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Downtown Disney Explored
Soft Openings continue
You probably would not know it from my last two columns, but the World of Disney Store was not the only thing to open this week in Downtown Disney. Several other shops and restaurants have been holding quiet "soft openings" all week, trying to get the bugs worked out before the Grand Opening Celebrations on the 12th. We've had a chance to dine at almost all of the open restaurants, and visit all of the shops. There's a lot to tell you about!
The big name restaurant reviewers avoid rating a new establishment until they've been open for at least 6 months. Since we're all just educated amateurs, we'll simply tell you as new restaurants open, and give you an idea of what you can expect from the menu and ambiance. Look for reader reviews in the summer, once the restaurants have had some time to tweak their operations. In the meantime, here are some initial impressions from the MousePlanet staffers who have experienced the new eateries.
The Brennan family has opened the Jazz Kitchen, which is comprised of three distinct service areas. For a quick bite, you can stop by the cafe. On Monday and Tuesday, the cafe was hosting a "burn in" soft opening. Most of the menu was available, served in sample sized portions. Best of all, it was free! They closed Wednesday and Thursday to make some adjustments, and should be opening today or tomorrow. This is what my husband Tony had to say about his meal.
Jazz Kitchen offered samples of items from their café menu, focused on some traditional Cajun foods. We enjoyed Andouille sausage, spicy shrimp Po‚ Boys, and absolutely wonderful beignets. The food presents a nice Cajun flavor without overpowering heat often associated with Cajun recipes.
The menus for their casual and fine dinning restaurants offer some unique glimpses of this under appreciated culinary discipline (ok, so Emeril is helping develop demand for Cajun food, but it is still nascent.) Their menu represents what Disneyland‚s New Orleans Square ought to serve. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Jazz Kitchen opening in Downtown Disney, given just how well it overshadows the New Orleans Square restaurants.
The lower patio offers a casual dining option, while the upper Jazz Balcony is a more formal setting. The patio and balcony should be open for normal service today. Reservations are required for the balcony. I'm looking forward to trying some of the items I saw on the main menu - and of course getting more of the terrific beignets!
The Patina Group, headed by chef Joachim Splichal, has opened Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar. The restaurant is located on the second floor of the complex, while the bar is in the center of the Downtown Disney Plaza. The bar is not quite ready, but the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Again, my husband has a few comments about Catal
Catal is part of the Patina group of restaurants and it shows. By far the most elegant restaurant, it is surprisingly informal. It will cater well to the mixed crowds of tourists and locals who want to enjoy a higher level of service and quieter atmosphere.
In true Southern California style, you are sure to find guests dressed in everything from Mickey shirt and shorts to more formal tie and coat. Evening wear is certainly not out of place here. The main dining room is located on the second floor with exterior balconies overlooking the outdoor Uva bar and the main thoroughfare of Downtown Disney. Tables located next to the sealed gas fireplace feature loveseat seating and wonderfully comfortable armchairs.
Using Mediterranean cuisine as its focus, it offers an intriguing menu. The chef obviously takes pride in the presentation of the meal with creative combinations and displays. While a children‚s menu is offered, I know I would personally be hesitant to bring kids here, especially of the younger variety. This type of leisurely dining will likely be difficult for them to sit still through, especially with Mickey‚s house being just a few steps away.
I really enjoyed the food here. I ordered the Endive and Roquefort salad, even though I generally avoid endive. I wanted to compare it to the Romaine and Stilton salad served at 5 Crowns, and report back to Adrienne Krock (MousePlanet's "Parenting in the Parks" columnist), who is avoiding blue cheeses during her pregnancy. I liked this salad, and I think she'll find it worth the wait. Everyone in our party was happy with their food. If you like dark chocolate, order the Opera Cake for dessert.
When the Uva bar opens, you will be able to stop by for Tapas and a glass of wine, and sit in the outdoor bar area, under the giant wine glass topiaries. Once the bougainvilleas grow into their frames, this is going to be a visual focal point for the entire area.
La Brea Bakery: Having never been to the La Brea Bakery or the Campanile Restaurant in Los Angeles, I had no idea what to expect from this branch. It sits right next to the World of Disney store, just steps away from the Tram unloading area. Each morning, 250 guests arrive every 3 minutes right outside their door. Based on this, and the name, I was expecting some variation of the Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street.
I was half right. There are two sections of this restaurant. The "Grab and Go" side features traditional bakery fare: pastries, sandwiches, and a coffee bar menu. David Lane, a frequent MousePlanet photo contributor, says that this is also the place to get absolutely decadent Hot Cocoa. Seating is available outside the restaurant for the self service side.
The full service cafe offers a selection of appetizers, sandwiches and entrees. A friend of mine had eaten at the restaurant during the Cast Member previews, and had told me that the menu was impossible to decipher, filled with strange words and foods. As this came from a somewhat... conservative eater, I wasn't surprised that he had found the menu a little exotic. I was not prepared to be stumped myself. He was correct: Never have so many questions been asked just to order lunch. Confused, I settled on the grilled cheese sandwich, while my partner- in- photography tried the stew.
The sandwich was wonderful, all toasted and melted, with fries and a salad. David said the stew was wonderful as well. I'm going to have to try that next time. There is a full wine list. You have a choice of patio seating, or counter seating at the bar.
We ate at the Rainforest Cafe on it's opening day. If you have been to one of their other locations recently, you won't find anything terribly new here. They are serving the new menu which other branches have been phasing in over the last few months.
The general consensus of our dining group was that this restaurant is what would happen if Imagineering had an unlimited budget to build a restaurant at the Jungle Cruise. If your children loved Adventureland, this is where you want to take them for lunch. Tony chimes in with his thoughts:
Many of the „Themeš restaurants have suffered over the past several
year: The Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood being prime examples.
The reason for their difficulties can be summed up simply: poor food.
My only experience with a Planet Hollywood was with a $12 hamburger
that compared poorly to a 99Ę Big Mac from McDonalds. Needless to say,
I never went back.
A few of the stores within Downtown Disney have opened, and more are opening each day. There is a mix of stores you have at your local mall, and stores that you've never seen before. Something Silver gets my vote for the prettiest exterior, as well as my thanks for locating on the shady side of the walk. If they got the full sun that the shops across the way deal with, people would be blinded by the sunlight bouncing off of their mosaic.
This is not the usual cheap- silver- necklace store you'll find at the mall. You'll find a well priced assortment of rings, necklaces, watches and earrings. A number of designers are featured, as are different styles of silver work. There definitely are some Hopi inspired pieces, but you'll also see semi-precious stones and even some gold accents. I found a great Silver and Amber three piece ring for $29 - very reasonable.
Hoypoloi bills itself as "An eclectic location showcasing a wide
variety of one-of-a-kind gifts made by artists from throughout the world."
OK. I call it the place I almost went broke at in Florida, come to haunt
me in California. If you like Art Glass, or the Martin Lawrence Gallery
look, you'll love this shop. I spent a good 10 minutes drooling over a
water / rock garden table last night. I can't describe it, and I couldn't
fit in in the house, but I want it. I believe this is the third location
of this shop, with the one at Downtown Disney in Florida and a Miami location
being the other two.
Illuminations is familiar to most people, as they are in many of the
higher-end malls. They sell candles and decorative candle holders, incense,
aromatherapy items and home accessories. The shop adds quite a bit of
fragrance to Downtown Disney, even from several stores away.
Tin Pan Alley and Starabilias are owned by the same people, and share a few items in common. Tin Pan Alley focuses on all-metal items, including a huge selection of magnets. They also have novelty items like calendars, pens, and assorted souvenirs.
Starabilias is the place for original restored antiques and signed pieces memorabilia. A copy of the Peter Pan Sheet Music, signed by Walt Disney, is available here for $6000. Most of the signed items are custom matted and framed. The Peter Pan music is framed in a custom mat with an image of Peter Pan. You will find a large selection of nostalgic gift and novelty items, including Betty Boop and I Love Lucy sections. There are a ton of miniature keychain games here. One of our group bought a tiny MouseTrap game. (Uh oh - another source of Miniature Toys for me.... Hide the credit card.)
The ESPN Zone opened Wednesday, with the National Championships. I didn't get a chance to eat here - the wait was already 45 minutes long, just an hour after they opened. ESPN Zone is divided into three sections: The Studio Grill restaurant, the Screening Room and the Sports Area. An adjacent Studio Store offers ESPN merchandise and souvenirs. I'm going to wait for a more Sports-Minded individual to more fully describe the features of the Zone. All I can reliably report is that it is LOUD.
The official Grand Opening of Downtown Disney is next Friday, after a "Celebrity Studded Party, benefiting the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and hosted by Sylvester Stallone" Thursday night.
Oh, are you looking for an excuse to visit Downtown Disney and the World of Disney Store next week? How about ordering tickets to the DCA Sneak Preview Event? You can spend the morning wandering Downtown Disney, and then attend the event in the evening. Tickets are still available - call 866-247-1203 to order.
Because the original invitations probably got buried in your stack of Christmas cards, Disneyland is handing out a flyer about this event at Disneyana and the Gallery. It lists more of the specifics of the event, including a slightly better description of the Scavenger Hunt and the Prizes to be earned.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Adrienne here.
Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix is the super-shopper behind MouseShoppe, your personal and unofficial shopping service for the Disneyland Resort, and the owner of CharmingShoppe, a Disney collectibles store located in Anaheim.
In addition to scouring the park to find you the latest and greatest merchandise, she keeps you updated on all of the merchandise events happening in the parks.
If you want to talk to her about this column, merchandise, or events, contact her here.
Visit our other shopping service, MouseMemories.com.
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