Before it’s lengthy, recent refurbishment, the California Grill was one of my favorite restaurants on WDW property. It didn’t just have great views of Bay Lake, fireworks, and the Magic Kingdom at night — it also had one of the top sushi chefs in the country. It was a pairing that made me keep coming back trip after trip. When it closed down a couple of years ago for its first considerable refurbishment in years, we all knew a completely new look was coming, and I think I speak for everyone in saying that we were all nervous. Disney was messing with a cherished classic, and I think we all wondered if when the doors finally reopened, the newer could be as grand as the former.
But lo and behold, when it reopened its doors, I was blown away. The new California Grill had experienced a beautiful make-over — like the kind you see in the cheesy 90s movies, where the girl with glasses and science books goes into the mall and comes out a prom queen. The colors are bold but understated, with window walls that give good views of Magic Kingdom and Bay Lake to everyone. The lighting is modern, and the menu is familiar but updated. I got the pork two ways with goat cheese polenta and it sent me to new levels of food nirvana that I didn’t know existed.
On my most recent trip to Disney World, I was thrilled to go back to the California Grill, as my previous experience has been so spectacular. I was looking forward to my favorite sushi rolls, and couldn’t wait to get my beloved pork two ways again. But alas, maybe my expectations where too high. Maybe I had been too needy with the California Grill — or maybe it was just because we were visiting during peak season. I’m not sure what it was, but this trip to the California Grill was just off. The food was still good, but not as outstanding as the previous visits. The views and decor were just as spectacular as always, even though one of the balconies was closed on our visit. I think the real problem came down to our service. I’ve been in the service industry for a long time, and I am one of those people that rarely complains about a waiter. But I know the difference between fine dining service, and and non-fine dining service, especially at a place like Disney World. I understand when things are busy, but drinks need to come out before appetizers, and a server should never pull out his cell phone on the floor to show pictures to his table.
All in all, I still recommend The California Grill for it’s food and views. But when a restaurant has such a high reputation for fine dining, I do think the management should invest in making sure all the servers are on the same page for what is okay and what isn’t. Because while I took it into stride and didn’t try to find a manager or complain, someone else might not be so understanding. Bad service doesn’t make it a bad restaurant, but it does diminish the experience.