We left our hotel at 5:00 pm heading to Kathy’s special birthday dinner, arriving just a few minutes later at the Grand Californian gate where we checked in with the guard and proceeded to valet parking.
We checked in at the Napa Rose front desk where they knew our name since we were the only ones with reservations for the 5:30 pm seating at the Chef’s Counter (officially, there’s a 5:30 seating and an 8:30 seating). We were seated in the lounge until the Chef’s Counter was ready for us. While we waited, we ordered drinks, a glass of Scharffen Berger for Kathy and a glass of La Crema Chardonnay for me.
Note from Kathy: We were both still trying to wake up after our short nap, hoping the wine would help us out. If it hadn’t been for set dining times for the Chef’s Counter, we wouldn’t have been dining so early. We chose 5:30 because 8:30 seemed too late for us and, at the time we made ressies, we were supposed to be staying at the beach, which would have made us getting back even later.
Rich reviewing the wine list in the Napa Rose Lounge
Kathy sitting in the dark area of the Napa Rose Lounge. :)
Soon they called us, and we carried our drinks into the restaurant where we seated at seats #5 and #6 at the Chef’s Counter, the only ones there at this time. We were already excited.
A Quiet Napa Rose kitchen before service begins
We met Michael our server and Dan the Sous Chef who stood near us expediting orders for the restaurant as we ate. (we posted a live pic of Michael).
Throughout the night, we also interacted with Nico, another server, and Juan, another sous chef. Dan asked us if we had any allergies, how we liked our meats cooked (medium rare), and what types of food we preferred — including which foods we did not like.
We both started with an amuse-bouche, hamachi on a bed of smooth potatoes.
This was a great way to start the meal, especially with our love of hamachi. From this point forward in the meal, we were mostly served different dishes.
Note from Kathy: With being served unknown courses, it was difficult to snap a pic and take in the names and ingredients of every dish and eat and enjoy it. We’ll do the best we can as we recall each dish from our photos.
Next for Kathy was a fresh green salad with anchovies and a tuna tartare crostini.
Tuna Tartare Crostini
I had the most amazing grilled octopus. I can state unabashedly that this was the best octopus I have ever eaten. It was grilled and crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside.
Kathy was then served clams three-ways in a lobster broth — clams in the shell, clam ravioli, and breaded razor clams. We had to ask for a spoon so Kathy could every last drop of the delicious broth.
I was served a lovely plate of halibut with a potato salad — not your ordinary picnic potato salad, this was a marvelous creation of potatoes, herbs, and red wine vinaigrette.
By now we were just finishing our glasses of white wine, I discussed with Michael our next wine choice. When I suggested that perhaps we would enjoy the La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (an Italian red blend), Michael wholeheartedly agreed. It was a nicely savory (not fruity) with plum, coffee aromas, and a hint of spice. It turned out to be a perfect pairing for the rest of the meal.
Next was the pheasant risotto for Kathy. Perhaps her favorite bite of the night.
I had the veal scallopini. It was flavorful and tender, although perhaps a little salty for me.
While we were eating these courses, Juan was preparing a dish in front of us as he had been doing during the meal, but this dish was for us — pork wrapped in pig’s ear with peach. We started to share this dish, but Kathy quickly demurred and let me finish it. An odd dish, but I was up for anything.
Pork in Pig’s Ear
Note from Kathy: I was not into the idea of pig’s ear at all. I did take one bite and that was it for me.
This was followed by a bright, palate-cleansing sorbet.
The main entrees were served next. Kathy had the lovely beef tenderloin with beef cheeks.
Note from Kathy: While I would love to have eaten an entire bowl of the pheasant risotto, the tenderlin was my best bite of the night – even outshined the beef cheeks. Superb!!!
Beef Tenderloin with Beef Cheeks
I had the veal loin with mango salsa and eggplant. The veal was very hearty and tasty, brightened by the fresh mango salsa. I am not a big eggplant fan, but it was woven into the dish so perfectly, I didn’t even know what it was.
Michael then asked if it was alright if they chose the desserts for us, and we gladly agreed. He then asked the pastry chef what her two current favorite desserts were, and she prepared them for us.
Kathy was served a peanut butter and chocolate dessert with a crunchy base. It was absolutely scrumptious.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate
I had the cheesecake with cherry sorbet. Wow, delightful! Even the crunchy tuile was even delicious.
Cheesecake with Cherry Sorbet
After all this incredible food, we were allowed to linger while we finished our wine, watching all the work of the busy kitchen around us.
What an absolutely amazing experience! We had so many courses, and we often had different dishes. And it was fun to watch many of them made right in front of us in the kitchen. The service was impeccable, of course. Also it was fun to watch Dan expedite all the restaurant’s orders next to us. Fantastic fun was had by all.
Note from Kathy: Wow! I didn’t realize how many courses we’d had – so caught up in the excitement of it all!
Sadly, too soon it was time to go. Before we left, we asked Juan to take a picture of us at the Chef’s Counter.
As we left, Michael thanked us and gave us each a pair of Napa Rose truffles to go. We thanked Michael, Juan, and Dan, and made our way to the lobby to sit a comfortable environment and listen to some beautiful piano music as we watched the fireplace in the background.
The crowning moment to the wonderful birthday dinner experience was when the pianist ended his set with a rendition of Happy Birthday. Nothing could be better!
Note from Kathy: Everything about the GC is understated and it doesn’t have much of a Disney feel. In fact, my birthday was so played down, you wouldn’t know I was there having a birthday, which is rather unusual for Disney. It would have been nice if “happy birthday” had been written on the dessert plate or acknowledged in some way. So it was extra nice when we heard “happy birthday being played by the pianist in the GC lobby.
Also, the one negative about the Chef’s Counter is that you’re watching all of these other dishes being prepared and you want to be able to order one. Next time, we might actually order off the regular menu, which will be a first for us. But, overall, it was a fascinating, fun, and delicious experience!
Rich took my picture just outside Napa Rose where the menu was posted, but something reflected off of something and made for a rather unusual pic. :)
PS – We noticed a seating of 4 people around 7 p.m. at the other counter. Perhaps, when the 5:30 seating isn’t full, they also offer a 7 p.m. seating or perhaps it was suggested or requested as a walk-up – this we do not know. 7 p.m. would have been a better time for us.