Describe your perfect day at one of the Disney theme parks. It probably has something to do with short lines at all of the attractions, comfortable weather, and being at the right place at the right time to see all of the characters, shows and parade you desire. No doubt, that would make most guests of Disney parks very happy.
Is it possible to have a perfect day when a park is crowded and it's hot? Well, that was my day at Disney California Adventure last Sunday. Crowded, too hot for my liking, yet it was one of the best days I have ever had in a Disney Park. And believe me.
During the opening weekend for Cars Land and Buena Vista Street a friend of mine sent me a text message that read, "Do you want to go to 1901 and grab a bite to eat at Carthay next Sunday?"
After a few minutes of fist pumping and performing various dance moves that included the Cabbage Patch and maybe even the Running Man, I composed myself and sent a text message back to my friend that read, "Yes, that would be great." Don't you just love the dignity of text messages?
What is 1901? Besides the year that Walt Disney was born, 1901 is the name of the private club, accessible only to Club 33 Platinum members, located inside the Carthay Circle Theatre. As reported in the May 8, 2012 Disneyland Resort Update, Platinum Club 33 is for members willing to increase their annual dues to $10,000. If you were not already a Club 33 member, you had to also pay a $25,000 initiation fee. If we speculate that some current Club 33 members will choose not to upgrade to the platinum level, one could argue that 1901 is now the most exclusive venue in all of the Disney Parks.
Where exactly is 1901? Much like its New Orleans Square counterpart inside Disneyland, the entrance to 1901 is hidden in plain sight. As you stand in front of Carthay Circle Theatre, you will see three sets of double doors. The doors on the left and in the middle lead you to Carthay Circle Restaurant and Carthay Circle Lounge. But it's the doors on the right, covered by curtains, that serves as the entrance to 1901. There is a cast member standing in front of the entrance to 1901 at al times, quietly guarding the entrance. On the wall next to the door is a very plain oval plaque inscribed with 1901.
Once through the front doors, members check in with the receptionist. Then it's a few steps to the right and you are in the club.
1901 is larger than I anticipated. It is basically two rooms divided by a half–wall hallway. Each of the two rooms is roughly the size of the Carthay Circle Lounge in the main building.
The room on the left is where the bar is located, along the south wall. At the bar are four director chairs, each embroidered with (from left to right) Ub, Roy, Walt, and Lillian. The chairs, of course, are named after Ub Iwerks, considered by many to be Walt Disney's oldest friend; Roy Disney (Walt's brother), Walt himself, and Lillian, his wife..
The room to the right as well as the remainder of the room on the left consist of little seating areas that accommodate parties of up to six or more. The furniture is an eclectic mix of time-period sofas, chairs, lamps and coffee tables. Almost every end table had a complimentary cell phone charging station. Despite the well-appointed decorations, the entire space feels bright yet warm, open but still cozy, and probably most importantly, exceptionally comfortable.
Covering almost every wall are photographs and artifacts documenting the rich history of the Walt Disney Company. Just about the only wall void of any decoration is the wall at the end of the hallway near the entrance. This unadorned wall is covered in a simple brown vertical-stripe wall paper. But this isn't any ordinary wall, because this is where a vision of Walt Disney randomly appears. It happens quickly, which makes it very difficult to photograph the two forms in which Walt visits 1901. The image appears as a silhouette, and is either Walt's head turning from a profile view to a head on view, or the shadow of him walking across the wall. It's a little spooky, but still a very cool effect.
1901 isn't just a comfortable place to relax and recharge your spirits (and perhaps your cell phone); they also serve food and drinks. One of the things I wondered about before I went to 1901 was whether the menu would differ from the Carthay Circle Lounge next door. The only difference I could tell was the cover of the menu specifying which lounge you were in. Other than that, the offerings and prices were identical. Was I disappointed that the food and drinks are the same? Not even a little bit. Remember, I am not a Club 33 member and I take great comfort in knowing I can get the same amazing food in the Carthay Circle Lounge that they are eating next door.
Even though the menu is the same, I didn't pass up an opportunity to try some new things. If you read my article last week, you will know that I fell in love with the ice spheres served in some of the drinks. Instead of a Manhattan I ordered a Carthay Martini because it, too, was served with an ice sphere.
I took an opportunity to ask the bartender how they make the ice spheres. They have a local vendor make cylinders of crystal clear purified water. The cylinders are then fed into a special machine that, once started, carves a perfect ice sphere in about 20 seconds.
We ordered the Santa Monica Deviled Eggs and the Roasted Moroccan Lamb Meatballs. The deviled eggs are served vertically as opposed to the more traditional cut in half lengthwise and served horizontally. The eggs are filled with a mixture of smoked salmon, egg yolks, and lemon crème fraiche. Though they are a little challenging to eat, in my opinion, any time you can add smoked fish to deviled eggs, you have a winner. These deviled eggs are no exception.
When I see things on a menu containing the words Moroccan and lamb, I know that I will like it—even though others may stay away from the dish because it seems too exotic. The lamb meatballs come three to an order and are served on a skewer with a toasted crouton. Covering the meatballs is a wonderful tomato sauce and tzatziki, a yogurt–based Mediterranean staple. Do yourself a favor and ignore that voice inside your head telling you this dish is not for you. Branch out and try something new, and I promise at least some of you will have a new favorite.
As much as I enjoyed the exclusive comforts of 1901, I was really excited to try the food at Carthay Circle Restaurant upstairs. When your table at Carthay Circle Restaurant is ready, they give you two choices for getting to the second floor: the stairs or the elevator. If you are able to walk up stairs, I recommend this approach for your first visit. The stairs wind around the elevator shaft and give you a tremendous sense of anticipation as you turn each corner. Once at the top of the stairs, you go down an short hallway and then enter the main dining room.
I was expecting one large room full of dozens of tables, similar to the Blue Bayou in Disneyland's New Orleans Square. While the main dining room of Carthay Circle Restaurant is a respectable size, there are several other rooms that branch off from it. There are two other large dining rooms to the west and to the north that you do not see unless you walk to them. Between the main dining room and the west dining room is the Hollywood Room. This dark paneled room can accommodate up to 60 guests and can be reserved for private parties.
For smaller semi–private gatherings, you can request the cozy Hyperion and Buena Vista rooms, each capable of seating up to six guests at a time. Nestled between Hyperion and the Buena Vista rooms is the Wishing Well Room. This round room filled with a round table impressed me the most, and that room can comfortably accommodate a party of 12.
There is also outdoor seating on the west and north terrace, giving guests great people watching opportunities or a wonderful bird's eye view of the parade.
Similar to 1901, the walls throughout the Carthay Circle Restaurant are covered with photographs of Walt Disney and some of the most memorable moments of his amazing life.
Andrew Sutton, the Executive Chef of the Napa Rose restaurant in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa oversaw the menu creation at Carthay Circle Restaurant. One look at the menu and you can recognize his presence in the diverse global influences of the ingredients in each dish offered.
As we walked to our table in the western dining room, I noticed that almost every table had a basket of golden brown orbs. These were the Carthay House Biscuits—after one bite, I immediately understood why they were so popular. These little gems are stuffed with white cheddar cheese, bacon, and jalapeno and which are flash-fried to give them a crisp golden exterior and a creamy melted interior. An apricot-honey butter comes with each order, adding a slightly sweet contrast. I would classify the biscuits as a must-try, and since they come seven to an order, they are very easy to share.
Sticking with the starters section of the menu, the signature Fire Cracker Duck Wings are another great dish to share with the table. If you like chicken wings, you will probably really enjoy this dish. The duck wings are coated in a soy, lime, and Sriracha chili sauce adds a nice touch of heat, but not so much so that you will need to order a glass of milk. My one advice for this dish is to ask for some extra napkins because they are very generously sauced. And don't tell Emily Post about this, but the Carthay House Biscuits are a great way to soak up the extra sauce on the plate.
Being that we were having lunch at Carthay Circle Restaurant, I wanted to try one of the three sandwiches that are not included in the dinner menu. The Kobe Beef Cheek Sliders were tempting—here's a little foodie secret: Try not to pass on dishes with the word "cheek" in the title. The cheek of any animal will be one of the most flavorful and tender parts you could ever imagine. But, one of my weaknesses and rule breakers in the realm of culinary creations was on the Korean Pulled Pork Sandwich. Yes, Andrew Sutton you had me at Sunny Side Egg.
In addition to kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), Sriracha mayo and micro cilantro, the pulled pork sandwich was topped with a fried egg. As rare as it is for me to pass on a dish featuring animal cheeks, it is even rarer for me to pass on a dish with a fried egg. And let me tell you, it was everything my little foodie heart could desire. Tender pulled pork with the pungent crunch of kimchi mixed with the creamy ooze of a perfectly cooked egg yolk. Heavenly.
And now we are to the part of my article where I tell you that 1901 and Carthay Circle Restaurant are two places you want to experience. In fact, even if you skimmed past everything in this article and scrolled to the end, my simple answer answer is still yes. I've had the fortune to dine in all of the signature dining restaurants in all six theme Disney North American theme parks, and I can say with absolute confidence that Carthay Circle Restaurant is the best restaurant located inside a theme park, without comparison. And yes, I am also including Club 33 on that list.
What Andrew Sutton and the staff of very talented chefs has done at Carthay Circle Restaurant is every bit as impressive as what the Imagineers created in Cars Land. He has taken things you know and given you an exciting new way to experience them. Don't let a few unfamiliar ingredients with scare you away from trying something different. If you approach the dishes served inside Carthay Circle Theatre, whether in the restaurant or lounge, you will delight in discovering something just as exhilarating and as memorable as the new attractions.
Here's another way to think about it. If you ride Radiator Springs Racers, there are two different experiences on that attraction. You either go to Ramone's or you go to Luigi's before the big race. Once you've done both, the experiences repeat on every ride thereafter. But at Carthay Circle Theatre you have dozens of options to experience in the form of both food and drink. Best of all, it will change seasonally. That puts the number of dining options in the limitless range, which in my book turns a restaurant into an E–ticket attraction.
(Send an email to Britt Winslow)