Review: The Napa Rose Chef's Counter

There aren't too many that would admit to cancelling a reservation at a fine restaurant in favor of a Big Mac, but sadly I'm that guy. Three years ago my wife and I made our first trip to Disneyland, and on the last night of our adventure opted for McDonald's instead of the "big" meal we had planned. Granted, that was my first experience with a Big Mac and life has been more complete ever since, but I've carried regret ever since that inexplicably dumb decision. This time around, I was determined to not only see through that original meal, but top it by dining at the Chef's Counter of the famed Napa Rose.

Napa Rose Chefs Counter
Our Seats For The Evening

I heard about the Chef's Counter from my friends at the Disney Food Blog, and was excited to try this unique experience.  As usual, we arrived to the Grand Californian Hotel - where the restaurant is located - about 20 minutes early so we could enjoy a pre-dinner beverage, and were seated at the counter right on time. Napa Rose features a huge exhibition kitchen, and Chef's Counter guests are seated along the perimeter with a perfect view of all the action. There are two seatings for the Chef's Counter each evening - 5:30 & 8:30pm - of which we opted for the latter following a full day at the parks.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Bar at Napa Rose
Once we were settled into our seats I was immediately transfixed on the activity in the kitchen. It was like watching an episode of Iron Chef unfold before my eyes, and I was playing the role of Mo Rocca. Our server explained that we had three options for the evening's menu. We had the choice of ordering off the restaurant's traditional or pre-fixe menus, or we could simply allow the Chef to create the experience for us with each course being a complete surprise. We of course went with the third option, adding a level of suspense to the excitement of the evening.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Action in the Kitchen

The Chef de Cuisine - Gloria - was running the show for the night, and she stopped by to introduce herself and inquire about any allergies or dislikes. It would have taken all night to list the things I prefer not to eat if given the choice, so instead I only asked her to avoid nuts if possible. 
A Rare Sight...The Chef Working the Line

Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Amuse Bouche

After a few minutes of admiring the action in the kitchen, we were presented with an amuse bouche to start the food festivities. Ever have a Good Humor ice cream cone with the solid piece of chocolate at the bottom of the cone? Well imagine that same delectable bite, but replace the chocolate with salmon tartar. My taste buds were certainly amused, and I quickly drafted a letter to the folks at Good Humor with a new product idea.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Tiger Salad

My next course was the Tiger Salad, while my wife was presented with the Yellowtail Carpaccio. The salad featured the best of both worlds, with spicy beef being alongside lobster tempura. I first tasted my wife's carpaccio and began to have a little bit of envy, but it immediately subsided with the first bite of the Tiger Salad.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Salmon Carpaccio

Before our third course I inquired with Chef Gloria as to the beautiful stuffed peppers I had seen prepared earlier. I should have known that this would end up being my next dish, and it tasted just as good as it looked. Not to be outdone, the wife was presented what might have been the biggest scallop I've ever seen. It was like a scallop steak...two words that should appear together more often. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Wife's Scallop Steak

For my fourth course, Chef would not tell me anything about the dish before I tasted it. A few bites in she informed me it was Rabbit Meatloaf which was served with some caramelized mushrooms. I'm glad I hadn't earlier shared my distaste for fungi or meatloaf because I seriously would have missed out. Appropriately enough given her love for Latin food, my wife's course was a stuffed tamale which she had finished before I could ask for a bite. I'll assume that meant it was good...
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Rabbit Meatloaf

By this point in the evening we were thoroughly full, but there were still 3 courses to come. For our mains my wife was given the Filet Mignon with Truffle Mac & Cheese. It was here that I was convinced Chef Gloria and my wife were actually pals in a previous life. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
The Filet Mignon

After picking up my jaw from the floor I dug into my dish of Lamb Porterhouse. While I have had plenty of porterhouses in my day, this was my first experience with the lamb version, and as with the rest of the meal it didn't disappoint. Perhaps better was it didn't leave me wishing for a three hour nap afterwards. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
My Lamb Porterhouse

For dessert Chef gave us the choice of either a cheese course or something sweet. She must have sensed we were torn between the two, because she actually wound up bringing us both. The cheeses were incredible, but I was even more amazed at the preparation that went into such a tiny plate. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Our Beautiful Cheese Plate

After our surprise course we were finally ready for the final dish of the evening. My wife enjoyed the Warm Pumpkin Bundt Cake, which again I'll assume was tasty because I was not offered a bite. My cap was the Tahitian Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, which was probably the perfect choice, given I was working on reserve stomach capacity by this point. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Warm Pumpkin Bundt Cake

An ironic note from the meal...just about every dish my wife received would typically have been something I ordered, and vice versa. This created a lot of "entree envy" throughout the meal, but I was glad it happened this way because it forced both of us out of our comfort zones.
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
Creme Brulee...Oh Yeah, it was our anniversary.

In addition to the amazing food, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the evening was the interaction with the staff. Just about everyone working in the kitchen made a stop by our counter at one point or another, and they were all clearly very proud of their work, and deservedly so. In the beginning I felt weird asking questions while someone was working, assuming they must really get tired of it, but by the end of the evening it felt very natural and I knew most by name. Chef Gloria and her staff put on an amazing evening for us, even with a full restaurant and a 50-top party seated outside. 
Napa Rose Grand Californian Chefs Counter
A Truly Great Evening

I've used a lot of words here to describe our experience at the Napa Rose Chef's Counter, but in reality all I really needed was one.....awesome. As we left the restaurant I assumed that it would be hard to top that experience, but little did I know we would do so just 12 hours later...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~ 

Deej

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