This post reviews our experience at the California Grill Lounge, which is really just an area in the middle of the restaurant with a different style of tables and chairs that doesn’t require reservations. Like California Grill itself, the lounge is a Signature Restaurant participating in the Disney Dining Plan. It also accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount or Annual Pass/Disney Vacation Club membership for a 10% discount.
The lounge, along with the bar, is often used as a waiting area for guests who have Advance Dining Reservations at California Grill but want to grab a quick drink and light bite before their meal. Unlike a lot of lounges at Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts, this really isn’t a distinct lounge. It’s the same menu and same restaurant, just perhaps a bit more laid back, I guess?
A reasonable alternate title for this review would be, “Sarah & Tom Are Too Cheap For California Grill’s Dinner Menu, So They Just Order Appetizers.” Not quite as concise, but still true. We hadn’t been to California Grill in a while, and we’ve been craving that ambiance. We decided to do the lounge instead of the main dining room(s).
One reason we like the lounges at Signature Restaurants is because they enable us to do these light, appetizer-centric meals without feeling guilty about occupying a table with an ADR. We’d recommend a similar strategy to anyone (not just for California Grill, but for other Signatures, as well) who is not on the Disney Dining Plan. If you are on the Dining Plan, you’re better off making an ADR and getting the full experience, as California Grill and California Grill Lounge are both 2-credit establishments.
Since appetizers are not on the (standard) Disney Dining Plan, you’ll find that their prices are not as inflated to provide the illusion of value to Dining Plan guests. Additionally, we’ve found that chefs get more creative and ambitious with any items that are outside of the Dining Plan. This means that the value for money is typically the best with appetizers.
Along with dining at lower-priced table service restaurants, this is one of several strategies we employ when not using the Disney Dining Plan to maximize our Walt Disney World restaurant experiences while keeping costs in check. (We should probably do a full post on that sometime.)
Much of California Grill’s menu changes seasonally, so if you’re not visiting in the near future, the food section of this review might have limited value to you.
We had some hesitation about ordering a single ravioli at this price point, but it did not disappoint. The tomato broth provided a great complement to the ravioli, and the mushrooms and cheese (on top) provided the perfect texture.
This flatbread was extraordinary–one of the best things we’ve ever had at Walt Disney World. It is worth making a special trip to California Grill just for this. The duck confit on here was generous, and the walnuts, goat cheese, arugula, and other toppings melded to provide a complex flavor unlike any other flatbread I’ve had at Walt Disney World (or anywhere, for that matter).
We enjoyed this flatbread so much that we actually ordered another after our first round of appetizers: the Roasted Tomato Flatbread. Initially, we considered this, but questioned the value of a tomato flatbread.
These tomatoes were juicy and bursting with flavor–cooked just long enough to enhance their flavor without drying them out. They were shockingly good. The goat cheese, arugula pesto, and aged balsamic rounded out the flatbread nicely. It was light, but still substantial.
Overall, the California Grill Lounge exceeded our expectations. We went in hoping for a light, late night snack that would allow us to experience of California Grill without as high of a price tag as a full meal, and it delivered. We left satisfied and full from appetizers that were delicious–and worthy of California Grill’s reputation–at a fraction of the price a full meal would’ve cost. It did make us want to return to California Grill for a “full” experience sometime in the near future (likely the ‘Brunch at the Top’), but as a standalone experience at a lower price point, the Lounge at California Grill was perfect.
What do you think about California Grill? Have you dined here since the refurbishment a few years ago? Tried the lounge or wine menu? Any order recommendations of your own to add? Thoughts on the ambiance? Share any questions or additional thoughts you have in the comments!