In real life, the Carthay Circle is a long gone theater. At California Adventure, it has become perhaps the best dining experience available to guests inside a theme park.
No doubt, it also has become the icon that greets guests. Considering the history that it has with the Disney company – Snow White premiered at the theater in 1937 – it fits well into the revived park.
During the planning stages of Buena Vista Street, the structure underwent a transformation. At one time, it was to host a museum and show about Walt Disney. After having seen how well the Walt Disney Family Museum tells Walt’s story, I was glad to hear that plans changed to house a fine dining restaurant in the structure instead.
Now, it would seem that fine dining and a theme park don’t exactly go hand in hand. DCA, after all, once had it’s own fine dining experience when Mondavi had operated the Vineyard Room as part of the Golden Vine Winery. But that was a different era of sorts. DCA was an under performing park at that time. It was not that guests did not dine there. No, maybe it was that not enough guests were dining there often enough. (Yes, we all know that DCA made more money as a parking lot then.)
The low attendance led the Mondavi folks to call it quits in only November of 2001. And yes, Disney did suffer as the result of the 9/11 attacks. But after a disappointing summer, this decision had to have been in the cards.
In many ways, much has happened since DCA opened it’s gates in February of 2001. I refer not just to the physical changes at the Park, but spending changes on the part of it’s guests. Let is just compare the price of a one-day one-park admission. In 2001, it cost $43. In June of 2012, the cost is now $87. The Premium Annual Passport now has a $649 price tag. Right now, it seems that guests are more willing to part with their disposable income. So why not offer them the best?
And that is just what Disney has done at the Carthay Circle.
From the moment one enters the building, there is little doubt that this is a place like the rest of the Park. For one thing, it is much, much quieter inside than outside. And the subdued lighting helps add to that mood. Taking a seat in the lounge, one quickly learns just how much difference there is. For example, peruse the offered menu in the cocktail lounge on the first floor. The standard theme park fare of a hot dog and a Coke is not offered. Instead, things take a decidedly adult nature. Is it too much to find a flight of fine liquor for sampling? And at a reasonable price, too? All too civilized, if you ask me.
But don’t stop here. Take a stroll around the lobby before deciding on your best spot to relax. You’ll even find that the Disney Family Museum is represented here, with a collection of original Snow White cells (all seven dwarves) as arranged for display by Courvoisier – the only animation artwork ever to hang in Walt & Lillian’s home.
And further on, the bar and food service pantry bring their own elegance into play.
Yes, the shorts and tank tops may be a bit out of place, but I predict after a while, a better dressed crowd will find their way here. Even the famed Club 33 across the way has a dress code. It would not surprise me to see it imported here – especially upstairs in the restaurant.
Dining! Well, that is part of what this place is all about. Reservations for the second weekend of operation were all booked, so we chose to enjoy a Monday afternoon lunch. A short wait offered a moment to gather ourselves before we headed upstairs. Like dining at Club 33, guests are given the choice between taking the stairs or using the elevator from the lobby. Arriving on the landing, the first view of what awaits gives a hint. Again, hot dogs and Cokes this ain’t.
Much as any theater, the Carthay Circle restaurant offers diners a great show. The main dining room gives way to smaller rooms off to the sides, with the kitchen where a stage or screen might be. The large wine fountain in the center of the room compares admirably to many a mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ console in great theaters of the era.
Chef Andrew Sutton works his magic on the menu here; just as he has at the Napa Rose. The menu tends toward California cuisine, taking a note from fresh ingredients at hand. I found it just right. Not too overwhelming by any means. In my case, I chose the Chicken salad with a lemon and strawberry vinaigrette. And the Carthay Circle Cheddar Biscuits? These are not be passed upon. Mighty tasty and the apricot puree & butter served with them, outstanding!
Seven to an order, fresh and hot! The Carthay Circle Cheddar Biscuits.
The Chicken Salad, just perfect for lunch!
Seating outdoors along the patios offers a great view of Buena Vista Street and the Parade route. The Pixar Play parade was a hit with diners young and young at heart during our meal.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to enjoy another fine dining meal at another location. I found everything at Carthay Circle to be as good or better as that in many ways. While some people may need some minor social reminders (such as gentlemen removing their hats), I suspect this will be a very popular location. Special events of all kinds call for such a venue and this will not disappoint. Be it birthday, anniversary or other, I can see many celebrations being enjoyed here, for a long time to come.
Prices are not at all out of line with what one would expect to pay at a fine dining location. And you can use your Annual Passport to obtain up to a 15% discount (Premium).
So, if the siren call sounds to you, plan ahead with a reservation or just drop in to the lounge.
Tell ’em Walt sent you.