This is it: Your Disneyland summer. You bought an Annual Passport, and not just the Southern California Pass–you splurged for the Premium, the one that includes free parking and not a single blockout date. You've been to the parks so many times you've memorized the parking-tram announcements–both the English recording and the Spanish translation. And earlier in the summer, you managed to stay awake for the entire duration of Disneyland's 24-hour event and have the stinky pile of sweat-stained clothes to prove it. Now what? How do you continue to make the most of your summer at OC's most iconic landmark during its 60th-anniversary year?
At the best restaurant inside Disney's property: Napa Rose. And the best way to dine there is at its Chef's Counter, where you get a front-row seat to the kitchen action while chef Andrew Sutton and crew cook a multicourse meal customized just for you.
Herewith are a few words of wisdom that I (yes, a Premium Annual Passport holder myself) would like to offer after my recent dinner there.
- To dine at Napa Rose, you needn't have a Disneyland passport or pay for parking. The restaurant is located inside the Grand Californian Hotel, so roll right on up to the hotel's valet with your car and take advantage of the complimentary parking for Napa Rose guests.
- There are a total of 14 seats at the Chef's Counter. The areas that fill up the quickest are the two groups of four seats that have a full view of the main kitchen. The last set of seats is found across the dessert station. This was where I sat with a few friends. As we ate, two pastry chefs assembled strawberry tarts and torched crème brûlées in front of us–which I realized immediately was more entertaining than anything currently on the Food Network.
- There are two seating times: 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance, so plan ahead. The 8:30 slots go quickest, and you probably want them. It's the most relaxed seating time since no one comes after you and, thus, you can pace yourself. This brings me to my next tip. . . .
- Plan for a three-hour dinner. Course by course, one by one, 'til you shout, "Enough! I'm done!" A meal at the Chef's Counter is a slow, pleasurable affair. When I thought I reached my last plate of food at about the two-hour mark, it turned out I hadn't. A chef informed us another dish to follow our gut-busting meat course was still forthcoming.
- Expect a five-course meal, not counting the small tastes and extra items in between. Budget your stomach space wisely. No matter how divine those cheese-crisped triangles of lavash in the bread basket are, save them for the doggie bag. You've got courses to finish. Counting everything that came at us that night, there were about seven courses in all. There was the amuse bouche, the salad/appetizer course, the fish course, a cup of an ultra-savory mushroom cappuccino, a meat course, another savory course after that, a dessert, and finally, a tiny box of chocolates we took home and ate two days later because it took us that long to digest this meal.
- The cost per person as of this writing is $100; wine pairings are $45. Yes, dinner at Chef's Counter costs more than a whole day's admission to the parks. And Napa Rose does not take any Annual Passport discounts. There's also the Vintner's Table prix fixe, which is, itself, a pre-set meal of four courses, also $100. If you're on a budget, you could technically order à la carte from the regular menu. Both are available at Chef's Counter, but it would be a waste of your reservation to not surrender your evening to the whims and talents of Napa Rose's chefs and sommeliers.
- The person who will be taking down your likes and dislikes might be your sommelier, not the executive chef or even his chef de cuisine. Whoever it is who asks, be sure to tell them everything that's on your mind. If you're a fussy eater, the Chef's Counter is made for you. You don't like a certain kind of meat? Have an irrational fear of vegetables? This is the time to confess all your weird food aversions and fetishes. The chefs will take all that's noted and customize every course for you as much as they can. A tablemate who said she doesn't eat anything rare and doesn't like duck was served a lovely risotto while another friend got a still-bloody slice of duck breast. I boldly announced, "I eat everything," so I got the most advanced dish of the evening: pan-seared sweetbreads. Spectacular.
- For every course, each person in your party will get a completely unique dish. This is perhaps the most mind-boggling part of Napa Rose's Chef's Counter: The chefs cook individual meals for every member of your party. If you dine with three other people, you will potentially get to sample at least 20 distinctly different dishes. You won't ever see the same dish twice. No other restaurant I know of that offers prix-fixe meals does this willingly. Napa Rose thrives on it.
- If you do the wine pairing, you will also get a set of wines different from anyone else in your party. I tasted five wines paired with five of my courses, and each was completely different than what another person in my party was served with his meal. Also, the sommelier is not stingy with his pours, so be prepared to drink a lot of wine–or to share if you get tipsy easily.
- There is no stated dress code. You could dine at the Disney Resort's fanciest restaurant in your most casual theme-park ensemble, as some Napa Rose guests do. But it won't kill you to dress up a little. You know that Anton Ego DisneyBound outfit you've been saving for just the right Disney occasion? This would be it.
Napa Rose Chef's Counter at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, 1313 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 635-2300; disneyland.disney.go.com/hotels/grand-californian-hotel/. Chef's Counter seatings, daily, 5:30 & 8:30 p.m. $100 per person, food only. Full bar.