Birthday Dinner @ California Grill February 2, 2024

In the words of that great man of American Letters, Yogi Berra, and I quote: “It was dejà vu all over again.”  The Cali Grill has been my go to place for the past 8 year to celebrate National Groundhog Day, which conveniently takes place on the same day as my birthday.  And it also marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.

There is a wonderful mixture to Cali Grill’s vibe.  Not quite boisterous, but not subdued; not cozy, but not crowded.  Not intimate, but not crazy busy.  Not stuffy; but purely suited for enjoying very good cuisine, very good wine and an opportunity to catch a pretty amazing view of Cinderella’s Castle.

Typically I ask for a table along the window which offers a primo view of the fireworks display over Cinderella’s Castle.  But this year I changed my request to get a specific server.  Walter was our server last year and he was hands down one of the two best servers we have ever had on Disney property (or elsewhere for that matter).  We lucked out getting Walter last year. I wasn’t leaving it to luck this year…  I happily sacrificed a window table in order to ensure being seated in his section.

Martini Time! Sadly Disney is running out their inventory of Tanqueray Gin. Not just at the Cali Grill but at all their other sit down restaurants.  But I could postpone making the decision to quit Disney over this egregious shortfall because Cali Grill still had a bit of Tanqueray N0.10 still in play.  Color me happy!

The dinner at the Cali Grill is prix fixe @ $89 for three courses.  A wine pairing is available for each course, and once again I opted for the higher tiered selection of wines  @ $69.

For my main course once again I went with the Fire-Roasted Venison.  I order Venison just about every time I see it on a menu (in fact I had Venison at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge two days earlier.  Also excellent).  I love a good cut of steak; but I can prepare that anytime at home.  Venison is a treat.  The Chef swapped out the sides from last year and replaced them with Butternut Squash Gnocchi, Parsnip-Almond Purée, Roasted Cippolini Onions, Glazed Apples, Chanterelle Mushrooms & Venison Jus. This dish was superbly prepared and I enjoyed a new vintage of wine that had been in the flight last year. The Duckhorn Merlot Three Palms Vyd ’20 was in perfect sync with rich flavors of the venison and the sides.  Great wine in concert with a great dish – what could be better than that?

Last year I paired the dessert course (a Chef’s Selection of California Cheeses) with the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.   There was nothing noteworthy in the cheese board, so this year I opted for the Peanut and Banana Torte (Shortbread, Peanut Ganache, Miso Caramel, Nut Crumble and Caramelized Bananas).  Peanut and Bananas?  Isn’t that an Elvis thing?  No matter, I’m sure that the King would have knocked off a couple of plates of this dessert, and it was a definite upgrade over last year’s cheese plate!   The key for me was the Champagne.  I would love that Blanc de Blancs with anything – including the Kazan Roll, the Venison and even a peanut butter and banana sandwich!


Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédérick Emile ’15 (Alsace, France)
The 2015 Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile is clear and intense but highly refined on the nose that perfectly blends mineral with concentrated lemon and smoky flavors. Round, concentrated and very elegant on the palate, this is a slightly sweeter than normal Riesling, but it is highly finessed, well-structured and perfectly salty with a long and tension-filled finish. Fine tannins reflect the limestone/marl terroir of the Geisberg Grand Cru with the southeast-facing Osterberg Grand Cru. The 2015 will not go on the market earlier than 2022. 95+pts Wine Advocate

Duckhorn Merlot Three Palms Vyd ’20 (Napa, CA)
A cuvée of 98% Merlot and 2% Malbec. The Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot is an iconic wine that always demands attention with its yearly release. The 2020 vintage is alluring, persistent, and classic. Epic, elegant and profoundly complex, this stunning wine draws you in with aromas of fresh cranberry, huckleberry, crushed rose petals, raspberry and graham crackers. On the palate, mesmerizing layers of black fig and cocoa powder mingle with the lush berry flavors, with a sophisticated note of minerality emerging on the long, resonant finish. 94pts Wilfred Wong

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (Champagne, France)
100% Chardonnay. Based on the 2019 vintage and disgorged in 2022, Ruinart’s newly released NV Blanc de Blancs bursts with characteristically reductive aromas of yellow orchard fruit, citrus oil, iodine and toasted bread. Medium-bodied, pillowy and fleshy, with lively acids and a saline finish, it is an attractive Champagne that incorporates 20% reserve wines.
91pts Wine Advocate

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