Even the casual visitor to the Disneyland Resort is probably aware that this Friday, June 15, is the zero hour for one of the most highly anticipated grand openings in the history of the Disney California Adventure park. The hype and anticipation has held everyone's attention for months if not years. Even now, just days away from the official opening of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street in DCA, it seems like that Friday will never get here.
I am not immune from this level of excitement, either. Hearing tales from the cast member and annual passholder preview event does not make the waiting any easier. It reminds me of when I was a child waiting for Christmas day to arrive. That last week before Christmas, looking at all of those presents under the tree, was pure torture. Luckily, my parents would show my sister and me a little mercy on Christmas Eve, as we were allowed to open one small present to relieve some of the pain of waiting. Oh, how that one small present on Christmas Eve helped get me through the last 12 hours of waiting.
Whether you realize it or not, the good people at the Disneyland Resort have given you not one but two "new" dining options to experience before the June 15. And one of them doesn't even require theme park admission.
One of those "new" places is Uva Bar, and it is technically a reopening—but the restaurant features a new décor as well as new menus. However, Ghirardelli's Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop in Disney California Adventure is brand spanking new.
Like many attractions, shops, and restaurants in the Disneyland Resort, Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop had a "soft opening" for about a week before the official grand opening last Thursday, quietly opening up without any publicity so they could work out their last-minute kinks. It's kind of like a practice game in sports.
And then there is the grand opening. They rope off an area in front of the store, and bring out a podium and microphone so that the important people can say how happy they are that this day has finally arrived. And since this is a Disney event, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse show up to assist with the ribbon-cutting, of course. Maybe it's just my view of the world, but a giant novelty-sized pair of scissors does not seem as ridiculous when you have two iconic cartoon characters standing next to you.
Mickey and Minnie join (left to right) Disney California Adventure Vice President Mary Niven, Lindt International CEO Ernst Tanner, and Disneyland Resort President George A. Kalogridis, for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. Photo by Britt Winslow.
This new Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop is located in the Pacific Wharf area of Disney California Adventure Park. More specifically, it occupies the space the Mission Tortilla Factory had occupied since the park opened in 2001. In fact, if it weren't for new signage on the outside of the building, you might not even realize that there was a different tenant inside.
There are 15 signature sundaes on the menu at Ghirardelli Soda and Chocolate Shop, including a massive eight-scoop, eight-topping behemoth called The Earthquake that sells for $34.95. The other 14 sundaes all consist of two or three scoops each, with prices ranging from $8.95 to $9.50.
In addition to sundaes, the shop also offers scoops, cones, shakes, floats, and an assortment of chocolate and espresso drinks. Oh and they have a lot of Ghirardelli chocolate. If you are a fan of Ghirardelli's chocolate, particularly the signature Ghirardelli Squares chocolate, you will love this store.
The sundaes are probably best summarized as classic sundaes. Of course there is a hot fudge option, a banana split, and variations with caramel, butterscotch, and strawberry toppings. Some sundaes have cookies or brownies in them, and all of them come with whipped cream. Many of the more popular sundaes have names that give a nod to the San Francisco, like The Golden Gate, The Cable Car and of course, the previously mentioned Earthquake.
According to the story on the bottom of the menu, Domingo Ghirardelli immigrated to the United States during the California Gold Rush and after three years of prospecting, he was successful enough to create the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. In the early 1900s, Ghirardelli Chocolate moved to the San Francisco piers and created its now-famous home, Ghirardelli Square.
The San Francisco motif doesn't end with the names of the sundaes. Behind the counter, there is a three–scene diorama showing some of the iconic images of San Francisco like the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, cable cars, and of course, Ghirardelli Square. The fun part of this diorama is that it periodically comes to life. For example, the cable cars move along its track. There is even an earthquake that shakes Ghirardelli Square. If you watch the top left window in the Ghirardelli Square tower, you just might see Domingo Ghirardelli peeking out at you.
Decorations and Bay Area themes aside, I did sample three of the sundaes offered at Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. The first was the hot fudge sundae. It doesn't get any more classic than this: two scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with a thick, rich and warm hot fudge, whipped cream, chopped almonds, and a cherry. It is simple but decadent.
The next sundae was called "The Haight AshBerry," a pun on the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, made famous in the 1960s as being the center of the San Francisco Renaissance (hippie movement). This is a berry sundae featuring a scoop of strawberry cheesecake ice cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with sliced strawberries and a blueberry topping. They then add a generous portion of whipped cream, chocolate-covered blueberries and a homemade, chocolate-dipped waffle roll. I thought this sundae was very special because you have two complimentary ice cream flavors and fresh strawberries covered by a fantastic jam-like blueberry topping. The chocolate-covered blueberries were also a nice contrast because you have the sweetness of the chocolate to contrast the tartness of the blueberries inside. And I am always a sucker for anything waffle-related, whether it be a waffle cone or waffle bowl.
The last sundae I tried was Mint Bliss. This is one of three sundaes that fall under the Intense Dark category on the menu. This concoction has a scoop of mint chip ice cream and a scoop of chocolate ice cream topped with freshly made dark chocolate hot fudge, whipped cream and a square of Intense Dark Midnight Reverie 86% chocolate.
I am not a big chocolate fan and if mint chip was one of those ice cream flavors that suddenly disappeared, I probably wouldn't even notice. For this reason, I didn't enjoy this a sundae. However, I think people who love chocolate and especially mint chip, will probably love this sundae.
Just when you thought I told you all of the good stuff, let me share something else with you: there is a secret menu. Weren't you a little curious that a place called the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop doesn't have an ice cream soda on its menu? While it may not be on the menu, here's the secret: All you have to do is ask for one and they'll make it for you.
An ice cream soda is carbonated soda water mixed with flavored syrup and then topped with a scoop of ice cream. It was invented in the late 1800s, and gradually became so immensely popular among teenagers, that adults became alarmed (afraid that the ice cream soda would lead to immoral consequences) that they called for laws banning the serving of ice cream sodas on Sundays. The popular tale is that because the ban was on the soda water and not the ice cream (which was viewed as a topping), some enterprising people started selling these concoctions without the soda—calling them "sundaes" in reference to Sunday. Variations on the ice cream soda still exist today, most typically in the form of root beer floats.
So if you're looking for something a little lighter, or you feel a tinge of nostalgia, ask for an ice cream soda, and they will make you one, even if it's not on the official menu.
MousePlanet columnist Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix visited the new Ghirardelli location during the soft opening and discovered another non-ice cream treat: cookies, brownies and chocolate-covered strawberries made with Ghirardelli chocolate. These items are listed on the paper menus, but you can also purchase them at the retail register near the restaurant's exit. Don't let the display fool you - while these look like the same goods sold at the Disney-operated eateries, you'll know the difference as soon as you take a bite.
Despite all of the delicious ice cream and chocolate treats offered at Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop, there are a few things that I am slightly disappointed about. Maybe I am spoiled by Disney magic, but I was hoping that the newest store in the Ghirardelli retail empire would offer something unique to the Disneyland Resort, whether it be a special ice cream flavor or a Disney-inspired sundae. The only unique thing about the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop is that it is the first one to be opened inside a theme park (its sister store in Walt Disney World is located in Downtown Disney).
Another thing that kind of bothered me was that while waiting in line, they hand you a paper menu with these beautiful photographs of sundaes in schooners and tall soda goblets with silver spoons, but your sundae actually comes in a 16-ounce plastic disposable cup, and they tell you the spoons are outside. At least the plastic spoons are individually wrapped. This is not a major drawback; they do a tremendous volume of business (especially compared to the wait times at Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor in Disneyland), heavy glass dishes and silverware aren't practical in such a setting, and these disposable wares let you take your orders with you. [Perhaps they should reshoot their menu so the items in the photos use the same cups as what we get?]
Bottom line, despite a few nitpicky complaints, is that this is a solid addition to the food offerings in DCA. There should be something for everyone; they even have no-sugar-added ice cream flavors. When you think about it, is there even such a thing as bad ice cream? If there is, you won't find it at Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop.
Last Saturday, I found myself saying what I say every time I visit Uva Bar, "I need to come here more often." Located in Downtown Disney at the center of the courtyard surrounded by Catal, Build A Bear and Ride Makerz, Uva Bar has reopened to practically no fanfare.
I am happy to see it return even though I, like countless exhausted guests have done, have cursed the extra steps it takes to circumnavigate this establishment when I walk from Disneyland to the Disneyland Hotel. Of course if you take the southern path around Uva Bar (that's the Catal side) you can always stop in for a drink and a quick nosh.
People who were familiar with Uva Bar should recognize right away that there is now a red and yellow color palette for the entire restaurant. From chairs to the tables to the tile around the planters, it's red and yellow. The center bar area still looks the same and at night the awning portion of the bar changes shades, taking you through the entire color spectrum.
New colors are nice, especially after 11 years, but both the food and cocktail menus at Uva Bar have been updated, as well. The tapas (share plate) options are still present, but the food menu now also includes salad and entrée sections. Salads and entrees were offered on the original menu, too, but in my opinion, they kind of got lost, especially if you were quickly glancing at the menu.
Despite the improved layout of the menu, I still think the tapas idea is the best way to truly enjoy Uva Bar, especially if you go with two or more people. In these times where we should all be eating smaller portions and limiting the amount of unhealthy food we consume, sharing a few small plates allows you to taste several things without over indulging on one thing. Plus, communal eating with your friends and loved ones is just outright fun. Think of your friends who never try something new. This is the perfect opportunity to put something new and exotic in front of them. Maybe that dish will become their new favorite.
Some of the old menu items like calamari and rrench fries are on the new menu, they've just been updated. The old menu had more of a Mediterranean feel to it, while I would classify the new menu as more global. I tried two of the share plate dishes, and both were exceptional.
Corn Arepas are something you wouldn't find on any American menu five years ago. This dish has origins in Central and South America and depending on the country, can be prepared with slightly different variations. An arepa is a grilled cornmeal cake that is sometimes sliced in half like an English muffin and stuffed with meats and/or cheeses and eaten like a sandwich.
Uva Bar's version is slightly different. Their arepas are about the diameter of a silver dollar and about a half-inch thick. After they are grilled gold brown they are topped with pulled pork, mojo sauce, cilantro and shaved red onion. The creamy sweetness of the corn cake contrasts nicely with the tangy and acidic mojo sauce covering the pulled pork. There are four arepas to an order for $13.00.
With the food truck and food cart craze showing no signs of slowing down, the good news for us foodies that that style of unique fusion food is finding its way into more and more restaurants. The Uva Street Fries are the 2012 version of chili cheese fries you might associate with bar food.
Uva Bar takes shoestring fries and covers them with Chorizo Bilbao (that's a Spanish sausage with a texture similar to salami, not the Mexican version with a texture similar to ground beef), spicy crema, shaved green onions, pickled garlic, and cheese curds. I think the only way to describe this dish is to say, "Wow!" Picky eaters would probably look at these ingredients and shake their head "no." But as strange as pickled garlic or spicy crema might sound, there is nothing really outrageous in this dish. The flavors are balances and work very well together. The fries are crisp and perfectly salted. But instead of dipping your fries in ranch or ketchup they are already topped with creamy and savory items that will wake up your taste buds and send a message to your stomach that there is something good on the way. Uva Street fries are $11.00.
Complimenting the impressive food menu is a completely revamped cocktail menu. In the beer and wine section are a dozen draft beers, half of which are from California. Luckily, if you can't decide which draft beer you'd like to try, Uva Bar offers a beer flight that gives you four 5-ounce servings of any draft beer they offer. Additionally, there is a diverse list of both domestic and imported bottled beers. Uva Bar always had a respectable wine selection and this has not been lost on the new menu. Guest who have drank at Uva Bar prior to it closing will probably notice the biggest changes on the signature cocktail list where everything down to the recipe for simple syrup has been improved in order to make eclectic and updated mixed drinks.
If you haven't figured it out by now, I am recommending that you try Uva Bar. As obvious as that may be, I will go one step further and tell you how I like to experience Downtown Disney with a small group of friends. Start at one end of Downtown Disney and then visit a few of the restaurants and/or bars on the way to the other end. Order one appetizer for the group and one unusual cocktail to share. The only rule is you cannot repeat a drink or a dish on your journey. The goal isn't to get smashed but to try a lot of different things. This isn't a race either so plan to set aside the whole evening and by all means make sure you have a designated driver or a short walk to your hotel room. You can also easily adapt this game to Epcot's World Showcase the next time you visit Walt Disney World.
So there you have it, two delicious reasons to visit the Disneyland Resort before June 15. Or two places you can visit on or after June 15 if the crowds are too big and you need some sustenance. Either way, if Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop and Uva Bar are any indication of how spectacular the new things coming later this week are going to be, we are all in for a real treat.
(Send an email to Britt Winslow)