Time is running out to dine at California Grill. The popular restaurant on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort will close at the end of dinner service on Friday, February 1. Actually, if you don’t already have a reservation, you’re probably out of luck.
In that case, you’ll just have to wait until the end of summer when the new, improved and, yes, more contemporary California Grill reopens.
California Grill opened on May 15, 1995, and was instantly one of the resort’s premier restaurants. In its top-floor aerie with a panoramic vista of Walt Disney World, including the Magic Kingdom and its nightly fireworks at eye level, California Grill has been a tough reservation to secure.
CG was one of the first restaurants in the area to feature a show kitchen, one that put the chefs and cooks in full view of the dining room. It was also the first of the Walt Disney World restaurants to introduce sushi to the menu.
The original design was by the late Martin Dorf, who had a design firm in New York. (Dorf also did the interiors for Flying Fish Cafe and Citricos.) Although not a direct copy, the decor immediately brought to mind the free-flowing design of New York’s Rainbow Room.
Puccini Group, a San Francisco based restaurant design company, will do the new interior. (On the company’s website, an Orlando restaurant listed under the Current Projects banner is noted as being “confidential,” so please don’t tell anyone that I told you.)
The restaurant will have an entirely new decor and the front of the restaurant will be redone. The kitchen will still be an open one, but just about everything in it will be replaced. “It will be completely different and updated,” said executive chef Brian Piasecki.
Piasecki said the restaurant will feature a new sous vide cooking system as well as the first commercial cast-iron plancha in Florida. Both cooking methods will figure into a revamped menu. The sous vide will be used for what Piasecki is calling a 24-hour braised short rib filet that will be seared and then cooked under vacuum at a consistent temperature for 24 hours. The griddle will be featured for such items as salmon.
Don’t worry, the restaurant’s most popular dish, the grilled pork with goat cheese polenta, first introduced by inaugural chef Clifford Pleau. It will, however, be a bit different. It will be paired with a lacquered pork belly with apple country sauce, so you’ll be getting more on the plate (in theory).
Sushi will be more at the forefront. The sushi bar will have a couple of extra seats, and guests there may opt for a sushi tasting menu that will have items not available on the regular menu.
What will be missing from the sushi service, unfortunately, will be Yoshi Cabral, the longtime sushi chef and one of the first women to hold that title in the area. (Here’s a profile I did of Yoshi nearly 10 years ago for the Orlando Sentinel.) Yoshi thought California Grill’s hiatus would be a good time to announce her retirement, but Piasecki has hopes that he can persuade her to make guest appearances from time to time.
There are no firm dates for the opening as yet, but I’ll check in at CG from time to time for updates. What are your California Grill favorites? Leave a comment below.