Napa Rose Chef’s Counter Review
Napa Rose in the Grand Californian Hotel is the best restaurant at Disneyland Resort. Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle Restaurant, and Steakhouse 55 all pale in comparison to Napa Rose. Its only real competition is the new-look Club 33 (and Napa Rose Chef’s Counter is arguably the better of the two), but that’s not open to the public.
Given that the Southern California dining scene is among the best in the country, Napa Rose really has to bring its A game to attract locals who aren’t heading into the parks. I mean, this is an area with some of the finest Pop Tart culinary creations known to mankind. When restaurants throw down the Pop Tart gauntlet, you know it’s on. Although Napa Rose doesn’t have any gourmet Pop Tarts on its menu (yet), it holds its own with regard to the competitive Orange County food scene.
In so doing, Napa Rose has demonstrated that it can run with the big dogs, winning a variety of awards since first opening, and being recognized as one of the top restaurants in Orange County by the likes of Zagat and other restaurant critics. Interestingly, the restaurant only scores an 81% on crowd-sourced Urban Spoon, but in glancing through those reviews, many seem to focus either on price or are tourists used to large portion sizes. No question, Napa Rose is an expensive restaurant serving smaller portions–this is pretty much a universal truth among fine dining locales. In other news, the sky is blue and Snoop Dogg likes to party.
We’ve already covered the regular menu at Napa Rose in a separate review, so for this review we will focus solely on the Chef’s Counter experience…
I’ll start by saying that this review is a bit superfluous, for a couple of reasons. First, Napa Rose is an amazing restaurant, and anyone looking for a romantic meal or quality fine dining experience, especially those traveling on vacation to Disneyland Resort, should make reservations for Napa Rose. It’s expensive, but well worth the money.
It really doesn’t need my endorsement, because “real” food critics sing its praises all the time, and they know way more about this stuff than me, and also know fancy french terms to describe food and give more gravitas to their opinions. (Don’t worry, to up my street cred, I’ll be dropping some French bombes de langue throughout this post.)
Second, because the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter is a semi-unique experience that is not only tailored to your personal likes and dislikes as well as seasonal menus and whatever the chefs might want to test on any given night, my review of some of the particular items we tried is all but meaningless. You probably will have a totally different menu, so it doesn’t matter what made me say “yum” and “wow” during the course of our meal.
Given this, I’m going to try to focus this review as much on the overall experience of the Chef’s Counter as on the individual items consumed. In some cases, I might gloss over the food entirely if it was clearly a “limited engagement” type of item. Amazing food is an integral part of the Napa Rose experience (I don’t think anyone would pay that much money to just hang out with some chefs), but I think discussion of the experience should prove helpful in determining whether it’s worth your money to book this.
The Chef’s Counter at Napa Rose looks into the open prep kitchen, and there are a total of 12 seats at each sitting, with 2 sittings per evening. The seats are grouped into fours, with 8 seats in front of the final prep and approval station (this might not be its actual name, but functionally, that’s what it is) for entrees and another 4 seated by the dessert prep area. We were by dessert prep.
Initially, I was disappointed by the location as it wasn’t in the center of the action, but we dined with infamously-weak Astro Blaster Guy Selga and his wife who had done the Chef’s Counter before, and they said they thought the dessert area location offered a better view. This may have been true, but I still dreamed of the prospect of poaching a filet placed within reach at the entree counter.
Regardless of where you’re seated, the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter will cost you a cool $100/person. It’s even more if you get the wine pairings, but since we are relative débutants who couldn’t tell a ten-thousand dollar bottle from some Two-Buck Chuck, this seemed like a waste. (Pro tip from friends: order one wine pairing for 2 people and split it.) Let me know when you become truly progressive, Disney, and start doing a craft beer pairing. Actually, I should back up…
The “Tasting Menu” at the Chef’s Counter costs $100/person and is a 6-course tasting, including an entree. This is the experience where you are totally at the mercy of the chefs. They talk to you about your preferences and dislikes at the start of the meal, but what they ultimately prepare for you is totally up to them.
You can also order from the regular menu at the Chef’s Counter (since seating is limited and this is a popular spot, do the rest of us a favor and go to the main dining room if you plan on doing this) or from the seasonal, 4-course Vitner’s Menu that changes on about a weekly basis. You will not be shunned by me (as if you care) if you order from the Vitner’s Menu, but really, the Tasting Menu is the way to go at the Chef’s Counter.
I’m sure other sites that want to appease and reassure parents are going to say that it’s absolutely fine to bring small children to the Chef’s Counter. I suppose this is true in the sense that there’s no explicit rule banning them. You’re going to do what you’re going to do, but keep in mind that this is a fine dining experience costing over $100/person in a locale where sport coats and dresses are not uncommon.
I did not see any small children at the Chef’s Counter. Literally every other dining experience at Disneyland Resort caters to kids, so I would suggest opting for one of those or getting a babysitter if you want to do the Chef’s Counter.
For our visit, we were seated promptly at 5:30 pm, just when the action was getting started with preparations for the first wave of desserts about to be ordered for the evening. If you’ve never met Guy (lucky soul), he is a dessert fiend, and immediately upon sitting down, he “bonded with Chef Janae”, in his words (I’d use different ones) who was in charge of our desserts for the evening.
Sous Chef Gloria quickly came over to our spots at the counter after we were seated and gave us a rundown of the experience, some information about the kitchen, and then asked us a litany of questions, as if interrogating us regarding some sort of kitchen-related crime. Kidding, of course, but she did ask a few incisive questions that would prove useful in determining what to serve each of us.
Chef Gloria would drop in on us from time to time throughout the experience to discuss things with us, as would some of the other sous chefs in the kitchen, but the bulk of our interactions were with two of the dessert chefs.
I’m guessing that the folks at the entree station had more face time with Chef Gloria, but I never saw the dessert chefs (who were both really fun and energetic) go over to the entree station.
I noticed that the elusive Andrew Sutton was not present the evening we were there. Chef Sutton is Disneyland Resort’s…I don’t really know what to call him…he’s not really a celebrity chef, but Disneyland talks him up a lot. I guess he’s the “name brand” chef that adds real world credibility to the Disneyland restaurants?
Anyway, he now lords over Napa Rose, Carthay Circle Restaurant, and Club 33 as the Executive Chef of all three. Somehow, in all of our visits to these three restaurants, I have never seen him.
Guy, who has also eaten at these restaurants a lot, has said the same. Perhaps Andrew Sutton is like a ghost who mysteriously floats from restaurant to restaurant, hiding in the shadows out of the view of guests as he dreams up these brilliant menus. Perhaps he creates some inventive dishes for each of these restaurants and then lets Disney use his name while he chills on his estate in Napa Valley.
Perhaps he’s plotting his next move to wrest control of Blue Bayou from the pirates. I don’t know his actual level of involvement with any of these restaurants, but I am genuinely curious. If anyone knows the real story here or has seen him recently at Disneyland Resort, I’d love to hear about it.
About 20 minutes or so after we were seated, the first of the food was set down before us, a bacon amuse-bouche. Throwing down the bacon right off the bat like that? These chefs truly got me.
I’ve already interspersed some photos of the various items we had during the course of the meal, but now I want to highlight and briefly discuss some of the items served to us…
One of my early courses was the Bison Carpaccio, which was rich and beautifully presented. Words really don’t do it justice, but I believe the French would call this autre monde.
With food this good, it’s difficult to say the presentation is “just as important” as the taste (it isn’t), but it was quite clear careful attention was paid to the presentation, too.
Our next courses consisted of seafood, and we all really hit the jackpot with this round.
My swordfish (above) was incredibly tender and was the epitome of what a good fish steak could be.
The ladies both received diver scallops–I had a small bite of one of these, and it was far and away the best scallop I had ever tasted.
Guy had the trout, but he being a huge lobster fan, I was able to trade him part of my lobster claw for half of his incredible trout. Sucker!
One thing to prepare for when ordering the Tasting Menu and dining with others is envy over what they receive. The four of us typically shared, trying all of the dishes (I normally take borrow from the Joey Restaurant Philosophy and bark TOM DOESN’T SHARE FOOD when anyone asks, but I made a rare exception for this meal), which is a good way to sample a variety of flavors. However, this is also a great opportunity to expand your horizons.
For example, I received the above experimental dish while others received an amazing-looking pheasant meatloaf and duck breast, both of which I would have eagerly traded for…until I gave this a chance and tried it. It was bursting with flavor and was a very nice surprise.
My main course was the Herb Roasted Colorado Lamp Chop and Braised Lamp Brisket. Like I said, the chefs here really got me.
The lamp chop was simply divine, but English words haven’t even been invented yet for how good that brisket was. This was most certainly tres délicieux with its many explosif saveurs. ZUT ALORS!!!
We all were winners with the entrees, too. Guy had the Grilled Eye of the Rib Eye and Cabernet Braised Top Cap, and it sounded like there weren’t enough superlatives to describe how he felt about it.
I just wish he wouldn’t have growled at us while guarding his dish before licking his plate when he was finished. C’mon, Guy, even our miniature dachshund behaves better in public. (At least Guy didn’t pee on the floor…this time.)
Guy’s efforts at “charming” the dessert chefs paid off, as he was presented with what looked like the greatest dessert of all time. On the far right is a brownie covered in house-made sea salt caramel ice cream.
At the end of the meal, the chefs asked if there was anything else we needed, and I jokingly responded, “some of that sea salt caramel ice cream.” Within moments, I had a bowl of it in front of me. Best. Ice cream. Ever.
My dessert was another item I would have never considered were I ordering from the menu, but it was shockingly good. Really, everything the chefs put before us had a new and intriguing flavor. It was like they were really coming at us with everything in the culinary bibliothèque.
Overall, I highly and without any reservations recommend the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter to those who can afford it. We have dined at the bar, in the lounge, in the main dining room, and even did Thanksgiving Dinner at Napa Rose, but the Chef’s Counter was far and away our best experience at Napa Rose and came close to Victoria & Albert’s as our best Disney culinary experience, ever.
For a 3-hour meal (“dining experience” is the more proper term, really) we had some great interactions and left pleasantly full, making me feel like we had really gotten our money’s worth from the Chef’s Counter. Immediately after the meal, we started concocting plans for when our next “special occasion” might be so that we could make a return visit. Yes, the price is steep, but the experience is great and you get to sample a range of different foods, all while receiving personalized service and attention from the chefs. Even for those who wouldn’t self-define as foodies, the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter is a highly recommended experience.
As for figuring out the rest of your Disneyland trip, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine at Disneyland & Disney California Adventure, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide!
Have you done the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter? Was your experience as positive as ours? Do you have any favorites at Napa Rose? Thinking of giving it a try? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments!
I know this is an older article, but wanted to point out, we also are not wine drinkers. And it has been 10 years since we did the Chef’s Table. But we actually had Chef Sutton. When we mentioned we didn’t drink wine and were more beer people, they called over the Cicerone. Yes, Napa Rose has a Cicerone for beer. It’s not listed, but it is available. And they curated a beer pairing for us for each course.
Thanks for the review. It convinced us to reserve this to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary in October 2019.
It was fantastic!
Highly Recommended/Must Do!
NOTE: the early seating is now at 5 PM.
We aren’t huge wine drinkers so we shared the wine flight between us.
Chef Gloria (Joe), assuming it is the same person, was head chef for our meal. She was nice enough to take our picture.
We must have had some dumb luck last year. we stumbled upon the Chefs table two weeks before our visit. When we were seated the waiter let us know that Chef Sutton was there tonight and apparently that wasn’t the norm. He was awesome. Very chatty, ran a tight ship with the crew. We watched serveral great looking flatbreads get thrown away for some unknown reason…Such a fantastic night. Highlight of trip for my teenage daughter. We loved it soooo much we are stopping in Disneyland on our way to Aulani this summer. I just made my chef table reservation last night!
This may need an update now that Club 33 has been remodeled and Chef Andrew has been put in charge. I’ve dined frequently at both establishments and, nice as Napa Rose is, there’s no longer ANY comparison to Club 33; it wins hands down and is the best 5-star restaurant I’ve found in OC.
May I ask how you got into Club 33? I celebrate my 33rd bday in November and have it on my bucket list to have dinner there that night.
Hi Tom, on Dec 30th my wife and I and our two sons and daughter in law had dinner at the chefs counter. There was five of us so we were seated at the pastry counter which was very nice. The food we were served was good but nothing that was great. When they asked us what our preferences were we told them and only my oldest son was served anything that was close to what he told them. The whole time we were there the two pastry chefs were busy boxing truffles for the New Year’s Eve party the next night! We were never served anything more than the four courses and always waited for a long time for the next course. When I made the reservation I told them it was our sons 35th birthday and she said she noted it on the reservation. I even stopped in to the restaurant the day before as we were staying at the Grand Californian as talked to the hostess and she assured me it was noted on the reservation. What I also didn’t realize is they my oldest son had called and told them it was my birthday also. When our server brought our check at the end of our meal my wife told her about the special occasions. She scurried to the pastry chef and told her so she grabbed two plates and wrote happy birthday on the and put two of the party truffles on the plates and our waitress brought them to us and said Happy Birthday. Too little too late! What a disappointment, after reading your review we were really excited to experience the chefs table. I have tried for two months to contact the general manager about our experience to no avail. I guess they just don’t care. I hope you can forward this to the General Manager. That
Now so much from a very disappointed family.
I’m all in- great descriptions and narratives!
Only apprehensive about 3 hours: that’s a long sit, no matter how delish. Was considering taking the folks for big anniversary.
Any thoughts about the length of time? Does it vary?
Thanks for your detailed and honest review. I’ve been looking forward to experiencing this for some time. For about eight months leading up to my trip last September, I drooled over photos and crossed off days on the calendar, and then sometime around August Napa Rose announced it would be closed in September for a lengthy refurbishment. I was crushed! But now that I’m returning again this September, I’m once again excited.
Here’s my question, though. I plan to make a reservation in the next week or two, but my buddy who’s traveling with me has now decided he doesn’t want to go; he’d rather spend that money on something else. In your opinion, is this something a person could enjoy on his or her own? Is there enough to take in as I eat that I won’t get bored or feel uncomfortable for eating by myself? I don’t typically mind flying solo, but this experience is somewhat unique. What are your thoughts? (Or maybe I should be asking if you know of someone fun who will be at Napa Rose in mid-September and just happens to need some company… Nope. Not that. Answer the first, less desperate question instead.)
I think Sutton is quite involved. We met him there on one of the two times we ate at the counter. Nice guy. Amazing experience at the Chef’s counter every time. Doing it again next month.
This makes me want to book this for our 20th anniversary trip! From what I have read, you need to call Napa Rose directly to book the Chef Counter, right? Thanks for your review!
That is correct, you call Napa Rose directly.
Wow, for $100 your meal looks like a relative steal to me. Arguably Disneys best restaurant personally crafting a menu to your tastes, that is easily worth at least twice that. We got to eat at Napa on our honeymoon a few years ago and while we didn’t do the chefs table, we kind of made our own version of a tasting menu at the bar. We were the only ones there and the bartender did a wine pairing for us with it. We easily drank $100 in wine and he only charged us a $20 tasting fee. It was easily our best Disney meal ever. Doing V&A this year so will see how it compares
I have dined at the Napa Chef’s counter 3 times and have had all amazing but 3 different food experiences. I’m going for a 4th time in June and am looking forward to trying to the dessert side.
Tom great review, loved the pictures. I’ve not done the Chef’s Counter before, now it is on my list. Been three times to NR, every time has been an exceptional experience. If you are out on the main floor or one of the private dining rooms ask to be seated in Mickey’s area – he will not disappoint, one of the best attendants ever! In my experience, NR is several cuts above Carthay, both are quite expensive, I don’t know how you got out at $100 pp. My bills have always been >$150pp including drinks, (moderately priced wines) kinda relative for NR and Carthay. My only gripe is there is no annual passholder discount at NR, whereas Steakhouse 55, Carthay and everyplace else gives you a passholder break.
Well, the per person price for the experience without wine is $100, and we don’t really drink wines, hence the price difference… 😉
I’d agree that Napa Rose is quite a bit better than Carthay, but Carthay is still very good.
My husband and I had the joy of experiencing the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter a couple years back. We did get the wine pairing and it was worth every dime. I’m all for saving a few bucks, but the thing about the wine is it is expertly paired with each dish so splitting may not be a great idea. Our wine pairing for the dessert course really showed the skill of the sommelier. My Husband had a very rich chocolate dessert which was served with this very sweet, almost raspberry wine. Alone, this wine was so treacly sweet I truthfully wouldn’t drink it. However, a sip after a bite of dense chocolate was absolute heaven! I had a cherry based dessert, so this wine along with all that fruit wouldn’t have been very pleasant. Can’t wait to get back there!
Great point about the wine pairing.
Thank you for this! I’m hoping to get to do this in September as a celebration for completing the Dumbo Double Dare and a belated 40th birthday present to myself. Now to find someone to split the wine tasting so I don’t fall asleep….
Tom, I’m going to be solo at DLR in a few months and I’ve been trying to figure out dining options. Would you recommend this for a solo diner? (And now that I’m on the subject, any other solo dining recommendations for me?) Thanks!
I think this would be a great solo experience–it provides for some built-in interactions.
As I travel solo more often, I’ve become accustomed to doing most places solo. About the only place I wouldn’t do solo is a princess character meal, and that’s just because an adult male by himself at such a restaurant just seems sorta creepy and sends the wrong message, in my opinion.
Now I’m not after a ‘tourist’ level of food but I would expect more for the price.
Is the food there so good and so filling that paying so much for so little is a good deal for the consumer?
Just seems like a “look at what we suckered those fools into buying this time” moment.
You must not eat at high-class restaurants too often. $100 for that meal is quite reasonable and with the 6 courses together, looked like plenty of food to me. Also the added interaction with the chefs and specific tailoring to your liking are part of the experience for which you’re paying.
That tasting menu looks much more appealing to me than even V&A’s menu (I have limited tastes). I’ll have to put this on my “to-do” list for sometime in life.
We have had the enormous good fortune to have eaten at the chef’s counter 4 times and have seen Andrew Sutton 3 times. Of course, our visits are usually a year apart, so there is no rhyme or reason I can help with. Every course we’ve had has been tres magnifique and I absolutely agree with your review, spot on! I also have read some so-so reviews that I just don’t understand but reading them many are upset with the cost, time involved or portion size. There are many fine places to eat in and around Disneyland, from cheap to spendy, some all you can stuff, many of them fast food. If those are your criteria, go eat elsewhere.
BTW, Andrew Sutton is a charming man, he stopped and had a word or two with all of us at the counter. He also personally made a course for us each visit though that was before he took on Carthay and Club 33.
Tom, I love, love your blog, your sarcasm and sense of humor. Keep up the great work!
Restaurant terms: The final prep and approval area is known simply as the pass in restaurant lingo. The dessert prep area is the pastry station. The executive chef (Sutton) is in charge of the overall concept and menu of a restaurant. Each individual restaurant has a Chef de Cuisine – Chief of the Kitchen – who actually runs the kitchen. If he/she is not at the pass, his/her place is usually taken by the Sous Chef. The cooks around the kitchen are line cooks and are usually responsible for preparing foods by one or two methods.
Thanks for the explanation!
I am living vicariously through your experience here Tom because since we always take our three rambunctious children with us when we go to DL, I doubt I’ll ever be able to experience this exquisite meal myself. Thanks for sharing! 🙂