to complain about you doing that job.

        In any event, you’ve left me quite torn. I managed to get a reservation at CG in early October, on the last night of our stay. I’m going to be at WDW for 10 days, and Disney’s quite a trip for us. I’ve wanted to dine at CG pretty much since it opened and it’s going to be my first chance. We’ve got the Free dining deal (we arrive before it ends in September), and I was going to use a couple credits there. Now I’m having second thoughts. On the one hand I don’t want to go until they’ve had time to settle and get their act together. On the other, I won’t be back there for several years.

        Ultimately, I think I’m going to keep my reservation and just be determined that if the food doesn’t live up to our expectations, to send it back and get it done right.

        • by TheDisneyFoodie on September 12, 2013, at 11:11 pm EDT

          We didn’t complain about the large party during our evening for that exact reason. But when I discovered that the distracting party was in fact from this site I felt compelled to comment on it to Len.

          And Len your party did monopolize the north end of the restaurant. There were only 4 servers in that section, three of whom tended to your party. There were several other large parties that were in close proximity that were polite and stayed seated (didn’t feel the need to play musical chairs among their tables or have members of their party that wandered the dining room more than the aforementioned service staff).

          Was the food during my meal perfect? No. I never claimed that it was flawless. However, if we experienced food issues we addressed them with our server and/or the manager. However, a restaurant with an entirely new kitchen that has been closed for 9 months can’t be executed to execute flawlessly. I agree with other posters that your review is an unfair assessment.

          • Foodies are entitled to their opinions, as is Len’s staff. You’ve aired yours (twice) and said you were quitting the site. So quit already. Disney ‘foodie.’ That’s like being a Wal-Mart fashionista. Or a “compassionate Conservative.” :-)

          • Of course they are going to monopolize the ”north end” of the restaurant! That’s what a group of 22 people would do in most restaurants. Common logistics.

        • Not giving up the ADR. Was the review underwhelming? Absolutely. But not enough to make me give up the ADR. As someone who hasn’t been to WDW in more than 20 years (I know — sacrilege) I’m going for the experience and the view more than anything else. I probably won’t get the $49 steak. I have an ADR at LeCellier anyway.

  • It can be hard when you’re self focused to realize that you are negatively impacting the experience of others. Hopefully Len’s group will be open to the criticism for future large group outings.

  • I appreciated this review. I don’t think any of the Disney food is all that great but I like staying onsite. I don’t think the CG will get much better in time.

  • I waited untill AFTER eating at CG on Wednesday night to read your review. I did not want to be swayed by your team’s comments. The waitstaff was excellent, the kitchen slow and the food mediocre. Thanks for the gastronomical sacrifice of 22 persons. Your crew was right on in my opinion.

  • Disney is not going to close down, and people will not lose their jobs over the observations on the Touring Plans blog. To compare a Disney restaurant’s reopening to an opening of a brand new restaurant in NYC is silly.

    And unless Disney is giving all guests a “getting our act together” discount prior to the restaurant having worked the bugs out, then I think anyone’s observations about mediocre and uneven quality are entirely valid. Len is not a restaurant critic, and he did not pretend to be in this review. He is, however, writing about his experiences that night. I certainly trust this observation more than the glowing ones I have read elsewhere from bloggers who were given free food, booze, and a $50 Disney gift card on top of it.

    We have dined at CG three times before the remodel. The first time the food was good. The second time it was a bit less good than the first. We then went back a third time, and it was really, really disappointing, to the point that I felt ripped off due to poor quality of the food itself (meaning the fish was incorrectly cooked and had a huge inedible part in the middle–really horrible for the price). I would not go there again because in our experiences, only one of the three visits justified the high prices they charge. We had better food at Via Napoli and the Wave for less than half the price. The view is good but not worth the prices when the food is so inconsistent.

    It seems that nothing much has changed beyond the décor. Thanks for sharing our experiences, Len.

  • I think the self-described foodies (and food publicist?) are missing the point. The goal of this article (and of the website) is to inform those that will be visiting, and spending lots of their hard-earned money at, Disney properties.

    First of all, this is not a review of a newly-opened restaurant in NYC, where a critical review on opening night could jeopardize the owner’s business. This is a restaurant owned by the all-powerful Disney Corporation that is still guaranteed to have packed houses night after night.

    Secondly, I would hardly call this review “scathing” and certainly wouldn’t call it “reckless” or “irresponsible”. It is valuable information to anyone who was thinking about dining at California Grill in the next several weeks. Do they want to potentially spend $100+ per person eating there, or perhaps spend that money somewhere else.

    According to dichuy, “most are savvy enough to know you’ll be paying full price for questionable dishes”. I would beg to differ. Perhaps most of the “foodies” of NYC know that, but I guarantee most people visiting a Disney restaurant on vacation are not that “savvy”.

    We are all free to consume (or not) and process this information as we wish. C Apollo – To ask Len to take it down because you disagree is simply ridiculous.

    If anything, I would call it reckless or irresponsible to dine at California Grill without having this information. Thank you Len and team for keeping us informed of what to expect and what to watch out for on our upcoming vacations.

  • Of course the Disney “defenders” will jump all over the review and go with the “well it’s opening night” and “Disney can do no wrong” And they want anything negative about their beloved Disney “removed” LOL!

    But Disney is not stupid enough to (A) NOT know that they were going to get published reviews on opening night and (B) not note that the group of 22 that made a point of ordering EVERYTHING on the menu. If I had been a manager I would have made sure that group got perfection, because it would have been pretty easy to figure out what they were up too….. Since they couldn’t do it, I think it’s flat out they could not do it… I am afraid that Disney is “resting on it’s laurels” again. Same thing as LeCellier “if we build it they will come, we don’t really have to measure up”

  • Who knew that a restaurant review could garner so much passion. If you didn’t like sitting next to a large party, asked to be moved. If you don’t like the review, don’t read the blog anymore. Not hard people.

    • by TheDisneyFoodie on September 12, 2013, at 11:05 pm EDT

      There are three private rooms at the California Grill that are perfect for large parties. I had secured a window table abs planned to enjoy a relaxing evening. If we could have moved we would have but it was OPENING NIGHT lol. Not exactly a lot of empty tables to be relocated to. Plus, there were two other large parties about 30 feet away that we’re in no way disruptive or distracting….maybe it was because they kept their seats and didn’t constantly hover and move around the dining room.

      • If you had an issue, which it clearly sounds like you did, you should have told a manager. Whether or not you could have moved tables, if your dining experience was as impacted as you say it was, the manager could have spoken to the party annoying you.

  • How disappointing. Cali Grill was the one dark spot in an otherwise wonderful honeymoon trip for my wife and I two years ago. I even made a point to make sure I aired my compla to o hem while the refurb was happening. While few of our complaints were related to food (mostly service problems), I had high hopes that the new theming and menu would be a positive. Looking forward to seeing if here’s any improvement n a few months.

  • I wholeheartedly cosign this entire post. That IS what previews are for. Thank you for an honest, educational report!

  • Comment Junkie reader here! I can appreciate the variety with which 22 opinions were expressed…keeps it “for reals” for foodies. I like the idea of sushi & desserts – great economical option! Each plate serves 12, right? The time and money that’s poured into offering readers and subscribers as much information & opinions as possible, is greatly appreciated. We’re adults, it’s an opinion, move along. Len did the respectful thing…I’m betting they were a hoot. I do believe that a comment like “needs more pate” should never be repeated though, cause that’s just not right :)

  • Len

    Thank you for your review. I think you were very clear on how the evening was conducted, and whilst clear that your experience had been uneven I think it was presented in a fair and balanced way. As with the style of the Unofficial Guide you present the views whether they agree or conflict with your own and allow people to decide.

    To address the point on fairness of an opening might review, the point is simple – you are paying full price so you deserve full service. Your review did not claim that the restaurant was going to be bad for ever, (in fact you stated near the start that you didn’t plan to re-rate the restaurant for a while until the problems have had time to be ironed out), but that it might be worth guests waiting to dine or sticking to the dishes which are currently more consistent.

    For those saying “restaurants are not going to discount their prices while things are uneven at the start” – they can and they do! I am not a food critic by any means, but I have eaten at a number of nice and fine dining (Michelin-starred) restaurants, so have a fair idea of what good looks like. As an example, over here in the UK celebrity chef Jamie Oliver owns a chain of Italian restaurants. These are not fine dining by any stretch, but they are good quality, food on a par with the better Disney table service restaurants I think.

    His opening policy?

    Week 1 – the food is free while the kitchen and table staff find their feet, you just pay for drinks
    Week 2 – the food is half price
    Week 3 – normal menu prices

    I admit he is a wealthy man and can afford to take that expense in the first two weeks to ensure the word of mouth is positive while the glitches are resolved, but Disney surely has deeper pockets and could do the same for one of their signature restaurants? People save a long time for Disney, so allowing them to enter the experience with their eyes open is not too much to ask.

    We are back at Disney World for our 10th anniversary trip in December and since California Grill was our favourite experience 5 years ago it is to be our restaurant on the final night of our trip. Wish us luck!

    With thanks

    Mark

  • Thanks for the review! When I try it out for myself I think it’s just going to be for appetizers for me. The entree’s don’t sound very inspiring to me for the money.

  • @Disneydad “Walmart fashionista” & “compassionate conservative”…Awesome!!

    I’ve worked at several restaurants in the past…if you’re not ready to open you shouldn’t!

  • Too salty and too expensive! I will return for cocktails and fireworks only.laol.com