April 19, 2015

Dinner at California Grill with Aaron, Ashly, Ian, Karen, and Blake

Group In Front of Disney Castle

We met up in front of Cinderella's castle before going to Space Mountain then onto dinner at The California Grill.

We met up with everyone around the Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse statue at Cinderella’s castle before heading over to Space Mountain to ride the famous indoor roller coaster.  Ordinarily, roller coasters aren’t my thing, but just like the Everest Expedition (the Animal Kingdom equivalent to Disneyland’s Matterhorn), I have to say I really enjoyed it.  It took over an hour to get through the line but it was great because we got to hang out and talk, which was a welcome respite from the umpteen miles of walking we had done all day.

Karen caught me up on her MBA program (they are working through bond valuation and dividend discount models) and Blake explained his R&D work on gas turbines for an engineering conglomerate.  (Interesting – here you have Ian, a nuclear engineer at a plant on the East Coast, Blake, working on gas turbine technology in the South, and then Aaron and me, who focus our energy exposure through our securities positions in hydrocarbon and wind from the Midwest.  In terms of energy policy, we pretty much had the bases covered.  Though, to be fair, I have negligible exposure to oil at this point because I sold off nearly all of our Exxon Mobil a few  months ago when the stock was in the upper $80’s per share, though I do still have a tiny derivatives position on British Petroleum that amounts to nothing more than an interesting speculation).  

At one point we were talking about my career and how it’s difficult to describe to people what we do so our title is just “investor” – I mean, we don’t have a job, we just sit in a room and try to find intelligent things to do with our time and money.  Ashly said she just tells people we’re in e-commerce since that was our first business years ago and it seems definitive whereas “investor” is open-ended and leads to more question (“what kind of investor?” “does he run a fund?” “do they think we should buy [insert stock name here]?”, etc.).  

It is hard for a lot of people to grasp because they want nice, clean boxes.  Maybe we should just call ourselves professional opportunists and capital allocators.  It’s just who we are.  At one point, Aaron and I fell behind the group at the park and began talking about the potential advantages and disadvantages of becoming an official Disney contract manufacturer for licensed and branded apparel.  The family does, after all, own an embroidery factory.  We can’t help but think about this stuff.  Anyway, I digress … (see?  can’t help it …)

Tonight, the six of us are having dinner at The California Grill, which is reportedly one of the best restaurants in the Walt Disney World resort and in Florida.  The reviews are very good and I’m excited about getting a chance to try it thanks to Ashly and Ian’s well-organized pre-planning skills.  

Space Mountain at Walt Disney World

We rode Space Mountain and then got on the Monorail to go to The Contemporary Hotel, which has The California Grill on the top floor.

Waiting for Access to The California Grill in The Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida

The California Grill is only accessible by reserved express elevator from the second floor of The Contemporary Hotel and Resort at Walt Disney World. It takes you to the top of the building, where you can look out over the park as you dine. Reservations can be hard to come by and you aren't allowed to be brought up to the restaurant itself until your seating time, unless you wanted to hang out at the bar and get something to drink.

The California Grill at Disney World at the top of The Contemporary Hotel

The restaurant itself sits on the top of The Contemporary Hotel and Resort and overlook The Magic Kingdom.

Ashly and Ian at The California Grill in Orlando, Florida

We were seated and the staff had put together a celebratory table for us since we were celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, first visits, etc. I took out my phone and started taking pictures. Here is Ashly and Ian looking over the menu at The California Grill in Orlando, Florida.

Karen at The California Grill in Orlando at Disney World

Karen attempting to decide what she wants ... she ultimately went with the cheese platter and request more "toast corners". The way she asked for them had Aaron and I cracking up. It was done so eagerly and nicely but with the firm expectation: "Bring me my toast corners." That's a rare skill.

Blake and Aaron at The California Grill in Orlando

Blake and Aaron at The California Grill in Orlando. You can see the open kitchen a little bit behind them. Blake had us cracking up about dungeons, crabs, and marinated cow tears ... we were still laughing about it the next day.

Me at The California Grill

Me at The California Grill. Sorry for the horrific image quality and graininess. The iPhone front facing camera, even on the 4th generation model, has a ridiculously low resolution compared to the back camera. We're not quite in 8-bit NES land but it certainly looks like we're getting close.


Appetizers at The California Grill in Orlando 

Triple Cheese Appetizer at The California Grill Orlando

Ashly had the triple cheese (Pecorino, Asiago, and Provolone) brick oven fired flatbread with sun-dried tomato and arugula pesto.

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

For my appetizer, I had the Sonoma goat cheese ravioli with sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, shiitake mushrooms, and basil.

Tun Three Ways at The California Grill Orlando

Ian had the tuna three ways, featuring Poke, Tartare, and Tataki styles ...

Romaine Salad

Aaron created a custom romaine salad for his appetizer ...

 Entrees at The California Grill in Orlando

Oak-Fired Filet of Beef at The California Grill in Orlando

Both Ashly and I had the oak-fired filet of beef with mascarpone potatoes, blue lake beans, arugula oil, and teriyaki barbecue. It was wonderful!

Veal at The California Grill

Aaron and Ian ordered the cast iron seared veal tenderloin with eggplant caviar, summer vegetables, and lemon veal jus. It was the first time Aaron had ever ordered veal (normally, he prefers to stick to his favorites) and Ian told him he was ruined because it was the best veal he had ever had and now everything will pale in comparison.

Handmade Fettuccine

Blake ordered the handmade fettuccine with sauted bluefoots, summer mushrooms, buttermilk ricotta, and tiny basil.

Cheese Plate

Karen ordered the Artisan cheese plate with paired dipping sauces and "toast corners". Beside "dungeon crab" and "cow tears" it was definitely one of the best phrases of the night.

 Dessert at The California Grill in Orlando

Summer Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

For dessert, Ian ordered the summer strawberry rhubarb cobbler with Tahitian vanilla ice cream.

Bananas and Caramel Dessert

Both Aaron and I ordered the bananas and caramel dessert, featuring crispy baked phyllo squares layered with banana, caramel, mascarpone mousse, and caramelized banana. It was fantastic. I might have to start making caramelized bananas for dessert at some of our regular dinner get togethers.

Valrhona Chocolate Cake from California Grill

Ashly ordered the Valrhona chocolate cake with warm chocolate molten center, grand marnier macerated California strawberries, and strawberry ice cream.

Tanzanian Chocolate Creme Brûlée from California Grill in Orlando

Karen and Blake split the Tanzanian chocolate creme brûlée with a citrus financier and chocolate-hazelnut bark.


Review and Value for the Money

To keep it consistent with our earlier review and make the comparison of value-for-money easier, we’re going to look at the four regular diners in our dinner group.  The total for the four came to roughly $375.00 (of which $315.00 was food and $60.00 was tip).  Given the view overlooking the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, the experience, and the food, I would absolutely say The California Grill in Orlando was worth every penny.  There is no question that the next time I’m back visiting or on business, I will make a point to eat at the restaurant, even if it means going out of my way.  Yes, yes, yes.  Do it.  Book a reservation.  Go.  Now.