“Mommy, can I have this piece of chocolate from last night?”
It’s 6:30 in the morning and my eldest daughter has discovered the chocolate left by housekeeping from the night before. She missed it last night of course, as we had to carry her back to the room, comatose at 8 p.m. following a day in Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
When you take your kids to Disney, you’ll have to get used to a new routine: Mickey waffles at 7 a.m. set up a sugar-fueled, overstimulating day of body-jangling rides punctuated at various times by high-pitched shrieks of “There’s Goofy!”
Luckily those who crave a good bottle of wine at the end of the day need not approach a trip to Disney as a lost cause—today’s Disney has a number of dining options that cater to the foodie crowd. Call it Disney for adults.
Cítricos Restaurant, located in the Grand Floridian resort, is one of the better options. The large dining room yawns away from the open kitchen located at the front of the restaurant, and features high ceilings, plenty of natural light and an Italian-Mediterranean inspired menu.
If you don’t mind the busy chatter of the kitchen, ask for a table up front. Our girls were entertained by trying to figure out who the saucier and sous chef were in the kitchen (inspired by their love of Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille of course).
While Mom and Dad can feel at home here, kids are never left out of the mix. As Nancy and I are brought an amuse bouche of short-rib in philo dough, our daughters are brought fresh orange slices drizzled with cranberry honey, which quickly wins them over.
That led both girls to order off the adult menu (though they still happily employed the crayons brought by the waitress, and a side order of Mickey-shaped mac and cheese). Appetizers include crispy risotto balls or a seared tuna carpaccio, while entrées included pork tenderloin with a warm, fresh mushroom salad. My bone-in ribeye was brontosaurus-size, and slathered with wood-roasted Spanish onions.
The wine list provides solid options, though half are predictable, with ubiquitous California names like Jordan and Beringer. There are more interesting options if you dig, including a Bierzo and a pair of Jumillas. We started with a refreshing Robert Eymael(Mönchhof) Riesling QbA Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2006 and followed that with the Lafond Syrah Sta. Rita Hills SRH 2005, a soft, forward version with moderately juicy blackberry and spice notes.
My personal favorite dinner spot during the trip was Jiko, located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I admit to looking forward to a visit here for some time, thanks to the all-South African wine list. Thoughts of a kudu steak and a bottle of Columella danced in my head, and I figured if I got at least one of the two, I’d be happy.
Well, authentic South African game isn’t on the menu, but the dishes are authentic enough with their flavors. A loin of lamb roasted with berbere spice was easily the best entrée of the trip, though Nancy’s Durban curry, piled high with large shrimp over pilaf was amazingly light and balanced.
While the girls scanned the room for the "hidden Mickey" (the outline of Mickey’s head and ears that is typically hidden in the decor somewhere) they gleefully tore into a plate of hummus, tikka masala and spinach-lentil dips paired with different flat breads.
The wine list doesn’t disappoint … if you’re familiar with South African wines. I applaud Disney for making the commitment to the category and not letting any interlopers on the list—no Jordan Cabernet here to comfort the lazy. The Ataraxia Mountain Sauvignon Blanc Western Cape 2006 sets the tone, with its chiseled herb and mineral flavors, while the Sadie Family Columella Swartland 2003 is listed at a “apparently no one here has heard of this wine” price. If your knowledge of Cape wines is minimal, don’t worry—the sommelier on staff is happy to help.
As with most restaurants at Disney, Jiko’s dining room is loud, colorful and energetic. If the kids can make it past dark, night-vision goggles are available for viewing the animals that roam areas around the lodge itself. Our girls though were once again carried back to their rooms long before dark...
A third option is the California Grill, located in the Contemporary Resort. The resort itself is in need of a facelift, but once you get to the rooftop restaurant, you’re met with a great view of the property. An observation deck allows for a breath of fresh air and a great spot for viewing the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom each night at 10 p.m.
As its name implies, California Grill offers a Napa-themed menu paired with a California-centric wine list. The seasonal, West Coast-inspired dishes, such as a veal loin roasted with fresh morels and ramps or the grilled pork tenderloin with goat cheese polenta and cremini mushrooms both beg for wine. Big name California wineries lead the wine list—Dunn, Dalla Valle, Diamond Creek and more, while a few wines for Euro-centric palates can also be had, such as the 2001 J.-L. Chave Hermitage.
While the standard menu items don’t disappoint, it’s the sushi here that really stands out. The staff is happy to extol the virtues of Yoshie, the sushi chef, and the “snake in the grass” roll (shrimp tempura with avocado and eel), among others, is superfresh.
It was night number three for us, and the girls found a second wind that allowed them to make it all the way to dessert—Rice Krispie cakes wrapped in a fruit roll up and topped with a gummy fish, served with chopsticks. I’ve never seen my daughters so giddy. Adequately sugar-fueled, we decided to take them for the late-night hours at the Magic Kingdom, which allowed my eldest a chance to ride Space Mountain for the fifth time, a tally she proudly held over her baby sister, not yet tall enough to handle the roller coaster.
Nothing is perfect of course—you’ll have to deal with that odd Florida restaurant tradition of being asked to wait five minutes before being led to your table, even when the restaurant is half empty. Every kitchen seems hell bent on putting a starch squarely in the center of every entrée (nearly every form of potato preparation can be found on a single menu), and you’ll likely want to avoid the tap water (it tends to taste like the kiddie pool) in favor of bottled water.
But all in all, dining at Disney makes the day-long sojourns weaving through masses of baby strollers and waiting on long lines worth it. Yes, you know the kids love it, but where else can you have a bottle of Chave on the same table as a Rice Krispie sushi dessert?