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Where to eat? Lunch at Disney California Adventure's Carthay Circle Restaurant

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Published: March 1, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Theme Park Insider front-pager Russell Meyer and his family joined me and my wife at Disney California Adventure's Carthay Circle Restaurant this week for a TPI "staff meeting"… to sample Executive chef Andrew Sutton's winter lunch menu.

Carthay Circle marquee

Sutton, the long-time chef at the Grand Californian Hotel's acclaimed Napa Rose restaurant, headed into the park last year to launch the Carthay Circle, which offers Asian- and Mediterranean-inspired California cuisine in a fine-dining setting.

Inside the Carthay Circle Restaurant
Inside the Carthay Circle Restaurant's main dining room

Carthay Circle photos
Photo mementos cover the walls inside the Carthay Circle Restaurant, including these photos of young Walt Disney and the original Carthay Circle movie theater.

As much as we enjoyed the entrees we ordered, it's Sutton's appetizers that are gaining cult status in the theme park fan community, especially for his spicy duck wings and the Carthay Circle's "signature" fried biscuits.

Fire Cracker Duck Wings
Fire Cracker Duck Wings, with soy, lime and Sriracha chili sauce ($14)

Carthay Signature Fried Biscuits
Carthay Signature Fried Biscuits, stuffed with white Cheddar, bacon and jalepeno, served with apricot honey butter ($12)

I'd call the biscuits fritters instead, but they pack a deceptive punch, with a peppery zing cutting the richness of the bacon-laced molten cheddar. The apricot honey butter balances the heat with a touch of fruity sweetness. The Fire Cracker wings didn't suffer from the gaminess than sometimes makes it hard for me to enjoy duck. Instead, you get a nice meaty background that stands up to the fiery Sriracha glaze.

Udon Noodle Bowl
Udon Noodle Bowl with red Thai curry broth, shrimp and mussels, bok choy, daikon, mint, cashews and fresh coriander ($20)

I was expecting something more like a traditional soup, but the limited amount of spicy curry broth in the Udon Noodle Bowl served more like a sauce. Which is fine, because you'd need an asbestos-lined mouth to handle an entire bowl of this broth. But, as served, the curry warmed the noodles and vegetables without overpowering the dish. And I'm always happy to see a chef be generous with the seafood in an Udon bowl -- this one didn't skimp on the promised mussels and shrimp.

8 oz. Angus Burger
8 oz. Angus Burger with black-pepper bacon and grilled onions, and French fries ($22)

Laurie's eight-ounce burger proved too much for one person to eat. Sutton typically doesn't go overboard on portion sizes, so this would be your best candidate on the menu for splitting. Unfortunately, Laurie insisted on eating all the crispy bacon off the the burger before letting me try the half of the patty she couldn't finish. Still, the burger reminded me of the "Walt's Gourmet" burger I ordered at Disneyland Paris last summer. Yet I preferred the Carthay Circle's, as the grilled onions here helped complement the beefy taste of the patty, instead of overpowering it with the richness of foie gras.

Short Rib Raviolis
Short Rib Raviolis Sauteed in Sage Brown Butter, with winter squash and Portobello mushrooms ($27)

Cavatelli Pasta with Tuscan-style Braised Lamb
Cavatelli Pasta with Tuscan-style Braised Lamb, with spinach and Grana Padana cheese in lamb jus ($23)

Russell and his wife ordered the raviolis and the cavatelli, and both reported enjoying their selections immensely. Russell's young son made good work of his soba noodle bowl, too, impressing Laurie and me with his willingness to devour vegetables. Maybe he's the world's greatest young eater, or maybe (based on the taste of what I had in my bowl) the veggies are just that good.

Soba Noodle Bowl
From the children's menu: Soba Noodle Bowl, with beef, snow peas and broccoli ($7)

Of course, we had to try dessert, too.

Warm Winter Pear Country Pie
The Warm Winter Pear Country Pie, with salted caramel ice cream ($12)

Cordiella Chocolate Decadent Layer Cake
The Cordiella Chocolate Decadent Layer Cake, with raspberry sauce. ($12)

The Meyers took the pear pie, while Laurie and I polished off the chocolate cake. Each came with an accompaniment (the ice cream or the sauce) that helped contrast with the dessert's primary flavor, so you're not left with a boring one-note finish to the meal, as too often happens with dessert.

The Carthay Circle offers World of Color Fastpasses to diners who order two courses or more during their meal. That's a nice touch. In Tokyo and Paris, top Disney restaurants offered dining packages with their parks' signature nighttime shows, but you had to order specific items from limited menus to get the reserved seating. I appreciate being able to explore the entire menu while still getting the extra benefit. (Laurie and I, who've seen WOC plenty of times, headed home after the meal, so we gave Russell and his wife our extra passes to give away later in the day.)

Have you dined at the Carthay Circle? Please share your rating and review of the restaurant on our Carthay Circle Restaurant page, as well as in the comments below.

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Readers' Opinions

From Kurt Dahlin on March 2, 2013 at 4:29 PM
Great review. The Short Rib Raviolis look and sound positively delicious! I suspect those will be the first dish I try when I finally have an opportunity to experience this restaurant. Thank you for the overview.
From 75.82.227.82 on March 2, 2013 at 5:44 PM
When you eat there around the time when the fireworks show in Disneyland is going. The restaurant plays the music and you can go out onto the balcony and get a completely different perspective of the show. It's great!

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