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Restaurant reviews: Eating our way around the Disneyland Resort

By Robert Niles
Published: April 18, 2011 at 9:44 AM
Let's talk theme park food, shall we? Here's a round-up of the food we enjoyed on our visit to the Disneyland Resort last week.

World of Color picnics

If you want to get access to the Paradise Paerk viewing area for Disney California Adventure's
World of Color show, where you can best see the animation projections on the show's water mist screens, you've got three options:

1) Book a room at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, and get a Fastpass for that night's show an hour before the park opens.
2) Arrive at park opening, then get a Fastpass for the show before they run out.
3) Book a dining package that includes admission to the reserved viewing area.

(I say "viewing area" instead of "seating area," because you'll be standing for the whole show. For some reason, Disney cast members are enforcing a "no sitting" policy, quite the opposite of what happens at Fantasmic!, across the esplanade in Disneyland, where everyone sits so that more people in back can see the show.)

We had a room at the Grand Californian, but also reserved picnic meals so we could check them out.

At $16 each ($13 with annual pass discount), the picnic meals are the cheapest of the three World of Color dining options. A three-course lunch is available at the Wine Country Trattoria for $30 for adults and $20 for children. A three-course dinner is available at Ariel's Grotto and Wine Country Trattoria for $40 adults and $21 for children. The other dining options get you into the "preferred" viewing area, while the picnics get you into the good, but not as great, "blue" viewing area.

I selected the "Taste of Asia" picnic - cold miso-glazed salmon, with greens and soy dressing, ginger cucumber and radish slaw, soba noodles with vegetables in sesame dressing and a Mandarin orange cake. All the picnics also include a choice of bottled Coca-Cola products to drink. (I chose the water.) Rather than wait until dinner for our picnics, we chose to pick them up for lunch.

Taste of Asia picnic

I broke up the salmon and mixed it with the greens and dressing, creating an Asian salmon salad. Even though these are pre-packaged meals, everything on the plate tasted fresh. (Perhaps picking them up for lunch helped.) The portion of salmon wasn't huge, but it was enough to fill me, along with the sides. And the slaw offered a lightly sweet contrast to the slightly salty noodles. Though the meal was filling, nothing weighed me down. Even the cake was light, more whipped fruit-infused cream than cake.

"This tastes so healthy, I feel perfectly justified stuffing myself with junk food for the rest of the day," my wife said as she finished her salmon. Indeed.

The kids chose the Junior All-American Box, which included two small pieces of "honey-stung" cold fried chicken, Goldfish crackers, string cheese, apple slices, cupcake, choice of drink, and a World of Color light-up bracelet.

Junior All-American Box

I'm not a big fan cold fried chicken - the skin too often ends up rubbery, as was the case here. If you're going to serve fried chicken cold, you either need to skin the chicken before frying, or at least score the skin so that more of the fat renders while frying. Still, once you peeled the skin away, the chicken did offer a nice, touch-of-honey flavor. But "honey-stung"? Really, Disney, surely someone can come up with better promotional copy than that. I don't want to imagine a stinger poking my mouth when I bite into my food.

Other picnic options include the European Antipasto (deli meats and cheeses), Mediterranean Vegetarian (veggie and hummus wrap), a grown-up sized All-American and a PB&J option on the kids' meal. You'll need to order the picnics online at least a day in advance.

Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria

Since we'd eaten our picnics for lunch, we headed to Downtown Disney for dinner. The kids were in the mood for pizza, and I've long been a fan of Patina Group's pizza restaurant, having also reviewed its Florida twin, Via Napoli, when it opened at Epcot last summer.

Naples didn't have on the menu the fritto misto I enjoyed so much at Walt Disney World, so we skipped the appetizer in favor of the warm, freshly baked bread our waiter brought us when we sat. Do note that you'll have to ask for balsamic vinegar to go with the olive oil the waiter will pour for your bread. Our server explained that they now only offer the vinegar upon request, since so many people had complained about it.

Reason #1,583,924 why some tourists are idiots.

Naples' balsamic vinegar gives the oil the bittersweet kick it needs to flavor the bread. So go ahead, ask for the vinegar. Your request also will tell your server that you're not a culinary idiot. I swear our waiter seems relived, and even a bit encouraged, when we asked for it.

Naples, and Via Napoli, often elicit "sticker shock" from visitors when they see the prices on the menu. But as I said before and our waiter explained here, an "individual" pizza easily serves two to three people. We chose to order two individual pizzas for the table, then shared.

We started with an arugula salad, with shaved mushrooms, fennel, artichokes, shaved Parmesan, lemon vinaigrette ($11.00)

Arugula salad

The our pizzas arrived. The Pepperoni ($16.50)

Pepperoni pizza

And the Funghi (mushrooms - $17.00)

Mushroom pizza

Some of us were hungry?

Both pizzas offered a crisp, blistered crust. But these aren't cracker-thin. Naples' pizza crusts yield a nice, light chew underneath that exterior crispiness, like a good crusty European bread.

You can taste the bright tomatoes in this sauce and the milk in the mozzarella. If you've not had pizza like this before, you'll now understand why so many people dismiss the sauce on the big delivery chains' pizza as chemical and their cheese as rubbery. You want "better ingredients" on your pizza? Head to Naples.

Cafe Orleans

If you want Disneyland's famous Monte Cristo sandwich, but didn't think to make reservations in advance for the Blue Bayou, then walk across the pathway to Cafe Orleans instead.

I've written about Cafe Orleans before, so I'll just note that the Monte Cristo ($17.49) can feed a family of four. The sandwich, serves in four segments, is so rich that no one in my family could finish more than one piece.

My wife and I also tried two entrees neither of us had had before.

I chose the Seafood Herb Crepe, with mahi-mahi, shrimp and scallops in a tomato-fennel sauce. ($17.49)

Seafood Herb Crepe

Laurie opted for the Mardi Gras chicken sandwich: a blackened chicken breast with avocado relish on a multigrain roll. ($17.49)

Mardi Gras chicken sandwich

Service was slow when we visited, just before noon. I noticed that the sauce on my crepe had developed a slight skin by the time it arrived at our table, suggesting that it had spent several moments under the heat lamp after plating. But the wait didn't affect the flavor. I love the taste of fennel and this sauce managed to impart that flavor to the seafood without weighing it down. This is pure protein on a plate, with the light crepe giving it just a bit more texture. The grilled asparagus provided a nice touch on the side, complementing the taste of the fennel/tomato sauce.

My wife barely made it through half of her sandwich. As with just about everything else served at Disney, the blackened chicken wasn't too spicy, but the abundant avocado and thick multigrain roll added heaviness to the sandwich, making it too rich for her to finish alone. Thinking back, I can't remember the last sandwich I finished by myself at Disneyland. They're all so much.

On that note, I've added some pictures and my comments to the review of the new Hungry Bear Restaurant that we've got on the Theme Park Insider discussion board, too.

If you're new to the site, we've got plenty of reader reviews of the restaurants at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Just follow those links then click on the restaurant names toward the bottom of the pages to read the reviews, or add your own.

Readers' Opinions

From Patrick Doublin on April 18, 2011 at 11:57 AM
Damn, I've been scheduled at Sonoma Terrace a lot lately giving out those picnics. I missed a chance to meet THE Robert Niles haha.
From Larry Zimmerman on April 18, 2011 at 1:59 PM
I think I'm hungry now...it all looks delicious!
From Caroline Davis on April 18, 2011 at 2:05 PM
I loved the Mardi Gras sandwich, but it IS filling. I took half of it to go and finished it later.

That pepperoni pizza looks so yummy.

From KJ Simpson on April 18, 2011 at 2:37 PM
Robert, thanks for the great review! One of my favorite parts about DL & DCA - all the healthier food options. I find that there are far fewer healthy items at WDW. Sure, they're out there, but just not as prevalent. I chalked it up to a general healthier vibe in California vs. Florida. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
From Robert Niles on April 18, 2011 at 3:29 PM
I don't know if it is a healthier food vibe, or simply the fact that so many more DL visitors are annual passholders than at WDW.

If you're not an AP, but on a once-a-year theme park visit, as many WDW visitors are, I'd think you'd be more likely to be okay with indulging in something decadent than a regular visitor would.

At DL, since the typical visitor comes to the park many times a year, they quickly get bored with the same old, same old, and want to see more variety. At the same time, they don't want it to be too decadent, since this isn't the once-a-year special occasion that the typical WDW visit is.

WDW offers an immense amount of variety in its food, but it's spread throughout that immense resort. DL has to pack it within two parks and Downtown Disney. That might help explain the perception, as well.

From KJ Simpson on April 18, 2011 at 4:23 PM
Very good point about the pass holders vs. destination vacationers- I never though of it that way. But that kids meal is something I'd love to see at WDW- "stung" meat aside, it's got apple slices, a cheese stick, and whole grain crackers. I'd love to find that for my daughter- I'll be on the lookout for more variety in a few weeks ;)
From Will Chilcote on April 18, 2011 at 5:46 PM
I'm also a fan of Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria. I have eaten there few times. Their pizza and pastas are good. I also like the Mexican restaurant in Downtown Disney, Tortilla Jo's. The food is good and the staff is nice. The female bartender that was working for them at the time made a really good margarita. By the way, for those that don't know. Disneyland is dry when it comes to alcohol but, Downtown Disney isn't. Thanks for the advice about World Of Color. I want to see it and Aladdin on my next visit. How early and where do you have to go to get the WoC fast passes?

On a side note, I'm not a fan of eating inside Disneyland. I have found the food overpriced even for park food and the quality subpar. The only exception on the quality was at the Blue Bayou. I agree with you on the Monti Cristos. They are excellent.

From Robert Niles on April 18, 2011 at 5:38 PM
WoC FPs are available at Grizzly River Run. Once they're all distributed, Disney switches the FP machines over to GRR Fastpass distribution.
From Will Chilcote on April 18, 2011 at 6:11 PM
Thanks again for the Advice Robert.
From Tyler Stover on April 18, 2011 at 10:08 PM
My wife and I had the European Antipasto World of Color picnic and it was excellent. We were expecting it to not be very filling, but it certainly served as a fine dinner. We had ours in the evening and the food still seemed very fresh. The tiramisu cake was particularly delicious. I'd get it again even if it didn't have a WOC ticket (and a corresponding price drop, of course).

Thanks for the Naples review. I've always wondered if it was worth the price. It sure sounds like it.

From Anon Mouse on April 19, 2011 at 8:14 AM
Why are people idiots for ordering what they like? The idiots are those who get something they hate, eat it, then complain afterwards.

That's a lot of money you spent for food. Certainly, it is worth it if you enjoyed it. I was wondering why you didn't share as much as you recommend it.

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