California Grill pre-reopening meet up

Last night, I attended my second ever Disney Parks Blog meet up (the first being for the 24 hour Disney Day back in June). These meetups are announced every few months, and you basically have to stalk the Blog and send your email to attempt to get in the instant the blog is updated with the meet up invite. This meet up was at the about-to-reopen California Grill.

I’d never been to the original CA Grill, and it’d always been on my Disney bucket list, so I was pretty darned excited when I managed to get into this meet up. We arrived at the Contemporary around 6:45pm, checkin started at 7, and they started taking people up the elevator around 7:15pm.

By the way, if you’re reading this hoping for photos of the restaurant itself, or the food, or the chefs, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I took about 5 pictures of the dishes I sampled, but that’s about it. However, I saw representatives of all of the following blogs/podcasts, so I’m sure you can get your photo fill from any of them: Ultimate Orlando, Mickey Updates, Touring Plans, Disney LifeStylers, WDW FanBoys, MouseSteps, Jeff Lange DVD, and Chef BigFatPanda.

When we got up to the CA Grill’s floor, we were directed to the right side of the restaurant (closest to MK). We were each given a sake martini, and a plate with a notch in it to hold the glass. Waitstaff were walking around with three different hors d’oeuvres – a 3-meat meatball, a spicy sushi roll, and a grouper flatbread. All three were very good, but the meatball was by far my favorite. Absolutely delicious.

Disney’s social media director, Thomas Smith, then got up to the podium to welcome us to the event. He also introduced members of the CA grill team, including the head chef. The chef then took the podium to welcome us, and tell us that we’d then be going to the other side of the restaurant, where we’d enjoy a “tastings” menu of various items from the newly redesigned menu. The seating was first-come first served, so everyone scrambled to find a table, and there was a little confusion to that point. Regardless, we all found tables with our preferred dining companions, and then it was time to eat.

There were about 6 different stations around this side of the restaurant, and it was basically buffet style – go up and take what you want. First thing I got was a vegetable ravioli and a hallibut. Apparently I neglected to take pictures of the fish, but here’s the ravioli:

This was surprisingly (to me) very good. I am not remotely a vegetarian (if a dish doesn’t have at least one kind of meat in it, there’s something wrong. :-P), but I found it very tasty. The insides of the ravioli was a roasted squash, that was incredibly smooth.

The fish was not at all fishy-tasting, which I liked, but someone at my table said it meant it was “flavorless”.

Next up was “Pork Two Ways”. As the name simplistically implies, it’s two different pieces of pork, cooked in two different ways. One was a grilled tenderloin, the other was a “lacquered belly”. I don’t really know what that means, except that it was somewhat fatty but incredibly tasty.

On the other end of the counter was effectively a sushi buffet. I took one or two pieces of each. They were good, no doubt, but IMO, not the end-all-be-all of sushi that I always heard people rave about when talking about CA Grill. Maybe it’ll be better when it’s not being mass produced for a buffet-like atmosphere?

Then we come to by far my favorite dish of the evening. Oak-fired Filet of Beef, with an Heirloom Tomato Risotto, Petite Basil, and Tomato Butter sauce. Oh my goodness. This was beyond amazing. And it’s the sauce that made the dish, no question. I’m only slightly ashamed to say I actually got a total of 5 samples of this dish. It was that good. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you must try this steak when you go to California Grill.

A little later in the evening, one of my dining companions returned to the table with something I hadn’t seen yet. It was “Duck Five Ways”. Five different preparations of duck – sausage, rillettes, proscuito, pâté, and some kind of duck/cranberry compote. The proscuito and pâté were so amazingly good. I could have those every day and die a happy man.

I am not much of a dessert person, so I really preferred to fill my available stomach space with all the dishes I’ve just described. I didn’t sample all the desserts spread around the restaurant, but they were plentiful and I heard people raving about them.

Around 9:30pm, I walked outside to the catwalk nearest the Magic Kingdom and simply enjoyed the view until Celebrate the Magic started. For whatever reason, they didn’t have the soundtrack playing up there, instead the DJ was playing random Disney music (coincidentally, during Celebrate the Magic, its predecessor (Magic, Memories, and You) was playing. They do not synch up well, fwiw.) Wishes began at 10pm. I love that show, and it’d been far too long (for me) since I’d seen it. The view from up there is pretty great, though I have to admit I think the view from Top of the World lounge at Bay Lake Tower is better.

After the fireworks, we all made our way to the exits. On the way to the elevator, the Disney Social Media folks handed each registered invitee (ie, not their guests) a goodie bag. When I got down to the lobby, I opened the bag to find two copies of the CA Grill menu, two pre-packaged biscuits, … and a $50 Disney Gift Card?!!? Are you kidding me? Did Disney just pay me to eat that incredible food? That’s insane. I have no idea what lead them to make that decision, but I’m sure as heck not complaining!

Overall, it was a great evening. Incredible food, great friends, and a pretty awesome view of the fireworks. Oh, and apparently getting paid to do so. Many thanks to the DisneyParks Blog for putting the event together. I’m not saying CA Grill is somewhere I’m going to go on a random day I’m feeling hungry, but it is definitely on the list of possibilities for special occasions. If you have the time and the means, it’s highly recommended.

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