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California Grill Brunch Review

Location: Top level of The Contemporary Resort
Parking/Transportation Situation: General Resort Parking or Valet Parking** available. Monorail service from The Polynesian, The Grand Floridian, The Transportation and Ticket Center, and The Magic Kingdom. Walkable from The Magic Kingdom. Boat service from The Magic Kingdom, The Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness. Bus service from Disney Springs, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. (If using Disney Bus Transportation, allow 1-1.5 hours transportation time. If using monorail or boat, allow 30-45 minutes.)
** Complimentary valet parking is offered as part of this Brunch!!!
Meals Served: Brunch (Sunday mornings ONLY), Dinner

Characters/Entertainment: No characters. A musical duo plays soft Disney tunes and more, while you dine during brunch.

Type of Cuisine: Pacific Coast flavors, with a focus on market fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Type of Menu: All-You-Care-To-Eat Buffet and Plated Entrees for Brunch, A La Carte for Dinner

Pricing/Dining Plan: $$$/ 2 Table Service Credits Per Person

Atmosphere: Sleek, modern dining room, with a huge open show kitchen, and panoramic glass windows, overlooking The Magic Kingdom.

Guests Who Would Enjoy This The Most: Couples and All Adult Parties

Level of Difficulty of Getting a Reservation: Moderate

Fun Stuff for Kids: Kids might enjoy the views and the fact that you can access the outdoor roof decks, however there really isn't anything for kids here. In fact, though kids are welcome, there is no children's menu, and their pricing is not exactly inexpensive at $48 for ages 3-11. (Under 3 are free) if your kid decides they aren't hungry or they only want a bagel, that's a pretty expensive bagel.

Rating of Appeal to Kid-Diners: Are we done yet?????

Stand out dishes: Buffet items: Orange Honey Ham, California Rolls with Jumbo Lump Crab Meat, Cranberry Scone with Orange Blossom Butter
A la carte items: Pan-Fried Buttermilk Organic Chicken Cutlet, Poached Lobster Benedict, Sweet Potato Pancakes

Best Use of Dining Plan Points: This location has one flat rate for brunch, but generally speaking, all-you-care-to-eat options give you the most "bang for your buck" on the dining plan.

Experience: I was SO excited when Disney announced that one of the "crown jewel" restaurants of Disney property would be offering a Sunday brunch. Having done many a Disney Cruise, I have become spoiled by the amazing event that is brunch at Palo, the adult-only restaurant on board the ship. You just can't beat the endless food options, the elegant atmosphere, the impeccable service, and the fabulous cuisine, all set to a backdrop of sweeping ocean views. Ahhhh..... That's gotta be what heaven looks like. (At least for foodies.) So the idea of there being a land-based, upscale brunch option, with incredible Magic Kingdom views, was super appealing to me.

Now, obviously this is not a place that most Guests just decide to go to, on the spur of the moment, since it costs $80+ a head. (Well, maybe YOU would just decide to go spend that kind of money on a whim, on a random Sunday. But then again, you're probably already busy yachting in the South of France. But I digress...) This is really a "special occasion" kind of place, and that's exactly what it was for us! I booked this brunch as a 40th birthday present for The Hubs, and, we managed to snag a babysitter, (thanks, Auntie M!), so we were SUPER pumped to hit up Brunch at the Top!

We had a 10am reservation and pulled up to The Contemporary at 9:50. There was a bit of confusion at the get-go. When we came through the security gate, the guard said, "Brunch at the California Grill? You get free valet service. Just drive right up front." Sweet! (Well, we would have gotten it anyway because we have Tables in Wonderland, but still an awesome feature for brunch!) But then when the actual valet went to park our car and we told him we were going to brunch at Cali Grill, he said, "Valet will be $25." Huh? Which is it? Free or $25? BIG difference here. We would have to find out more.
We hopped the elevator up to the 2nd floor, to check in at the podium. The Cast Member at the podium asked for my cell and said she'd text when the table was ready, but still sent us to the elevator to go up to the restaurant. As soon as we stepped in the elevator, we got the text. When we stepped into the restaurant's lobby, a Cast Member was standing there with menus, greeted us by name, and guided us to our first stop: a small table by the bar, where a Cast Member was handing out an included-in-the-price Yuzu Bellini. There were also champagne flutes sitting there, and non-alcoholic "Sparkling Mimosas", and I believe you could select whichever of the three you would like. We walked past musicians playing piano and upright bass, but in all honesty, I was looking right PAST them, and out at the spectacular view behind them!

I, like most Guests, have never been in California Grill with the sun out, and I was just awestruck by the vastness of the view. Not only was Cinderella's Castle right there, you could easily see all of Disney property and beyond. We really lucked out with getting such a bright and clear day. I would imagine that a dark and rainy day might take a bit of the magic away from the view. Luckily, we are in Florida, and those days are rare. We were then lead past an incredible looking buffet of culinary delights. We were greeted by every Cast Member we passed, including bartenders, servers and chefs. Where California Grill has a gorgeous show kitchen, Guests are able to easily interact with the masters responsible for tickling their taste buds, adding a fun and unique element to the experience. Our table was beautifully pre-set with our plates and cutlery, as well as a fresh strawberry jam and orange blossom honey butter.

Within moments of sitting, our server came to the table and welcomed us. He let us know that all of the "appetizer buffet" was ours to enjoy, and that we could select our entrees from the menu that we were given. He said that we could take our time, and that we should let him know about 15 minutes before we wanted our entrees, so that he could put the order in. This was fantastic because we didn't feel rushed at all. For a higher priced brunch, you don't want to feel like you're being pushed along and shoved out the door, especially because when there's a buffet included, you'll end up stuffing yourself if you eat too quickly.

Now, the couple sitting next to us sat about 30 minutes after we had gotten there and their server was not very clear with them. We overheard them debating over whether or not they wanted to "do the buffet or order off the menu". We politely interrupted, and explained to them that it wasn't an either/or situation. They got BOTH with brunch. They looked very relieved and happy to have been corrected.

Our server asked what we would like to drink and offered us press pot coffee, tea, and soft drinks, and said that bar items were available for an additional charge. Since we almost never drink, the bellinis were already making us giddy, (or maybe it was the mouth-watering displays of food!), so we went with coffee and water. Our server did mention that he was aware of our allergies, (I'm allergic to mango and The Hubs is allergic to mango and banana. Totally random allergies, but you'd be surprised how frequently mango pops up on fine dining menus!), and that we should be mostly ok on the buffet. Well somehow, another server overheard, and as we walked to the buffet, he followed along behind us and walked us through the entire buffet, pointing out the items that we would need to steer clear of. I was very impressed with how perceptive he was and the time he was willing to take with us, even though he was not our server. Perfect Disney service!

And the buffet! Oh, the buffet! It was overwhelmingly beautiful. I have rarely in my life seen food displayed in such colorful, beautiful and artistic ways. I hate sushi and the display of the different fish options, with fresh flowers surrounding it, was so inviting that I just HAD to take a piece! (Unfortunately, I ended up not eating it because, as I said, and as I knew before my hand gravitated to the plate, I do not like sushi.) I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's walk through the buffet together.

First up, you will be blown away when you see the Bloody Mary bar! It was incredibly impressive. We are not Bloody Mary drinkers, so we did not partake, but the folks sitting right next to us did and their drinks were more like meals in a glass! You can pick your spirit, (varying in price from $15-$17), and then add up to 5 toppings, including choices of shrimp, pickles, cheeses, veggies, cured meats and even candied bacon. Yes, candied bacon! 

Next up, the charcuterie station was full of sweetbreads, dried sausages, pork belly rillettes, pickles, breads and more. I didn't grab much from this table, other than some toast with sweet onion jam and a piece of orange honey ham, but The Hubs was in heaven! Our trip to Paris had opened his eyes to the world of charcuterie and made him all about the pates, sweetbreads and dry, salted meats. Between all of that and the whole-grain mustard, he would have been happy if the entire meal came from this table. Luckily for me, it did not.

The next station was the sushi bar, with California rolls with jumbo lump crab, salmon, tuna and nigiri selections, spicy tuna rolls and shrimp tempura rolls. (Those guys had mango sauce on them, so though they were the only sushi I probably would have enjoyed, I had to pass.) Again, The Hubs loaded up and was given a tray of pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce.

I moved on again, to the next station, where I found deviled eggs, fregola salad, baby iceberg wedge salads and a kale and apple salad.

I tried a couple of the eggs and The Hubs grabbed a wedge salad to try. We skipped the bagels and lox area, where there was a variety of toasted bagels, cream cheese, capers, smoked salmon and more.

I was tempted to try a yogurt parfait, with Greek yogurt, berries and fresh honeycomb, but I wanted to make sure I had plenty of room for my entree, so I passed.

As we walked through the buffet, gathering our appetizers, the chefs behind the line were smiling, making recommendations, telling us about the food prep, and thanking us for coming. You're thanking US for coming? Um, thank YOU! This all was looking SO delicious and I hadn't even had anything yet!

When we got back to our table, our pastry board and coffee had been delivered. On the board, there were pecan sticky buns, mini olive bread loaves, cheddar biscuits, and cranberry scones. (2 of each) Each item was fresh and delicious. I personally  loved the scones. Usually scones are on the dry side, but these had more moisture to them, while still maintaining the scone consistency. With a dab of the orange blossom honey butter.... perfection! It would have been easy to fill up on the bread items, but we wanted to dig into our appetizer plates!

I found the deviled eggs to be flavorful and creamy, though I wish I had realized that the orange sauce on them was like spicy hot lava in my mouth BEFORE I took a big bite. The sushi was insanely fresh and perfectly rolled. The orange honey ham was the most buttery, smooth ham I have ever had. Even the sweet onion jam on a piece of toast was heavenly. The Hubs thought that the pork belly was amazing and he fell in love with the bison sweetbread and the porchetta. Oh, and let's not forget the coffee!!! French press, specially blended Joffrey's coffee, with this particular brew made exclusively for California Grill. SO smooth. SO rich. I think I drank a whole pot myself, and I generally don't like coffee that much, unless you count skinny peppermint mocha Frappuccinos, (which are basically dessert).

As we were winding down from our appetizer frenzy, and taking in the sights and sounds around us, our server came over to ask if we were ready to place our entree order. There were so many wonderful sounding options... shrimp and grits, chef's frittata, poached lobster benedict... (Which seemed to be the most popular option, glancing around the dining room. I don't know if that's because at a fixed price restaurant, Guests are trying to get the most for their money, or if people just really love lobster that much. It likely had to do with how beautiful the entree looked as it was passing the tables, headed to another Guest.) Now, The Hubs and I had done the new breakfast at Sci-Fi a while back and remembered quite well that even though it wasn't actually advertised anywhere, servers were happy to let Guests reorder more of their entree when they finished the first round, or even order a different entree the second time around. Since that was a set price, just like this brunch, I figured I would ask the server about it. Honestly, the only reason I wanted to know was because I couldn't decide between the sweet potato pancakes and the chicken cutlet, so I really was hoping to order the chicken, but get to try a pancake on the side. Our server was happy to oblige and said that if I wanted to try the pancakes, he would ask the chef for a side of them. I also heard a nearby server asking a table if they would like a side of bacon added to their benedicts, so I am under the impression that the kitchen is quite accommodating, in general. Now, with that said, I'm sure your server is not going to appreciate it very much if you ask for three steaks, or if you want to try one of each of the entrees, but my point is that if you're curious to try a taste of something else, it's worth asking your server if it would be ok to order an extra dish. (Trust me, you'll be hard pressed to manage to eat more than one entree anyway, with all of the other amazing food!)

Ultimately, I went with the chicken and The Hubs went with the steak. We decided to share the side of pancakes. The entrees were delivered within fifteen minutes and they looked just as gorgeous and inviting as all of the other food had been so far, if not, even more so.

The chicken dish was a pan-fried buttermilk organic chicken cutlet, on a bed of haricot verts, toasted almonds, frisee, and buerre noisette. The chicken was lightly breaded, with a toasty panko crumb coating, and there was visible roasted garlic throughout the dish. When I dug in, I was swooning! The flavor of garlic and a very light lemon sauce blended together so nicely, and the chicken was tender and delicious. The greens underneath were just as enjoyable and both The Hubs and I were totally impressed with the dish.


The Hubs had gone with the grilled flat-iron steak, which had a chimichurri sauce on top and marble potato hash underneath. On the side, there was also a perfectly poached egg, sitting inside a ring of charred red onion. It was so cool looking! The beef was cooked to a perfect medium rare and the green sauce was flavorful, without overwhelming the steak. The Hubs ate the meal meticulously, putting on each forkful a bite of steak, a piece of potato, and a bit of onion, and dipping the whole thing in the poached egg. He declared it "the most perfect forkful of food ever".

For my side of sweet potato pancakes, the server brought me out a stack of three pancakes, with a vanilla custard cream on top, and between each layer. The regular entree of pancakes also comes with caramelized heirloom apples and a dried cranberry and raisin compote, but the chef had left that off of my side, which was fine, since the vanilla custard cream was insanely delicious and didn't need anything else with it. The pancakes were dense and had a lightly sweetened, cinnamony flavor, and the custard was like a rich and smooth creme brulee. SO good! Add to that the warmed Canadian maple syrup that was provided and you've got yourself a party! (Later in the meal, The Hubs turned into buddy the Elf and decided that syrup shouldn't go to waste, so he added it to his coffee.) I was glad that I only got the pancakes as a side. It would have been a crime to miss out on that chicken, and I think my belly couldn't have handled a whole order of the pancakes, with all of the toppings. It would have been too heavy. Plus, there was still dessert to come. You heard me. Dessert.

When we were reaching our maximum intake on our entrees, the server popped by and asked if he could box up our leftovers. He cleared the table, brought us fresh coffee and said that dessert would be along soon. About ten minutes later, a cake stand arrived at our table, with all sorts of sweet delights on it.

There were strawberry jam tea cookies, madeleines, French macarons, chocolate pecan toffee and even chocolate truffles! (Again, 2 of everything.) I wasn't a huge fan of the madeleines, since they tasted like a citrus sponge cake and that's not really a flavor I enjoy, but The Hubs liked them. The jam cookies were SO delicious. Not overly sweet, and just the right jam to cookie ratio. The toffee was crisp inside, with a super rich chocolate coating. The chocolate truffles were a bit disappointing. They were good, (after all, they ARE chocolate), but not much better than any decent piece of chocolate I have had elsewhere. The ones we were given were a dark chocolate truffle and a white chocolate heart with raspberry filling, but I did see other tables getting other assorted flavors and shapes of chocolate, so I think it's just a random sampling. My favorite dessert, by far, was the raspberry macaron. Perfectly crisp on the outside and pillowy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness on the inside. There was a delicious, tart raspberry filling in the center. Best macaron I have ever had, hands down! Even better than the ones we got in Paris! There was a chocolate macaron on the plate as well, and that was equally delicious, though I preferred the raspberry one for the tart center.

As we enjoyed dessert, a Cast Member came over to our table. He was from the research department and asked if we would be willing to take a survey on our meal, since this was a new experience. We agreed and he handed each of us a tablet to complete a quick survey, mostly asking about the quality/value of our meal, and also asking if we were aware that valet parking was included with our brunch and whether or not we took advantage of it. The survey only took a couple of minutes to complete, and we gave everything rave reviews. When we handed the tablets back to the Cast Member, we told him about our experience with the valet service; being told by the security guard that it was complimentary with brunch, and being told by the valet that it was not. He made note of it and said he'd make sure that they touched based with the valet stand again, to make sure all of the valets knew that it IS, in fact, free for brunch Guests. (Truly a nice feature, and a great value, since valet parking is now $25!)

As we sat, the couple next to us received their entrees. Looks like they had decided that I had the right idea, because they also ordered a side of the pancakes. They got the lobster benedict entrees and were gracious enough to allow me to snap a quick picture of it. (Yes, we are those people, who befriend random people around us, and then ask to photograph their food. That's not weird, right?)

We couldn't manage to eat all of the dessert plate, and our server happily allowed us to box up what was left of that, along with what was left of the breads. We ended up leaving with a whole meal! Our server brought over our check, and handed me a long stemmed red rose. What a lovely gesture. All of the ladies leaving the location seemed as happy to have received a rose as I was. Especially if it meant that we were being asked to continue to stay at Walt Disney World. Isn't that what receiving a rose means on The Bachelor?

A couple of notes on pricing here. As I mentioned, brunch is $80 per adult and $48 for children ages 3-11. That does not include alcoholic beverages, (other than the one provided bellini), and does NOT include gratuity. They DO, however, take Tables in Wonderland, so that sort of covers what you need to add on for tip.

After we paid our bill and thanked our server, we stepped out onto the observation deck, to grab some pictures of the surrounding area. It was pretty amazing!
It was so clear out, that we were able to spot not only The Magic Kingdom, which is right nearby, but we could also see Spaceship Earth, Everest, the construction of Avatar Land, the orange groves of Clermont, The Studios, Disney Springs, Sea World, Universal, and even all the way out to Downtown Orlando in the North and the JW Marriott in the East, which is really close to my house! Hi, house! Really awesome views and a gorgeous day weather wise. I felt like I could stay up there all day, but alas, we had kids at home who may have managed to tie up the babysitter by now, so we had to go.

As we walked back through the restaurant and out, we were thanked by each Cast Member that we passed, and asked several times how everything was. It's obvious that Guest satisfaction is the number one priority for this Cast, and you can't ask for anything better! We rode the elevator back to the lobby and went out to claim our car from the valet. We kept commenting on how awesome everything was and how much it felt like a "cruise meal". Between the super accommodating service, the amazing food and the breathtaking views, we may as well have been on the Disney Magic! Except we weren't. We wouldn't be going back to our cabin to nap, and we didn't get to feel the gentle swaying of the ocean and the sea spray on our faces. Bummer. But this experience was a pretty close second, and THAT is saying A LOT!

Bravo, California Grill!

Will we be back: I would come back in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the cost kind of makes that difficult, but now that we know how incredible this was, I think we will look into giving the Narcoossee's brunch a try. We just need to start saving up!

If YOU want to partake in the awesome meal for yourself, contact your agent at Kingdom Konsultant Travel and they will be happy to add this delightful meal to your itinerary!

- Jenn aka "Tink"


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