Back to our story...California Grill
Sometimes, you have days (or evenings) that you don’t know what to write about, so you keep putting it off… and putting it off.
Cal Grill was one of those nights.
Don’t get me wrong. It was a lovely evening. Cal Grill is beautiful, and the food was wonderful. We had a weird interaction with our waiter, though, and that may have affected my memory of the evening. Lessened it a bit.
Okay, I’m talking way too much around the experience and not telling you the experience. What is the first thing you learn in writing school? Show the experience, don’t just talk around it.
So, warts and all, here goes.
We arrived at Cal Grill precisely on time. We took the bus to MK and then the monorail to the Contemporary. We were all dressed up, but I was wearing my wet and dry dress that I’d worn at Islands of Adventure. It’s cute and modern, but the hostess paused and looked it over once to make sure it fit their code. Yes, Cal Grill keeps its dress code strictly. (I now have a perfect dress for Cal Grill that I bought during the summer sales. I’m bringing it next time we go.
Needless to say, the hostess’ review made me a little insecure, but I figured that I wasn’t going back and changing, so forward march.
We were ushered upstairs and into the lounge area, where H. and I both ordered fun drinks (I can’t remember what he had but I think I had a Tropical Mango Mojito) and the kids got Shirley Temples. They called us to our table fairly quickly, and our waiter, Ron, came over and introduced himself.
Ron. I believe that people who make a career of waiting tables eventually gravitate to the kind of restaurant that most suits their personality. Jack and Cherie were perfect waitstaff for Victoria and Albert’s (also Carol, who served us in 2007 and now works at the Orlando Ritz Carlton). Ron, though, would never fit in at Victoria & Albert’s. I’m convinced that the fussiness of V&A’s table preparation, the interest in precision of presentation, and the quiet
would drive him bananas. Ron is a people person. He liked to talk, to interact, to mingle with his customers. And Ron, therefore, fits in perfectly with the vibe of California Grill. But more on Ron later.
Cal Grill is a people restaurant. It has an open set up and can be a bit noisy. On the other hand, it’s easy to meet and get to know the other people in the room. It’s a place to be seen.
That said, Cal Grill also serves fantastic food. In many ways, Cal Grill reminds me of Flying Fish, only with fewer tables per square foot. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I just know that Flying Fish always feels crowded to me, while Cal Grill feels busy but never crowded.
We’re sushi people, so we ordered a Medusa Roll instead of a flatbread to start. A Medusa Roll has soft shelled crab with asparagus, mayonnaise and a mild pepper sauce. Oh, soft shelled crab! How I love soft shelled crab – really, I should move to Maryland!
Ron immediately gave us all chopsticks and gave Adi some special chopstick helpers. They fit around both chopsticks to help keep them in place. Adi loved them and loved Ron from that moment forward.
I almost ordered the soft shelled crab sliders for an appetizer, too, but we didn’t want to stuff ourselves, so we skipped a second appetizer (although the salads looked delicious) and moved on to the main course selections. Emilie decided that she wanted to stick with the sushi and ordered the deluxe sushi platter. In a shocking move, Judah went with a kids menu item (shocking because the boy hates to order anything from a “kids menu.” In his own words, “Mom, I’m 11.”). I think it was the dessert menu that got him. He ordered the roasted salmon. Adi ordered the chicken breast. H. ordered the Pacific Halibut with linguine, and I ordered the Seared Rare Tuna with Nori Rice and stir fry vegetables, served in a hot and sour sauce. We had a lovely Pinot Gris to go with the meal. Not too expensive from a wine list that had some very expensive wines.
Was the food good? Yes, it was excellent. I wasn’t a huge fan of the presentation of my dish, which felt like a one dish meal since it was all in one bowl, but the tuna itself was so tender and creamy, I forgave the presentation. H. loved his halibut, Judah was happy with his salmon, and Emilie, of course, adored her sushi. The only person who wasn’t completely happy with her meal was Adi, who has told me that “next time, I’ll be old enough to have what Emmy had.” (better start putting more money in the bank. That girl’s tastes are going to cost me…
For dessert, we ordered the Valrona Chocolate Cake, which I've tried to make at home - much less successfully! There was a recipe for it in Disneyfiles magazine about a year ago. I made it for Emilie’s birthday last year – I had to make it twice, because the first time it didn’t work at all. The second time was okay, but it didn’t compare to the real thing. Adi and Judah ordered the Crispy Rice Sushi dessert from the kids’ menu, which was fantastic. I wish I had taken pictures to show you, but I didn’t, so I grabbed one off the web instead. It’s the second best kids’ dessert at Disney, jmho. (the first one being the White Chocolate Mickey Puzzle dessert at Artist Point and Flying Fish)
The sushi are fish gummies on Rice Krispies. The sushi rolls are fruit roll-ups (for the seaweed) surrounding Rice Krispies and a gummy in the centre. The wasabi is a green-coloured marshmallow and the ginger is white chocolate with pink icing on top. The sauce is chocolate, of course!
Right as we were getting to dessert, Wishes started. Our table was in the middle of the room, so we went outside to watch. The viewing area outside is great. Of course, did I remember my camera? No…
And now, back to Ron, our waiter. Ron was very attentive during the meal, so different from Jack and Cherie, who always stood back. Ron, though, was part of our experience. And that was good… and not so good.
Over the course of the evening, we found out all about Ron. Found out that he was a long time Orlando resident. Found out that he used to but no longer works full time at Cal Grill. Found out that he has a lot of side businesses going. That he’s an entrepeneur. And as the evening went on, we also started to hear about Ron’s politics.
Now then, as you can imagine, being a lawyer, I don’t usually shy away from talking politics. It’s part of my livelihood. And I think that once Ron found out that we were there celebrating my graduation from law school (that was the evening celebration, mine and Emilie’s graduations), he figured that I’d put politics on the evening’s table of discussion. First, he tried to talk to us about Casey Anthony, but being from Canada, we didn’t know all that much about that very sad story, and in addition, given that there were a couple of younger kids at our table, especially Adi, we didn’t want to discuss her trial in front of them.
But Ron was persistent, so he brought up health care. He really wanted to engage us in a debate about how awful we are up in Canada to have universal health care and how awful universal health care is. I think he thought that would be interesting and fun. But it wasn’t. We were there on vacation, and H. and I weren’t in the mood to get into a debate about health care with someone whose viewpoint was 180 degrees from our own. And, also, in the words of Sully in Monsters Inc, “I’m off duty.” I didn’t want to be a lawyer that night. I just wanted to have a nice evening with my family. And so did H, who has the same position as I do on health care and who also didn’t want to be drawn into defending it. Eventually, Ron moved on to another topic, but it affected our evening, which was still lovely but not perfect the way that Victoria & Albert’s had been.
As we were heading home, I thought a lot about the end of the evening, about Ron, and about our friends Larry and Tina. Larry and Tina love to go to restaurants and engage the waitstaff in discussions. It’s a part of their evening. When we go out with them, they know every waiter who serves us. They also engage every waiter who serves us. That’s them, and Cal Grill’s atmosphere suits them to a T. They love to have that very public outgoing experience when they dine. H. and I, though, when we go out with each other or with the family, we see it as an opportunity to talk with each other and with the family. To the waitstaff some, but not as a focus of the evening.
So where am I going with this? I think there are many different restaurant experiences at Disney, and your choice of which signature to visit is as much about your
personality as it is about the quality of the food. If you’re a more quiet restaurant person, who wants the focus of your evening to be on the person or people you’re dining with, you don’t have to go to V&A’s. Artist Point also has that quiet atmosphere. So does Bistro de Paris. On the other hand, if you’re a more outgoing restaurant person, like my friends Larry and Tina, there’s California Grill and Flying Fish, where the waiters seek to engage you as part of your evening there.
Each experience has its strengths and its potential problems. I think if Ron had steered clear of politics, our evening would have been perfect at Cal Grill. The kids really enjoyed Ron’s outsized personality. On the other hand, if you don’t have anything to talk about with the people you came with, a restaurant like Artist Point could be a death sentence for your evening. At that point, you need a Ron.
Interestingly enough, my most memorable waitstaff encounter at Disney happened at Hollywood Brown Derby back in 2006. HBD is much more like Bistro or Artist Point than California Grill, more hands off. I just happened to hit a good jag of conversation that afternoon with the server. That was Carol, who later went on to Victoria & Albert’s and then to the Orlando Ritz Carlton.
I suddenly have realized why this entry took so long for me to write. It’s a very different entry – only one picture and a lot of reflection. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. And if not, we’ll be heading back to our regularly scheduled trip report very, very soon. Thanks for hanging with me and reading this entry. I’d also love to hear your responses. Let me know what you think.