Archive | May, 2012

Restaurant Review: Napa Rose – Chef’s Counter

22 May

The Story

On March 10, my husband Nate and I, celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. I surprised him with a weekend trip to Disneyland. We stayed at the Grand Californian for the first time (which was spectacular) and I made reservations for a foodie’s dream dinner: the Napa Rose – Chef’s Counter.

Napa Rose is located inside the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa on Disneyland property. The Chef’s Counter gives you the opportunity to sit at the actual kitchen counter facing the action and watch the chefs work their magic.

There are three ordering options at the chef’s counter, order what you wish directly off the menu, “The Vintner’s Table” – a Chef’s four course prix fixe menu inspired by the current season, or our choice, letting the chef make a custom meal for you. It is a five course meal and the dishes are smaller than normal portions you would get from ordering off of the menu {although I think our fourth course was a full portion}.

Andrew Sutton, Executive Chef, was off that night, but Chef Gloria and Chef Alex took very good care of us.

Chef Gloria {who was just announced as the Chef de Cuisine of the new Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure} introduced herself and asked us three questions:

Do you have any allergies? Lisa: No, Nate: No.

Do you have any dislikes? Lisa: No, Nate: Yes, seafood and peppers.

How do you like your meat cooked? Lisa: Medium, Nate: Medium-well.

That’s all she asked and the rest of our experience was a series of very happy surprises. While we waited, we had the pleasure of watching the kitchen staff at their finest. We felt like we were part of the kitchen action. The station right in front of us was preparing and plating the scallop and salmon dishes. We could also see the salads being made as well.

The Food

Our first delicious morsel was our Amuse-Bouche {a single, bite sized hors d’oeuvre, that cannot be ordered from the menu. This is considered a gift from the chef}

Nate & Lisa: Cornbread triangle with rainbow chard, ham and citrus marmalade.

This was very tasty and we both really enjoyed it. The bits of lemon were a nice, refreshing surprise.


First Course:

Nate: “Smiling Tiger Salad”, Twice-cooked Spicy Beef, Asian Greens and Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette {this normally comes with Tempura Lobster, but was left off due to his dislike of seafood}

Lisa: Salad of Strawberry Roasted Organic Chicken, Jicama, Upland Cress and Buttermilk Lemon Vinaigrette

Nate thought his salad was really good, although he liked mine better and I felt the same way about my salad. I LOVED his salad and thought the flavor profile fit my preferences better. I would order either of them again.


Second Course:

Nate: Duck a l Orange, Breast of Duckling Roasted and Duck Confit, Braised Endive and Blood Orange-Almond Jus

Lisa: Pan Roasted Diver Scallops on a Sauce of Lobster and Lemon Accented with Vanilla

Nate loved his duck, it was tender, succulent and flavorful and one of his favorite courses. He would definitely order it again. I thought the almond was a nice touch to his dish, although the duck was too fatty for my liking. My scallop was perfection. I have had this dish one other time when we ordered off the menu and I was praying I would get it this time around. Especially with the great luck of watching them prepare it right in front of us! This dish is what dreams are made of. Lobster, vanilla and lemon are some of my favorite things in the world so this was a perfect fit. I can’t say enough about this dish.


Third Course:

Nate: Hickory Smoked Pheasant with Wild Mushrooms, Cavatelli Pasta and Rich Pheasant Jus

Lisa: Grilled Wine Country Rabbit Meatloaf, Baby Portobello Mushroom Ragu and Carrot Puree

Nate wanted to like this dish more than he did. He thinks having it after the greatness of the duck may have tainted his palate and opinion. He says he would like to give it another chance, but there was just no comparison. I felt the same way about his dish. My rabbit meatloaf, on the other hand, is one of the best things I’ve ever consumed. When I was told what I was given I had no idea what to expect. I think that’s what made it so good. I have never experienced that flavor combination before. The depth of flavor and perfect harmony with the two sauces blew me away. I could have eaten a whole bowl of that carrot puree, it was THAT delicious. We loved that the rabbit dish was accompanied with a carrot puree, how clever.


Fourth Course:

At this point I thought we only had dessert left. We had had what I thought was a full, balanced meal – a salad, an appetizer, a meat course. And then they brought out some big knives. I turned to Nate and said, “Those are not dessert knives.” and they weren’t. Here is the real meat course.

Nate: Slowly Braised Veal Osso Bucco, Sweet English Peas, Ham, Buttered Leaks with Zinfandel Lemon Butter

Lisa: Pan Roasted Petit Filet Mignon, Roasted Parsnips, Braised Beef Cheeks and White Cheddar Fritter

Words cannot describe Nate’s reaction to this dish. The meat was perfectly cooked and melted in his mouth and was rich and fatty. Give him anything with a marrow bone and he’s a happy camper. This is a Nate meal to a T. The meat was incredible, but I preferred my filet, which was the best steak I have ever tasted. It melted in my mouth, I didn’t need a knife {or even teeth for that matter}. My only complaint is how big this portion was. It seemed to be the full portion and by this point we were already feeling full.


Fifth Course:

Before our dessert course, Chef Alex asked us which we would prefer, a chocolaty, fruity, or creamy dessert. I said fruity and Nate chose chocolaty.

Nate: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Pate with Hazelnut Creme Anglaise

Lisa: Warm Pecan Fuji Apple Charlotte with Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream

Nate loved his dessert. It was rich and creamy, so he could just enjoy the smooth flavor of it. He really liked the  combination of the hazelnut flavor with the richness of the chocolate. I also really enjoyed my dessert. The apple was a nice, refreshing, light ending to my meal.


The Verdict:

Lisa’s Favorite: Tie between the Scallops and Rabbit Meatloaf

Nate’s Favorite: Veal Osso Bucco

We REALLY enjoyed our dinner at Napa Rose. The Chef’s Counter made it really special and was worth the extra money. It was amazing to watch the chefs at work and have them customize a meal for us, not to mention, eating some of the best food we have ever tasted. We highly recommend it and will be back again.


The Details:

Name: Napa Rose

Where: Inside the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Resort

Special Instructions: Must call restaurant directly to make a reservation for the Chef’s Counter (not the Disney Dining line)

Contact: (714)300-7170

Price: $90 per person

There are two times available each night, 5:30pm and 8:30pm, with only 8 seats each, so make sure to get your reservation as quickly {they take reservations up to three months in advance}. We opted for the first one at 5:30pm. I highly recommend this as we got out just in time to grab our coats from our room and see the second showing of World of Color! It’s also nice to start early since it’s a long meal. Enjoy!


Recipe Review: La Salade de Maison

16 May

The Story

Sometimes a really good salad is what you need in the parks.  Sometimes a little bit of goat cheese makes theme park food feel fancy. Sometimes a salad makes the “sliced turkey, ham and Swiss cheese fried in a light batter and served with berry puree dusted with powdered sugar” {aka Monte Cristo} that you’re about to eat not seem so bad.

And while you think, “I should be eating some vegetables on this vacation so I’ll order this salad.”, you won’t know what you’re getting into until you take that first bite. Do not underestimate this salad.

This salad is 1/4 of the perfect meal at Cafe Orleans{La Salade de Maison, Pomme Frites, New Orleans Gumbo and the Monte Cristo}. When I made the gumbo recipe I knew I had to have a go at the salad as well. The beauty of this recipe is that it’s easy, delicious and tastes exactly like the salad at Cafe Orleans. It is my favorite Disneyland salad.

Here is the menu description:

La Salade de Maison – Our Cafe Orleans signature house salad, featuring tossed baby greens in a raspberry vinaigrette, topped with cherry tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese and caramelized pecans. C’est bon! $5.49

The Cooking

Start with the pecans in a dry, cold pan.

Pour some sugar on top.

Turn on the heat and wait until the sugar starts to melt, mix it all up and add more sugar until you’re happy with the coating.

Let it cool and break it up.

The ingredient line up:

Let’s make a raspberry vinaigrette. Smash them up.

Then press the raspberry mush through a sieve.

Whisk in the oil.

Assemble a beautiful salad.

The Verdict

This is such a great salad. It’s easy, delicious and a step up from your normal salad. The saltiness of the goat cheese with the sweet pecans and cherry tomatoes make for a really fresh balance. This will be one of my go-to salad recipes.

The Recipe

There is not a recipe for the La Salade de Maison but it was easy enough to figure out. While I couldn’t find the recipe for the raspberry vinaigrette, I did find one from the Coral Reef Restaurant in EPCOT. Thanks to Magical Kingdoms, I found it here. I thought I’d give it a whirl, as homemade dressings are always better, but if you prefer, there are plenty of options at the grocery store for a delicious raspberry vinaigrette.

La Salade de Maison from Cafe Orleans, Disneyland

Serves 6 as starter salads, 4 as salad entree

1 – 5 oz. package Spring Mix greens

1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 – 4 oz. log of fresh goat cheese

1 – 5 oz. bag of halved pecans


Raspberry vinaigrette

Place pecans in a clean, dry saute pan. Turn on medium heat. {Note: The nuts develop a better flavor if you have them in the pan while it comes up to heat.} Pour sugar liberally over the nuts. Stir only when you see the sugar start to melt around the edges. Once this starts slowly stir as the sugar heats up and adheres to the nuts. Continue adding more sugar until you are happy with the coating on the nuts. Remove from pan and place on wax paper until they are cool.

Remove greens from container and rinse well. Dry with paper towels or a salad spinner. Toss greens lightly with raspberry vinaigrette (recipe below). Add tomatoes and candied pecans. Crumble goat cheese on top right before serving. Add additional dressing and pepper on the table for guests to add if they choose.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

1/2 pint raspberries

3/4 cup raspberry vinegar

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp German style mustard

1/2 tsp vinaigrette spice (recipe below)

2/3 cup canola oil

Puree the raspberries in a blender or a food processor and strain through a fine sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on the solids; discard the solids.

To the raspberry puree add the raspberry vinegar, sugar, mustard and vinaigrette spice. Whisk until blended.

Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until the dressing is emulsified. Use immediately or store for up to three days in a chilled and covered container. Whisk to combine just before using.

{Note: The raspberries I used were pretty tart so I ended up adding quite a bit more sugar before it was sweet enough for our liking. Add and taste as you go.}

Vinaigrette Spice

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp dried basil leaves

1/4 tsp dried tarragon leaves

1/4 tsp dried oregano leaves

1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl combine all ingredients.


Recipe Review – New Orleans Gumbo

13 May

The Story

Tucked away in Disneyland is a unique gem. This place immerses you in charming, authentic, wonderful splendor, and just so happens to be in my personal favorite spot in the park: New Orleans Square. Not only do two of the best attractions, Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, live here, it’s also easily the best foodie location as well. The Blue Bayou, Cafe Orleans and the beignet/mint julep window have, hands down, some of the best food in the parks. You will find me there.

The Blue Bayou, which lives in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, has a sister in Cafe Orleans. Cafe Orleans is equally awesome, but less expensive. They share a similar style of food and even a few of dishes. For example, their gumbo is one and the same. At the Blue Bayou, the famous Monte Cristo sandwich can only be found on the lunch menu, but can be had at Cafe Orleans all day! You will pay more for the one-of-a-kind atmosphere of The Blue Bayou, but the food is pretty much equal.

We find ourselves with a reservation at Cafe Orleans on every trip we take. It’s become a staple. Why? They have what I find to be close to the perfect meal, with a great balance of salty, sweet and savory.  We order the same thing every time we go and share everything. A Monte Cristo, a bowl (not a cup) of New Orleans Gumbo, the La Salade de Maison, and an order of the Pommes Frites. It’s insane. Try. It. Now.

Did you know you can go to City Hall on Main Street and ask for recipes of things you ate in the parks?! I’d heard this to be true but never tried it myself until our last trip. We stopped at City Hall to ask for the recipe for the Monte Cristo. The cast member was happy to share and while flipping through the pages, my friend caught sight of the New Orleans Gumbo recipe, and boy am I glad she did. Now I can try this beauty at home. {Note: They don’t have every recipe, but the binder was pretty big.}

Here is the description of the gumbo from the Cafe Orleans menu:

New Orleans Gumbo – A rich, flavorful stew with chicken, andouille sausage and tasso ham, served with Cajun-style “dirty rice”. Cup $5.49, Bowl $8.49

Here is the recipe I received at City Hall:

{Click on photo to enlarge}

Did you notice a problem here? Or maybe a few?

The recipe gives you a choice of chicken, steak or seafood, while the menu describes the meat to be chicken, andouille sausage AND tasso ham. The ingredients lists the roux twice. In different measurements. {Maybe this is why the consistency was all wrong.} Also the recipe calls for just plain old rice. This just won’t do! You MUST MUST MUST use New Orleans style dirty rice, it won’t be the same without it. The recipe also doesn’t mention anything about the garnish of green onions that you can see in my photo above! Make it pretty! And crusty bread needs to be friends with this gumbo.

Let’s give it a go.

The Cooking

The ingredient line up:

My mise en place. I’ll tell you more about this later, in another post.

The roux starts like this:

This is what 15 minutes of cooking will do! It will look like caramel. And smells divine. {But not like caramel.}

Add some veggies.

And let it gunk up like this:

Add everything else.

Give it some spice.

Make it pretty with a garnish, you eat with your eyes first.

The Verdict

The taste was right on, but the consistency was………….a broth. Yikes. I’m not sure why the consistency was soo off. I’ve looked at other reviews of this recipe and they all said the same thing. It still makes a great, flavorful, spicy gumbo-ish soup. It’s pretty healthy too. I will be working on a modified recipe to get the texture right.

The Recipe

This is the original recipe with the original proportions, the only differences are that I halved it, now making it serve 6-8, changed the measurements from ounces to cups, and added the additional meats that are mentioned on the menu. I’ve added more detail to the instructions as well, my notes will be in purple.

New Orleans Gumbo from Blue Bayou and Cafe Orleans, Disneyland

Serves 6-8

1/4 cup butter, softened at room temperature

1/4 cup flour

10 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup celery, finely diced

1/2 cup onion, finely diced

1/2 cup chicken, finely diced

1/2 cup andouille sausage, finely diced

1/2 cup tasso ham, finely diced

1 cup tomatoes, finely diced

1/2 cup okra, finely diced

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp white pepper

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp gumbo file

Dirty rice (1/2 cup to 1 cup per person)

Green onions for garnish

Crusty bread for dipping

Melt butter in a large pot; add flour to make a roux (pronounced “rue”). Cook the roux for 15 minutes on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add onion and celery; cook for 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Add chicken stock about a cup at a time, making sure the roux is completely dissolved. Simmer for 10 minutes. {This would be a great time to start the rice.} Cook “dirty rice” (I used the Zatarain’s Dirty Rice Mix). Add all the remaining ingredients to the gumbo and return to a simmer. Adjust salt to taste.

Serve gumbo over rice and garnish with green onions to make it pretty. Don’t forget the crusty bread.

*This dish could easily be made vegetarian by removing the meats.

*If spicy scares you, cut back on the cayenne.


3 May

Things I hear frequently that make me cringe:


1. “Food in the park is too expensive.”

2. “We are going to leave the park every time we eat.”

3. “All they have are hamburgers, so let’s leave and eat somewhere else.”


What I say to you is this:


1. You are in Disneyland. By entering those turnstiles you make a silent oath that you recognize everything in the park is more expensive than in the real world. It’s a fact of life. It’s best to accept it rather than let it ruin a vacation, but please, accept it with grace. There is nothing worse or more magic-killing than having someone complain loudly about how expensive everything is the entire trip. Do your research and have appropriate expectations.

If you go to the parks more than once a year, look into buying an annual pass. Depending on the pass you buy you can get 10-15% off food, 10-20% off merchandise and other discounts on hotels and parking. This can make it worth it in itself.

2. Wow. Really? You are soooo concerned about how expensive the food is in the parks, yet you’re willing to waste precious time leaving and returning to the park multiple times a day? Time=money and you just wasted a lot of it. Utilize your expensive park tickets in a smart way, the McDonald’s across the street isn’t going to save you that much money. {Note: While I haven’t been to that McDonald’s, I’ve heard it is more expensive than normal McDonald’s and they do not have a dollar menu.}

3. When I hear this I know the person is NOT a planner. There is such a wide variety of food in the parks these days, that I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had a hamburger in Disneyland. A sourdough bread bowl with New Orleans style gumbo? Yes. Bacon wrapped asparagus? Yes. Chicken and sun dried tomato pasta? Yes. What was the closest thing I’ve had to a hamburger in Disneyland in the last year? The fried green tomato sandwich topped with a jicama mango slaw on a multi-grain roll at the Hungry Bear (go get it, it’s awesome!). Disney has heard the cry of foodies everywhere and have been making an effort to increase variety and food quality in the last few years.

There is some amazing food to be had at the parks. Do some research. Put your trip off for one more month to save enough to eat well on your trip. Isn’t that what a vacation is all about anyway?


Here is my formula for planning a food budget for a Disney vacation. It has never failed me.

I always start off with $30 per person per day.


This is the average of what a person will spend when having 2 meals and a snack. We prefer to eat lighter while at Disneyland. This ensures a better experience, as roller coastering and excessive walking on a full tummy is no fun. This is not a good idea for everyone. Some families need 3 meals plus snacks to be happy. It’s not worth a grumpy family to save a few bucks. Determine what is best for your situation. To offset the cost of an additional meal, bring things like granola bars or other small snacks to replace breakfast or eat between meals as needed.

The ‘$30 a day’ rule applies to a normal day in the park, counter service restaurants and snacks only. If we are going to a nicer restaurant, such as a table service restaurant (ie. one you can make a reservation for) I will look at the menu online (you can do this by going to this awesome website). My husband and I look at possible things we would order, determine the most expensive one and add it onto the $30. This will ensure you have plenty of money. I never know what I’ll be in the mood for, so this keeps all my options open.

Here is an example of a day from one of my last trips to Disneyland:


Jolly Holiday Bakery (located on Main Street, next to the Adventureland entrance):

Ham and Cheese Quiche – a flaky crust with a delicious ham, cheese and egg center, (Came with a side of fruit, not pictured). $7.19

Fruit Tart – assorted fresh fruit on a flaky crust with a creamy custard. $4.99

Water. free


Hungry Bear (located next to Splash Mountain in Critter Country):

Fried Green Tomato Sandwich – cornmeal crusted fried green tomatoes layered with two slices of fresh heirloom tomatoes, topped with havarti, remoulade, jicama-mango slaw and served on a multi-grain roll and included sweet potato fries. $8.49

Lemon “Bumblebee” Cupcake – with lemon cream filling and honey-lemon frosting. $4.99 (I split this with my sister, so I paid $2.50)

Water. free


Jolly Holiday Bakery (located on Main Street, next to the Adventureland entrance):

Seasonal Cupcake – chocolate cupcake with fresh raspberry filling, chocolate mouse and ganache, and white chocolate shavings on top. $4.99 (again, split with my sister {two cupcakes in one day, don’t judge}, $2.50)

Milk. $1.79


Total (with tax): $29.60

Total after AP discount (with tax): $25.16


We aren’t soda or coffee drinkers. If you are, add $3 to each meal.

Some days are going to be a little over, some a little under, normally ours evens out pretty nicely. Whatever we have leftover is a bonus snack or souvenir.

I looked up the prices for McDonald’s inside an airport (assuming the elevated prices will be similar to those across the street from Disneyland). A grilled chicken club sandwich in a meal is $8.19, practically the same price as my delicious sandwich above, but without the hassle of leaving the park. I guarantee McDonald’s won’t have the atmosphere, convenience or variety of the park either.

“To all those who come to this happy place; welcome”

2 May

I am not a professional chef. I have not been to culinary school. I have, however, a passion for great food. I have a mother and a grandmother who taught me that making things from scratch is always the better option. I learned that cooking can lower your anxiety levels, bring people together and indulge all of the senses.

I realized just how much I love to cook when I found myself in the kitchen trying new recipes on days when I had no business being there: after a long day at work, when I was stressed about a test or when I should be cleaning my house. I cook when I’m tired, energized, sad or happy. It is my therapy.

My love for all things Disney goes back as far as I can remember. As an adult, I have an even greater appreciation for the quality and magic that emerges from the park. My husband and I are Annual Passholders and often frequent the park, even though we are a few states away. I think the food of Disneyland can be just as memorable as the attractions and atmosphere; my goal is to merge these two passions and help you bring the magic home and be better prepared when planning your own trips to the parks.

Features will include:

  • Original recipes
  • Disney park recipe reviews
  • Different interpretations of Disney park foods
  • Healthy makeovers to your favorite Disney dishes
  • Disneyland Resort restaurant reviews and recommendations
“To all those who come to this happy place; welcome”. – Walt Disney
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