Standing as the new centerpiece of Disney California Adventure is the stunning re-creation of the Carthay Circle Theater, where Walt Disney premiered Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Located at the end of Buena Vista Street in the hub of the park, this 89-foot tall structural work of art houses a swanky new restaurant & lounge where guests are transported to not only another place, but also another time. The Spanish Colonial Revival style building may not be an exact replica of the original theater, but it’s no less elegant.
When the DCA overhaul was announced in 2007, Buena Vista Street and the Carthay Circle Theater were listed in the original plans. At the time, however, the theater was intended to be an actual theater and was going to feature a film entitled The Walt Disney Story, sounding very similar to the One Man’s Dream exhibit at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. As time passed and rumors swirled, it was finally revealed that the theater would house a new restaurant and lounge,. It would also offer an additional space for Club 33 members to be named the 1901 Lounge, allowing Disney to finally open the long closed Club 33 wait list. Before I get your hopes up, I should let you know now that I don’t have any photos to share of the 1901 Lounge. Although, to make it up to you I could do another post chock-full of Club 33 photos if you’d like.
As you make your way up to the building, the lunch & dinner menus are posted outside for you to peek at. There may even be a hidden Mickey or two on the exterior of the structure. Cast members dressed as ushers (in keeping with the theater theme) will greet you at the door to direct you where you need to go.
The first floor is an impeccably designed lobby/lounge open to all guests. The walls are filled with photos from the original theater and the premiere of Walt’s Folly, as well as a display of original artwork from the film on loan from the Walt Disney Family Museum. If you have a reservation to dine in the restaurant, the check-in area is in the lounge. You can order a drink while you wait for your table to be ready, or if you aren’t looking to go up to the main dining room, the lounge has their own tapas menu where you can order food & drinks.
Once your table is ready, a host or hostess will come to find you in the lounge and escort you upstairs to the dining room. Let them know whether you’d like to go up the stairs or the elevator.
Entering the main dining room is simply breathtaking. From the floor to the ceiling, everything feels so elegant and luxurious that you can easily forget you’re inside a theme park. The center of the room opens to the parapet, which showcases painted murals of landscapes from Snow White. All of the walls are adorned with more photos from the original Carthay Circle Theater, as well as Walt’s past. The main room acts as a hub and branches off into several smaller rooms that serve either a few tables or one large private table, and each room has been given its own name.
When you make your reservation, you have the option for a table indoors or outside. Over opening weekend, we made a lunch reservation for outdoors, and a dinner reservation inside – all in the name of research, of course. During our lunch, instead of being seated on the balcony, we were brought to the Solarium. I was actually quite happy with our section, the room is incredibly elegant, you might even call it posh. Because of the lighter color scheme and the mirrored walls, the room has great light without being directly in the sun.
Now that we’ve seen the place, let’s get down to the food. The menu was created by Napa Rose executive chef, Andrew Sutton, and his protege, Gloria Tae.
- Carthay House Biscuits: Stuffed with White Cheddar, Bacon and Jalapeno served with Apricot Honey Butter. They area great combination of savory & sweet, and even with the jalapeno, they weren’t too spicy. These were a big hit for us at both meals, I’m sure they will quickly become the restaurants must-have.
- Crispy Gorditas: Topped with Portobello Mushrooms, Poblano Chili, Queso Fresco, and Pepitas. We shared this appetizer during lunch and I absolutely loved it, my husband thought it was good but he wasn’t blown away. i really loved the sauce, and the texture of the gordita.
- My cocktail of choice: the infamous Shirley Temple!
- Pappardalle Pasta with House-made Chicken Meatballs: Tear Drop Tomatoes, fresh basil, and Yellow Tomato Essence. The noodles tasted fresh, and they were just the right density. The chicken meatballs were very flavorful, and quite good. We both enjoyed it, but we wouldn’t make a trip back tot he restaurant just for this entree.
- Kobe Beef Cheek Sliders: Whipped Horseradish Sour Cream, Red Bell Pepper-Marmalade, and Crispy Onions. These were incredible. The meat was cooked to perfection tender, and the sour cream & marmalade were just the right accoutrements. Even the bread was toasted and buttered perfect. *These* are worth going back for!
- At dinner, we ordered the Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp: Served over Roasted Summer Corn, Grilled Zucchini, and Basil Salsa. Admittedly, I’m not a big seafood fan, but I we knew we wanted to try the Rib Eye, and I wanted to venture out and not just go with the burger, so we opted for the shrimp. I mean, how could it be wrong, it’s wrapped in BACON!! I couldn’t have been happier with our choice. This ended up being the winner during our dinner, over the rib eye. The corn was fresh and chopped right from the cob, and the sauce was not overly creamy. The bacon was cooked perfectly and complimented the shrimp so well. This is another one that we will be going back for, and lucky for us, it’s also on the lunch menu along with those sliders.
- Grilled Rib Eye: with Sauteed Mushrooms and Gremalata of Red Flame Grapes, Blue Cheese, Red Onion and Parsley. We ordered the steak medium, and it did arrive as requested. However, the meat was quite fatty and the gramalate was too heavy. There was little meat flavor, because the sauce was covering most of it up. It’s also a lot of meat. There is no type of side to accompany the dish to help balance it out, nor are there any side dishes on the menu for you to order. Had it come with some type of potato or risotto, that may have helped to mellow it out a bit. Steak is always our go-to on a menu, but we would not order this again.
- Toasted Lemon Pound Cake: Fresh Marinated Blueberries, Lemon Curd Cream, and Tahitian Vanilla Chantilly. Everything about this was just OK. We wanted to like it, but it didn’t win either one of us over. The best part was the cream, it was refreshing and not overly tart. The cake, on the other hand, was too dry and not dense enough for pound cake.
- Fried Banana Split Monte Cristo Sundae: Raspberry and Chocolate Fudge Ice Creams, Toffee Nuts, and Warm Caramel Rum Bananas. Even at $15, going in to our meal, this is what I was most excited to try. It did not disappoint, the flavors went together so well, and the crispiness of the monte cristo with the smoothness of the bananas was a fabulous combination. I may not get it every visit with that hefty price tag, but I would definitely order it again.
If you’re interested in the World of Color option, just let your server know upfront. In order to receive a Fastpass for the restaurant’s reserved World of Color viewing area, you would need to order an entree, and either an appetizer or dessert, for each person in your party. The viewing area for Carthay Circle is separate from the Wine Country Trattoria’s area. It’s further back and offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the show. We’ve watched the show several times, from various locations around Paradise Park, and this was by far our favorite spot.
While on the topic of nighttime entertainment, one of the balconies acts as a great viewing platform for Disneyland’s fireworks, I wouldn’t say its comparable to a restaurant with a fireworks view at Walt Disney World, but it’s still a nice show. If you time your reservation just right, you can go out to the balcony to check it out, just be aware that people are actually having their meals out on the balcony. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn the balcony into a viewing-only platform during certain hours of the night.
Regarding the service, every Cast Member we encountered during our visits here were incredibly helpful, and they all seem genuinely excited to be working here. The only issue we had was that everything moved painfully slow. More so at dinner than at lunch, and it may have just been because it was their opening weekend, but it took almost 30 minutes for our entrees to be brought out at dinner. In the end, the servers were friendly and apologetic, and we still had a great time.
Overall, I would say that the Carthay Circle restaurant is second only to Club 33, and that’s only because of the nostalgia that the Club offers. Of the dishes that we tried, we’re already dying to go back and order most of them again. However, even over the food, the ambiance alone is worth the experience. It is leaps and bounds above both Napa Rose and Steakhouse 55. While the experience is anything but light on the wallet, it’s just that: an experience, and one that’s not to be missed!