This has always been one of the more troubling restaurant spaces at Walt Disney World. Not that Citricos hasn’t offered good (sometimes very good) food in the past. On the contrary, the quality of the food here has always been fine. And over its 20 years in existence, it has been served by some excellent chefs, including Roland Muller, Gray Byrum and Phillip Ponticelli. After Ponticelli left, in 2015, to take over the kitchen at Golden Oak, Dominque Filoni was hired as the restaurant’s fourth chef de cuisine.
(Full disclosure: In 2015, Scott Joseph Company’s consulting division was hired by WDW to perform a guest experience analysis. Those findings are not included in this review.)
What has made this a troubling restaurant is its relative lack of proper identity. Considering that most restaurants at Walt Disney World, especially those we see opening at Disney Springs, come with a legend or backstory that explain their existence, Citricos has no such history.
Long-timers will recall that the restaurant was originally called Flagler’s when the Grand Floridian Resort originally opened, in 1988. Although it had the name of a historical Floridian figure, it was an Italian restaurant, which didn’t make much sense.
And when it was rebranded, in 1997, as Citricos, it kept a Mediterranean mien.
That apparently isn’t going to change. But if the restaurant itself doesn’t have focus, Filoni certainly does. I can tell you that the quality of the food has never been better than it is now.
I was invited to attend a media sampling of the menu recently. My fellow tablemates and I were treated to an amuse bouche of stuffed squash blossom followed by an array of the restaurant’s starters.
I loved the Warm Octopus Salad, mainly because the octopus had been prepared sous vide and was so tender. Heirloom tomatoes and chickpeas were included, all snuggled under potato foam.
I'm always drawn to Arancini, and I'm usually disappointed. But not with these. The crispy balls of fried risotto actually had the taste and texture of rice, which was bonded with creamy macscarpone cheese. The arancini sat in a pulpy puddle of poma tomato sauce.
Filoni, a native of St. Tropez, has started doing his own paté, and his Paté de Campagne was a spot-on terrine of densely packed pork and seasonings. The toasted country bread wasn't necessary; all one needed was a fork or fingers to enjoy.
For our entrees, we chose from a select list. I settled on the Scallop Risotto and couldn't have been happier.
The plump sea scallops were deftly seared and had a golden char. The risotto had English peas and fava beans with wild mushrooms in scallop jus.
My neighbor let me taste her Wild Caught Halibut, which had been treated with the same careful sear (someone in the kitchen has a knack for seafood). It sat on a mound of saffron infused jasmine rice and featured a scattering of clams and calico scallops around the plate. The fish was as moist and tender as my scallops.
Being in the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Citricos is served by the talents of Erich Herbitschek, whose title is master pastry chef, although his business card might easily read “Confection Artist.” Our array included Warm Chocolate Banada Tart, Key Lime Tart, cheesecake and a classic Tiramisu.
Service was stealthily precise.
Citricos is the last remaining restaurant that still has the Martin Dorf design. Both California Grill and Flying Fish have been remodeled. Perhaps a refresh for Citricos is near?
That would be nice, but the food has already been refreshed, so just let Filoni keep doing what he’s doing.
Citricos is at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number for reservations is 407-939-3463.