Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Grand Floridian Cafe

I have to admit something to you.  This particular Restaurant stop had me a little nervous.  Here I was, taking my family to the place I work.  Potentially, if the meal didn't meet with their expectations, I could be looking at some egg on my face.

That's right, constant readers.  In this installment, we're going to the Grand Floridian Cafe, at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

The Grand Floridian Cafe
I know this is going to sound odd, but for all that I've been working at the Grand for a while, up until today I'd only actually eaten at two of the restaurants (1900 Park Fare, which will be the subject of two upcoming stops on the tour, and Gasperilla's Grill and Games, which (since Gasperilla's is basically a very upscale fast food joint) won't be).  Oh sure, I was familiar with the menu at the Cafe, and I'd had the opportunity to taste some of the food being produced, I'd never actually sat down for a meal there.  So I had no idea how the Cafe would actually stack up as a dining experience. Add to this the pressure, as I've already mentioned, of taking my family to my place of employ, and thus having them effectively sit in judgment over my work, was a little nerve-wracking.

Turns out, I shouldn't have worried.  At all.

As I've mentioned, my companions for this trip were my mother (Cheryl Butler) and father (Jack Butler, Sr.) and my younger brother Aaron (who accompanied me on my last trip, to Chef Mickey's.  The day started out bright and shiny, but by the time we'd reached the hotel, it had begun to cloud up.  While we ate lunch it started to rain lightly, but to tell you the truth, the rain just added to the view we had from our window-side table.

The Grand Floridian Cafe is, as I've already said, located at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.  The Grand Floridian is one of the "Magic Kingdom Resorts", located on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon.  To get there, pass through the Magic Kingdom gate, sticking to the right-hand traffic lane (as close as you can get to the lane the busses use), as if you're heading for the Contemporary Resort.  Make a left at the first stoplight onto Seven Seas Drive.  You'll pass by the park's central Lost and Found center, and passenger drop-off for the Magic Kingdom, and finally you'll pass the Polynesian Resort before turning right onto Grand Floridian Way.  The resort is only a few blocks past the turn on your right.

Alternately, you can park in the Magic Kingdom parking lot, take a tram to the Ticket and Information Center, and then take a monorail to the Grand.  That's a bit more complicated than just going to the hotel, though.

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
The Contemporary Resort in the distance to the right, and the Magic Kingdom center

The Grand Floridian is the crown jewel of the Disney resort system, and as such is the classiest of all Disney hotels.  Naturally enough, its also the most expensive.  I can say from past experience that this is the place the celebrities stay when they visit Disney.

The gardens on the right side of the hotel's entrance.

And on the left side.

A guest's initial view of the hotel's lobby.

The lobby proper.  The far end...

... and right above the entrance.

The Grand Floridian Cafe is located in the hotel's main building, just off the lobby to the left in the rear of the building.  You can find it easily by keeping to the left as you walk.  When you reach the back of the lobby, take the short hallway to the left past the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop.  This hallway will take you to the exit you'd use if you wanted to go to the hotel's marina, or out to the pool, but it also takes you to the Cafe.

And we're here!

We got to the restaurant about fifteen minutes ahead of our reservation time, but as there was only one other party in the restaurant at the time, the only delay in getting us a table was a short, pleasant conversation with a couple of my colleges (you know, the usual "Hey, this is my Mom and Dad.  Mom and Dad, these are some of the people I work with" sort of conversation you have when such circumstances arrive).

Our table was situated next to one of the windows that allowed an excellent view of the resort's central courtyard.  These windows let a lot of light into the restaurant, and were, in fact, the source of most of the lighting.  I found the use of natural lighting to be quite refreshing and a quiet contrast to our normally flourescently-lit world.

Mom at our table, with my good friend (and our greeter) Karen.

The Cafe is decorated in pleasant, light pastels, and really seems to harken back to the turn of the 20th Century more than any other location at the Grand in my opinion.  This is a quiet, pleasant place to eat; there are no Disney characters coming by every five minutes here, no loud intrusive background music (indeed, I didn't hear any background music at all), no crowds of guests all trying to talk over each other.  No, at the Cafe, the aim seems to be to provide a decent meal in a pleasant setting without anything distracting you from your food.  I heartily approve.

Our waiter, Guillermo, showed up at our table for drinks and appetizer orders very quickly, maybe five minutes (if that) after we'd sat down.  Guillermo was pleasant and friendly, and he was very, very attentive.  For the entire meal there was only one time he let us down... and the truth is he didn't let us down at all, the error was my fault entirely.

We ordered drinks and, after a quick read of the menu, some appetizers.  Mom and I both ordered the french onion soup.  Aaron ordered the salad of seasonal greens (mixed greens pears, candied walnuts, Maytag blue cheese, and a champagne pear vinaigrette), while Dad ordered the soup of the day (corn crab chowder).

The French Onion Soup

The Seasonal Green Salad

Corn Crab Chowder
The French onion soup was simply superb.  In the past I've had what was called French onion soup but that was actually just beef broth with some thin-sliced onions tossed in.  This was an onion broth that had been made carefully and fully, and the onions in the broth were so tender that the barest touch caused them to come apart.  The cheese was just this side of molten, and the crouton, which covered the entire top of the bowl just like it's supposed to, was sodden with the broth.

Dad's opinion of the corn crab chowder was a bit subdued.  He said that it tasted okay, and that he enjoyed it for all that it was, but that it wasn't spectacular (this in contrast to my mother, who is likely going to be singing praises of the French onion soup for days).  He also said that the pieces of potato in the soup were too large, and could have been removed or cut smaller to make the soup more palatable in his opinion.  So while the corn crab chowder was not a disappointment, neither was it all that exciting.

Aaron's salad, on the other hand, was devoured with a ferocity I rarely see in my younger brother.  The combination of the garden flavor of the dandelion greens, the blue cheese, and the sweet/salty taste of the candied walnuts appealed to him (and having tried a bite of his salad, I concurred), but the crowning touch was the champagne pear vinaigrette.  Honestly, after the salad was gone, Aaron started sopping up excess salad dressing with the tip of his finger.

I wasn't kidding about that, by the way.

We each selected something different when it came to our entrees.  Mom chose the Grand Floridian Burger (an angus chuck burger topped with butter-poached lobster, prosciutto, red onion marmalade, and arugula on a brioche bun) and pickled cucumber salad.  Dad went with the Orange-Glazed Salmon salad (salmon on arugula, tossed with bacon and an herb vinaigrette).  Aaron ordered the Roast Beef Sandwich (roast beef, arugula and tomato served on ciabatta bread) with the house-made potato chips.  I had the Grand Sandwich (an open faced hot sandwich with turkey, ham, bacon, and tomato with a boursin cream sauce, topped with fried onion straws).

The Grand Sandwich
The Grand Sandwich was, naturally enough, not ever intended to be eaten by the hands.  The combination of the turkey and ham with the boursin sauce was delicious, but I found that as I continued eating the sandwich, I wanted the boursin sauce to have been a little more lightly applied.  That said, the whole thing was very tasty, and my quibble with the boursin is minor at best.

The Grand Burger
When it came to Mom's burger, she said it was, and I quote, "The best burger I've ever had."  She ordered it done medium, and it was medium to a turn.   She also thought highly of the onion marmalade.  Her only complaint was one of excess:  in her opinion, the lobster was superfluous and didn't really add anything to the burger.  It tasted okay, but it could easily have been left off the burger entirely and it still would have been a fantastic meal.

Orange-Glazed Salmon Salad
"Cooked perfectly" was Dad's verdict on his salmon.  The fish had been broiled, and the glaze on top had crystallized into a tasty, crunchy shell that he thought added a new dimension to the fish.  My father is a big fan of salmon (which he persistently mispronounces "sal-man" instead of "sa-mon"), and this salmon was, for him, incredible.  He was, at first, a bit disappointed with the argula, though, because of a misperception of the menu's description.  He thought it said "mixed greens", and thus expected many different kinds of lettuce, when what it said was "seasonal greens", and that means arugula right now.

Roast Beef Sandwich

 Aaron was, at first, a little disappointed by his roast beef sandwich.  It was, in his words "too dry", especially when combined with the potato chips.  That said, the moment he mentioned it to Guillermo, our trusty waiter was off to the kitchen.  Within minutes, Guillermo had brought Aaron a dish of a tomato-pesto mayonnaise, a dish of the same boursin sauce that came on my sandwich, and a dish of the same onion marmalade that Mom had on her burger, thus allowing Aaron his choice of some very special condiments.

Aaron hates onions.  Hates them.  To the point that he often tells people at restaurants that he's allergic to them just so he won't have to put up with them.  To his credit, Aaron tried the onion marmalade, and found it delicious.  (He shrugged when I commented on it and said that all rules have exceptions, and this was an exception... he also liked the French onion soup, for that matter.)

The additions of the condiments turned a dry, bland sandwich into an appetizing, filling meal for him.

And then came the dessert...

But before I get to that, let me tell you about Sarah and Brad.  Sarah is one of the front-of-the-house managers at the Cafe.  She is, using a phrase from the internal slang common among Disney cast members, a "sparkly".  "Sparklies" are those people who are so upbeat and cheerful and happy to help and friendly that sometimes they go so far into sweetness that they taste like diabetes.  Don't get me wrong, Sarah is a sweetheart to work with and a wonderful person.  She's bubbly, in other words.

Brad, on the other hand, is a chef in the Future Leaders program, an internship which trains new chefs and prepares themselves for future leadership jobs in Disney kitchens.  Working at the Grand is actually one of Brad's first jobs in the culinary industry, and he is eager to make a go of it.  In my opinion, as a veteran chef who has, in the past, run my own kitchen, I have to say that Brad is going to do well.  He's knowledgeable, capable, and knows that you can learn from anyone you work with.  I like him a lot.  He's a nice guy.

So... back to the dessert.  Yesterday (4 August 2012), while I was working, I had mentioned that I was coming in with my folks for lunch.  Word got to Sarah and Brad, and they both decided to do something special for my Mom and Dad.

Anyway, this is the Dessert Sampler for Two:

The Dessert Sampler for Two
From the left, clockwise:  lemon cheesecake, key lime tart, Boston cream tart, and berry tart.
In the center, Chocolate Mickey Mouse.
Looking at it, I bet you can tell how great it is.

The desserts in this sampler are the perfect size, giving a couple of bites of sweet to each person without being heavy or over-filling or cloying.  They have great flavor, and everything tasted so very fresh.  My favorite was the lemon cheesecake, mainly because I am a huge fan of lemon flavor, and a huge fan of cheesecake, so naturally the combination of the two was great for me.  My family agreed with me.  The dessert offerings were swiftly devoured and all was right with the world.

But what made it even better was the presentation.  Knowing that I wanted to impress my parents and my brother, and wanting to give my family an extra-special memorable dining experience, Sarah and Chef Brad conspired to make our dessert sampler something special.

The special, personalized Dessert Sampler.

That's very carefully applied chocolate syrup, done in beautiful style by the people on the Pantry line (the part of the kitchen that creates salads and desserts).  And I love the hidden mickey they placed on the plate.

The chocolate Mickey is now in the refrigerator at home, awaiting some time in the future when someone wants a piece of chocolate.

Everyone was happy with lunch, and even the minor problems were forgotten by the end of the meal.  I have to give the Grand Floridian Cafe five out of five stars.  It is a hidden gem that is overshadowed by the more popular 1900 Park Fare, the flashier Citricos, and the much more resplendent Victoria and Alberts, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quiet meal featuring skillfully prepared food.

With four individual appetizers, drinks, entrees, and a dessert plate, the bill came to $119.  That's $29.75 apiece for four adults, which is not bad at all for a Disney restaurant.  The Grand Floridian Cafe just pushed Teppan Edo out of the #1 spot on my personal list of the Best Dining Experiences at Disney World.

Next up:  Fulton's Crab House, at Downtown Disney.


  1. You're making me hungry! Good job all around.

  2. Now I REALLY want to go to the Grand Floridian!