Let's mix things up a bit this month. Instead of my usual wine column I thought I would instead review one of my favorite California restaurants. I know what you're thinking, how could some obscure eatery on the west coast benefit me, unless I live there? Well although it may seem obscure, it's not like I'm reviewing a place that's in the middle of Podunk Nowhere. And even if we were, I don't see it hurting Drive-Ins, Dinners and Dives one little bit, but I digress. As I was saying, we aren't in B.F.E., we're in Southern California and I know in addition to many people visiting here for their vacations there are also hundreds of thousands who come here every year, just to spend a day or two, at the 'Happiest Place on Earth'. Well, it just so happens that the restaurant I am going to tell you about is about 2-miles from where I live and it's a place I thought everyone could put on their list of places to dine, because when they come to Anaheim, California and visit Disneyland, this unexpected gem is walking distance from the most famous mouse on the planet.
That said, my review this month is not just about a magnificent eating establishment, but it also has a first-class wine menu and is among one of the best I have ever viewed. And without further ado Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the Napa Rose, located in the equally striking Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. A stunning classic Northern California themed structure; imagine Frank Lloyd Wright with Disney imagination and a fireplace you could park a mid-sized car in.
When you first enter the Napa Rose you have a couple of options. The first is the lounge/bar area. No reservation needed, but depending on the season it may fill up quickly. You can get full menu service from the lounge area, but I find a nice bottle of wine and an appetizer (I highly suggest you try the cheese plate) works well for a simple evening of conversation or entertaining. The full service bar is one of the first things you notice upon entering; a long elegant structure that wraps around the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by numerous small tables with relaxed chairs. There is a warm fireplace and the ambiance is comfortable without being affected. Being at Disneyland certainly seems to play a role in this as they accommodate families from all over the world, many of whom are just coming back in from spending a day at the park. To be honest, the casualness of many diners, the seeming lack of interest by Disneyland goers to 'dress for dinner' and the clear absence of any dress code by the restaurant, was a bit off putting the first time I went there. But I can honestly say, I've never had a bad experience and even the youngest kids seems unusually well mannered and my attention was very quickly redirected to their incredibly wine list, their impeccable service and their absolute attentiveness and in spite of being surrounded at times by under-dressed vacationers, every time I feel I am truly in a fine-dining atmosphere.
The second suggestion I'd like to make regarding your Napa Rose experience, is reservation dining. After you are greeted by the trademarked Disneyland smile and a 'Welcome to Napa Rose' you are led to your table. No waiting! (That's the only way for me). On the way there you will walk past one of the nicest glass wine rooms you can imagine. No really, it's breath taking and if it were mine, I'd show it off too. The best of the best from California reside in there; cases and cases of rare Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, and magnums of Screaming Eagle, Château d'Yquem and of course an inspired selection of Europe's finest from the greatest Bordeauxs and Champagnes to the oldest Ports. As you round the inspiring display, you are greeted by the chef's kitchen, which is open and surrounds the dining room, where you can watch them as they prepare each meal.
For this dining experience my lovely wife and I asked two friends of ours to join us; Tom Bennett and his beautiful wife Rebekah. Tom and I are old high school friends and when we get together we like to enjoy the libations. So please be advised that substantial wine drinking may ensue during the reading of this article and a taxi may be called to get us all safely home.
Since the wife and I go to Napa Rose at least 6 times a year we called the Sommelier, who we have gotten to know (and who also happens to be an expert and a fan of Sherry – we love that) and told him that we would be bringing two special friends on Saturday night for dinner. I typically bring a bottle (or two) from my personal collection. Nape Rose charges $25 per bottle corking fee. However if I bring a bottle I feel it is mannerly to order one or even two bottles from the place I am dining at and although not always, I will say often the corking fee is waived. Always ask what the corking fee is when you make a reservation at a restaurant; as some do not allow you to bring your own wine.
The interior of the award winning Napa Rose is rich in modern California design and it's well worth taking your time when you are there and really taking it in. Since opening in 2002, they have received many honors and accolades from a number of institutes, including Wine Spectator, Zagat, The Southern California Restaurant Writers among others. When you are seated there is a view of Disney California Adventure and as mentioned, the offer an open-view kitchen, which is fast paced but quiet and does not distract one at all, mainly because it moves like a very well-oiled machine and it's pretty fascinating to witness. The dining area, surrounded by beautiful inlaid wood, is as sophisticated as it is beautiful and creates a setting befitting a fine dining establishment. All this attention to detail is one of the things that Disney architects provide so well and in my opinion, it's one of their marks of genius.
The menu is true California cuisine; fresh fish, tender steaks, light pastas, along with duck, wild boar and exotic garden fresh vegetables. For me, the best menu selection is their Vinter's Table; Chef Andrew Sutton's own personal hand selected menu; a 4 or 5 course meal that blends each season's culinary delights and each course is paired with a wine (optional); it's really a delicious way to enjoy a variety of different meals.
The main reason I go back to the Napa Rose is the wine menu. It's really more of a wine book; page after page of amazing wines from all over the world. Their specialty is California, with hundreds on the list. They have a large selection of wine by the glass and have bottles starting at around $25 all the way up to $5000. There are over 3000 wines in the basement cellar and the wine list rotates with the different menu items. If you do not see it listed just ask as they probably have it cellared.
Our reservation was at 7p.m. and we arrived on time. It was a crowded Saturday night and while we waited under 5 minutes for our table we talked with Matt the Sommelier on duty; a nice British fellow who knows his wine; especially the European varietals.
Once seated we started with a wine that had to be pulled from the cellar; a wine my friend Tom picked, a nice Italian: Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, 2000, the price $160. I found it a great way to begin a cheese plate appetizer, along with a fresh mixed bread basket. The Amarone was fruit forward with slow tannin build, hints of plum and tobacco along with dark cherry and a great oaky finish. But of course, we did not give the wine enough time to open up as the bottle was finished in about 10 minutes. For the meal Tom and I went for the Vinter's Table and had each of the 4 courses paired it with 4 various wines from a Sauvignon Blanc to a splendid Cabernet Sauvignon. The meal was out of this world and has yet to do anything but impress me. To detail each course would take another article so I will allow you to experience what Napa Rose has to offer for yourself. We did spot a celebrity or two and the women enjoyed a lovely bottle of 2010 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon; price tag $120. During the 4 hour meal we managed to enjoy a glass of Scharffenberger Champagne and we closed out our amazing meal with the 'World's Best Hot Chocolate' that is complimented by 2 remarkably fluffy, cream filled French style donuts. No seriously... it could not be more decedent. We were thrilled to learn it was still being offered, as it is normally only available during the holidays and when it is on the menu, it's for a very limited period of time and only during the winter months. Between, the exceptional service (Hamilton), incredible wines, knowledgeable and personable Sommelier (Matt) and amazing friends, the entire experience and dinner for 4, with sensational wines, remarkable food, insane desert and tip was... wait for it... $1000. Our valet parking was complimentary; no taxi was needed.
I am absolutely a supporter of review websites that offer honest evaluations and have a variety of people reviewing something or some place. My go to site is Yelp.com, since they seem to cover a wide selection of attitudes, tastes and opinions that round out a decent overall rating. The Napa Rose has over 600 reviews with nearly a 5 Star rating. I cannot find many other restaurants that have a rating that high; especially with that many people on Yelp. As I read various reviews the low stared ones seemed to be from young people; whose palates are still maturing or individuals who went there with such high expectations that they were disappointed that the sea did not part for them. Is Napa Rose expensive? YES! Is it worth every penny? YES! If you treat your server with respect will you get the same in return? YES! Is the food very decadent and prepared with absolute attention to detail? YES! Did I leave a 5 star review on Yelp.com? YES!
What would I change at Napa Rose if I could? The first thing is to get rid of the pioneer looking Disney uniforms. The vests and dresses ruin the style of the rooms design. Come on Disney, bend a little and allow something from this century. Second, a dress code is needed. At the minimum I would require business casual.
I always take photographs of the wines I review. I did bring a camera with me but I put in the wrong SD memory card, so the images saved too slowly and most were blurred and the few I was able to salvage, do not live up to my perfectionistic ways. To be honest, I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy, so it may have been more my hand-eye coordination than the camera.
Dining reservations are recommended for Napa Rose and can be arranged in advance by calling Disney Dining at (714) 781-DINE or (714) 781-3463 or visit them online.
John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine aficionado, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry. He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science. With a desire for writing he switched to Creative Writing and then finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California as a graphic designer / sculptor. For over six years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals. For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noirs, but his true love is the Italian Sassicaia. As a way to pay for his wine collection he works as a senior marketing manager / designer for an adult sex toy company. He is also training to be a certified master sommelier. Currently he resides in Southern California with his lovely wife Shawn-Marie, a deaf, blind and diabetic dog named Buddy and an angry orange cat properly named Orange.