Monday, November 5, 2012

Dinner at Club 33.



In August I had the good fortune to eat at Club 33, Disney's member's only restaurant located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland.  The average guest probably doesn't even know it's there, but to hardcore Disney fans, it's the Holy Grail: Impossible to get into, a mysterious little club where you'll experience the finest in dining in a setting that's over-the-top gorgeous.



Word has it that while at the 1964 World's Fair, Walt Disney was impressed by the private clubs available for celebrities and bigwigs and came up with the idea for Club 33. Sadly, the man himself never dined there, passing away before it opened. Today, it can take years just to get a membership that costs $25,000 plus annual dues.  Never fear, however.  If you don't have an extra $25,000 laying around, you can always ask a friend who's a member to make a reservation for you, which is what we were fortunate enough to do. 

What to Wear:

Club 33 is more formal than other Disney restaurants.  Ladies should consider a cocktail dress and dressy shoes. Men can leave their jackets behind, but do consider a tie (and yes, we've seen men with polos).  Prior to visiting, I'd heard rumors about Club 33 staff turning about a woman because her sandals didn't have straps in the back, but we didn't find it to be that stuffy. Definitely dress up though: Not only will you feel more comfortable amongst your fellow diners, but it's also fun. However, don't feel like you have to overdo it unless that's your style.

Atmosphere:

Club 33 is  located right next to the Blue Bayou Restaurant. It's so private that there's only a small sign indicating where you should go, but right next to the mossy green door you'll see an intercom. Press the button and a cast member will be out shortly to let you in.



There's something wonderful to see at every turn in Club 33, right down to the China, which was made
especially for the restaurant.



Dark woods and richly colored fabrics dominate each room and add a sense of formality to the space. 



Despite the formal setting, you'll still find touches of Disney humor and history, such as this picture of Walt Disney and Shirley Temple.




This small dining room has delightful details, like old microphones built into the chandeliers so servers can know when patrons need something.  The microphones were never used, but having them there adds an air of fun and mystery to the restaurant.



 In the main dining room, this pretty window opens up to a small balcony that overlooks New Orleans Square. During the fireworks, feel free to take a look outside, but the balconies are a bit small for standing.


 Club 33 boasts and impressive wine list and is the only place where alcohol is served in Disneyland.



Food:

You can order from the a la carte or prix fixe menu. Expect to pay around $100 per person, not  including alcohol or tip.




Upon being seated we were served an amuse bouche of fruit and a balsamic and melon soup. As expected, it was tiny, just barely enough to offer you a taste, but very good with hints of balsamic and a strong melon flavor.




Next came our first course. I ordered the scallops in a puree of spring peas. Trust me, it tastes so much better than it sounds--it was probably my favorite thing there. Fresh, sweet bay scallops and a sweet pea puree with creme fraiche. If this is on the menu when you visit, order two!




I also had the opportunity to try the California Corn Bisque with Pork Belly Confit, Monterrey White Cheddar Mousse and Black Bean Oyster Crackers. I'll be honest, there was a lot going on here and it was a bit confusing on the palate. The individual elements were great, particularly the soup, but together it was just too much. Everyone at the table loved it though, so it might just be a personal thing. 

For my main course, I had the hangar steak with a red wine reduction.  Hangar steak can be difficult to cook as it's a less fatty cut of beef, but this steak was delicious and perfectly cooked, despite the fact that it was such a thin cut of meat.  The wine reduction was richly flavored and added just the right touch.



Having heaped praise on this steak, I wouldn't order it again. The reason is simple: This amazing fish. 



This is the Farm Raised Texas Blackened Redfish, with a Honey Grits Cake, Haricot Vert, Rock Shrimp Chardonnay Bercy and Lime Lavender Aioli.  It was extraordinary: Perfectly flavored and moist, with a small disk of honey grits that complimented the spicy fish.  This dish was by far the best of the night.

One of our table mates ordered the beef shortribs.  Now, I tend to defer to the beef dish on any menu when I don't know a restaurant well, figuring that it's difficult to mess up beef, but in this case, this would have been wrong thing to assume. The shortribs tasted like chuck roast made in a crock pot, as bland as you remember and almost as stringy. In itself not a bad meal to come home to at the end of the day, but you expect better at Club 33.

Next up, we had the cheese course, which included locally made cheese. Most were mild and unremarkable, but the goat cheese was smooth and tart, especially paired with the fruit reduction smeared on the plate.  It was served with house-made sesame crackers that were a  nice touch.
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While the portions for each course were small, there were so many that by dessert we were all full and could barely appreciate this fun twist on an old favorite, deconstructed S'mores. 



High-end ingredients transform this dish, which features a homemade graham cracker and marshmallow cream, with a dark Belgian chocolate.  Dessert was good, but not extraordinary.  I might be tempted to skip it next time, but since it was on the prix fixe menu, we went with what was offered.

It's hard to find fault with anything on the menu at Club 33. Almost everything we had was a winner, save for the short ribs. If I had a chance to do it over again, I would have been more hungry when I visited and been a little more adventurous.  Fresh ingredients, many of them local in keeping with what you would expect in California, and inventive recipes all make this meal special and one that you'll remember for years to come.

Service.

Ahh, now here's the problem. It couldn't be perfect, right? We'd been hearing that service had been suffering at  Club 33 ever since some of their highly-trained staff had been moved to Carthay Circle in Disney's California Adventure. We'd hope this wasn't true. Sadly, it was. There were long periods of time between courses, the most being about 30 minutes. This is inexcusable.  Twice we heard entire platters of food drop in the kitchen.  Was it ours? We could only speculate as we sat and twiddled our thumbs.

Service was friendly, knowledgeable and efficient otherwise, but when you're not being brought your food? Well what can you say? If I had to rate it, I'd give the food a 9 out of 10 and the service a 3 out of 10. I'm guessing what we experienced is a minor slip up and I hope to find out soon (April?) that service is back up to Disney standards.


Conclusion:

Club 33 is a "big night" kind of meal. The setting is beautiful and the food is probably some of the best you'll have.  If you get a chance, dress up, forget your budget, and go. It's worth it.  I can't wait to go back.

As always, I'm grateful to Bob Angelo, my fellow podcaster on Mouse Chat and occasional contributor to this site, for taking pictures while I'm too busy eating--or talking. You can see more of Bob's Disney pictures on his Facebook page here.

2 comments:

Muhammad Zahid Iqbal said...

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thevaultjm said...

How exciting!! I've only ever dreamed of actually dining at Club 33. It's been on my bucket list for a while now. Thanks for the overview!