Atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort just outside the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World sits one of Disney’s most touted restaurants, California Grill. This special restaurant is one of Disney’s signature restaurants which means a higher price tag and a dress code. Now that dress code isn’t as strict as it may sound but they do not want guests coming in swimwear and flip-flops to dinner. A nice shirt and shorts will do just fine.

As part of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration, California Grill changed to a prix fixe menu. This is something they had not done previously and something that had fans like myself not thrilled. There were a few reasons for this change with the main one attempting to prevent guests from booking a reservation and having just a cheap dessert to watch fireworks. The 50th anniversary menu also paid homage to the history of this storied restaurant including dishes that guests have loved through the years and new items to help celebrate the occasion. The anniversary celebration came to a close March 31st, 2023 and so did that menu. In its place came a new prix fixe menu with a set price of $89 per adult and $39 per child.

Disney's California Grill table setting

The new California Grill menu kept fan favorites, brought back items from before the 50th menu and introduced some new items as well. As a big fan of this restaurant and someone who avoided the 50th menu in hopes they would return to the a la carte options, I decided it was time to give it a try. One thing I try to keep California Grill for is special occasions and this was no different. In part of trying this new menu, I was also celebrating my runDisney race season in which I completed every single Walt Disney World race totaling 112.7 miles between November 2022 and April 2023. Enough about me though and back to California Grill…

One thing a lot of people do or at last try to do is get a reservation around fireworks time. One thing that makes this restaurant so popular are the views. Being atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort which is right next to the Magic Kingdom, you can get unparalleled views of the park. It’s a perfect nightcap to a park day or trip.

Disney's California Grill menu

When you arrive at Disney’s Contemporary you will head to the second level to check in. Once checked in you will then take an elevator right up to the top floor. When stepping off the elevator you are greeted by a host near cases and cases of wine. California Grill doesn’t have the California name for no reason. Wine is a specialty of this restaurant and as part of the meal you can add a wine pairing. There is the signature wining pairing for an additional $39 or the deluxe wine pairing for an additional $69. As someone who doesn’t love wine I decided against this option but did decide for a different beverage. The Sonoma Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned – Sonoma Distilling Co. Bourbon, Vanilla Maple Syrup, Angostura Bitters and Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries with an Orange Twist which is $18.50.

Sonoma Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned at Disney's California Grill surrounded by runDisney medals

This drink is a true old fashioned and incredibly well made. If you are a fan of an old fashioned I suggest this however if you are not and do not like strong tasting alcoholic beverages I would avoid this. There are plenty of other options to choose from as California Grill has a full bar with several featured cocktails, wine and more. You will receive California Grill’s signature sourdough bread that is served with butter and olive oil with green onion, tomato, and garlic.

After bread its time to dive into the starters or “Market Inspirations” as called on the menu. You get to choose from eight different starter/appetizer options as part of your prix fixe menu. Many of these are California Grill staples including the Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli and Braised Beef Short Rib Wontons as well as several sushi roll options. For myself I went with the short rib wontons. The person I was dining with chose the ravioli. One thing to note, the ravioli is just one large ravioli rather than multiple smaller ones.

The Braised Beef Short Rid Wontons feature Doenjang-Miso-Cola-Onion Sauce, Radish, Crispy Garlic-Chili Oil, and Pickled Lotus Root. The Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli features Basil-Saffron Pasta, Tomato Broth, Mushroom Ragoût, and Fennel. Both starters are California Grill staples for a reason. I did not try the ravioli but it definitely looked good. My wontons surprised me a bit. Even though this is a staple here I had never tried them before and they had a spicy kick that I was not expecting but not in a bad way. I would most definitely get these again.

This brings us to the main course. California Grill calls these “Chef’s Journey” and includes several different options. There are seven options included in your prix fixe price and then one uncharge option. The Waygu Strip Loin is an additional $47 and I was certainly tempted to get it as I am a big fan of waygu. $47 even at a signature restaurant like this is a hefty add on though. I ended up going with something I have had before and something that is another staple here, the Oak-Fired Filet of Beef featuring Brown Butter Chateau Potatoes, Braised Carrots, Carrot Romesco, and Cabernet Veal Jus. My friend got the Pan-Seared All-Natural Chicken with Sunflower Pea Pesto, Maitake Mushrooms, English Peas and Madeira Wine Jus.

I am glad I did go with what I did. I was between the beef and the venison. I do want to go back though and try the venison some time. That said, the beef was well cooked and the accompaniments were great. One thing for me personally, I expected the carrots to be softer but they actually were still hard. Still good but just something I didn’t expect. Of the three courses, this was my least favorite if I had to rate them that way. Not bad by any means but the other two courses were the standouts. I did not try the chicken but no complaints were had by my friend.

I did forget to mention that my reservation was for 8:00 p.m. so by now it was time to head out to the observations deck for fireworks. There are two main decks one on each side of the restaurant. We viewed Happily Ever After from the deck closest to Magic Kingdom. Another reason for this meal here was the return of Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom. There is something special about not having to fight crowds and enjoy the show with a great view. In some respect this is worth the price to begin with.

After enjoying Happily Ever After it was time for dessert. For me this was the highlight of the entire meal. There are five “Sweet Creations” to choose from. I decided on the Citrus Crème Brûlée which had Angel Food Cake, White Sangria, Sorbet, Ginger Crumble, Mandarin Crémeux, Tangerine, and Lychee Gel. This was my favorite thing of the night. It was a good sized portion and the sorbet and cake were perfect pairs for this. My friend got the Peanut and Banana

Overall, I was glad to go back and experience this again. Is California Grill worth the price? That’s hard to say. For me, I think so but it’s certainly not something I will do often. I will continue to keep California Grill as a special occasion destination. If you are looking to celebrate an anniversary, birthday or milestone event California Grill is definitely a place to do so.

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