I often visit Walt Disney World. And, while it’s widely known that food and drink on WDW property is more expensive, I’ve learned over the years which meals are worth it and which aren’t.
I generally avoid menus prefixed to WDW because I think it’s more fun to taste my way around Magic Kingdom park or Epcot, snacking as I go, but the special 50th anniversary celebration menu at Californian grills piqued my curiosity for more than one reason.
For one thing, it’s a limited time offer. As a member of The most magical celebration in the worldWDW’s 18-month celebration of its 50th anniversary, the special menu transports guests to 1971, when the Top of the World restaurant opened on the top floor of Contemporary Disney Hotel. Today, that spot is called California Grill — known for its views of Magic Kingdom Park and the Seven Seas Lagoon — and serves up sushi, steaks, and great vantage points for the evening fireworks. For the limited-time menu, chefs offer both new creations, like wild Alaskan halibut with charred avocado and mole verde, and anniversary-inspired selections served in the ’70s, like crab bisque Florida blue. The celebration runs until March 2023, then this special menu also ends.
California Grill is also already on my list of splurge-worthy restaurants. The food is amazing, the wine selections are impressive, and nothing beats the view from above. While I normally spend around $75 to dine there, I was more than willing to accept this more expensive menu both out of culinary curiosity and because I was still looking for an excuse to ride those contemporary elevators to the 15th stage.
The 50th anniversary celebration menu at California Grill is $89 per person. Included is a selection from the appetizer menu, a starter and a dessert. But then there are the wine pairings. $39 per person will get you “signature” wine selections, while $69 will kick things up to the “deluxe” level. The wines, which range from full-bodied Cabernets to delicately sweet dessert wines, are paired specifically with each course. And they are perfect.
We booked a table at the California Grill for 7:30pm, intentionally choosing that time in order to be seated during the Magic Kingdom fireworks display. As we watched the sun set over the lagoon, we were served an amuse bouche of prosciutto and creamy cheese on toast. Next came the bread service, where we dipped warm herb-covered rolls in a mixture of olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes. We hadn’t even been served our aperitifs yet and our stomachs were happy.
One of my longtime favorites remained on the 50th anniversary menu: braised beef short rib wontons served in a spicy chili sauce with pickled lotus root and radishes. I couldn’t live without it, so I ordered it while enjoying the sushi ordered by my husband and friends. The verdict? Everything about the course was perfect right down to the Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet with which each course was paired respectively.
As our entrees were served, darkness had finally begun to fall on WDW, so we alternated between commenting on how delicious our food was and how breathtaking the view was getting as Disney World began to darken. animate with lights. My husband ordered Florida black grouper, served with cashew chutney and bok choy over basmati rice. My friends and I all couldn’t pass up a good steak, so we ordered the oak-fired beef tenderloin served with perfectly cooked buttered potatoes and asparagus.
The tenderloin was almost as bright in the evening as the fireworks, which began to light up the sky above Cinderella’s Castle halfway through the meal. The biggest challenge? Trying to decide whether we should watch the fireworks through the window from our table, or ditch our delicious meal to watch it outside on the designated platforms. After taking a few more bites of the perfectly cooked steak, we snuck out for the very end of the show.
We return to the dining room for dessert. A favorite was the Five Magical Bites, five bite-sized desserts that each represent a favorite of the chefs at California Grill. From a small piece of carrot cake to a mini lemon mousse, explore so many vibrant flavors in one dessert made for a moment of indulgence. Always faithful to the crème brûlée, I chose one accompanied by a pineapple-mango compote, grilled coconut and an iridescent sugar topping.
There was also an impressive vegetable menu, something WDW has prioritized in recent years. Although we didn’t try the vegetable balls, the spring pea and carrot risotto or the peanut and banana pie, I’m sure they too would have pleased our palates.
Two and a half hours later, full and happy, we finished our meal and headed for the elevators back to the ground. Several days later my group of friends are still texting about how good these steaks are and how we wish our amazing server Jay still poured us wine and explained each delicious dish as it came. it is served.
In total, our check was for nearly $700. Our annual Disney World passes got us 10% off food, but not wine.
Would I come back? Yes. In fact, I’m sure I’ll end up on the roof of the Contemporary before the special celebration ends. Next time I might try the orange duck pizza or the lavender sugar donuts.
But who am I kidding? I’m a wonton, filet mignon and creme brulee type girl. Throw in some Disney fireworks and it’s a perfect night out, $700 or not.
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