Thursday, June 21, 2012

Disney California Adventure - retiring of the colors

We'd had the opportunity to attend the annual passholder preview event of the new Cars Land and Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure on Saturday, June 9, 2012.  After we'd spent hours having a blast at Cars Land, we spent some time meandering through Buena Vista Street as well, admiring all the work that's been done there, and while the Red Car Trolley wasn't running that day, there was a trolley parked near the entrance to the park, so we went in and sat and chatted with the conductor cast member in the trolley for a while.  While we were inside, I was looking around at Buena Vista Street, and as I looked toward the front of the park, I noticed there was a new flagpole there.  I mentioned it to the cast member and asked if that meant there was going to be flag retreat in this park as well, and I jokingly wondered how Ernie, a Security cast member who is almost always working the flag retreat at Disneyland, was going to do two flag retreats a day.  The cast member mentioned that Ernie was indeed involved in training other cast members to do the DCA flag retreat, so we were pleased to hear that.

When Cars Land and Buena Vista Street officially opened on June 15, we were pretty busy that day, and we didn't get a chance to check on flag retreat at all.  I found out from a friend that the retiring of the colors happens about a quarter to 5pm with no ceremony, so I went back to the park on June 16 to see what it involved.

I got to the main entrance at about 4:30pm and just hung out by the trolley stop.

The flagpole inside the entrance of Disney California Adventure.

At about 4:50pm, I noticed some cast members come out and they were sort of directing traffic around the flagpole, but nothing else was happening yet.  I had walked around the flagpole when I'd first arrived and noticed that it's not like the flagpole at Disneyland in that it doesn't have a rope hanging from the outside that lowers and raises the flags.  The flags are connected to a short rope, the rest of which presumable hangs inside the flagpole.  At the bottom part of the rope is a small chain that loops around the flagpole, which weights the flags down a bit and keeps them close to the flagpole.  On the side of the pole facing Oswald's, there's a small door in the pole just above the base that requires a key to unlock.

Around 5pm, I noticed another cast member come out, and he went to the flag pole and unlocked the little door.

Cast member on base unlocking door in pole.

After he was done, you could see that there was a little crank protruding out of the door.  I don't know if he put the little crank on there or if he just pulled it out from inside the door.  Once he was done, the crank was left there but the cast members weren't clearing the area anymore.

People are allowed to sit on the flagpole base as the crank sticks out the little door.

After a little while, I could tell that one cast member was talking to another cast member to explain what was going to happen next.  I looked in the direction he pointed, and an honor guard was on their way, adjacent to the Five and Dime.  The cast members near the flagpole stopped the pedestrian traffic long enough for the honor guard to march across the street to the flagpole.

The honor guard marching toward the flagpole.

The honor guard at the flagpole.

One of the guards went to the flagpole and prepared to operate the crank to lower the flags.

Guard at flagpole, ready to lower the flags.

The other two guards saluted while the third guard operated the crank that lowered the flags.  The cast members were standing at a perimeter to the flagpole to prevent anyone from walking through that area, but otherwise, pedestrian traffic was allowed on the street.  Keep in mind that there had been no announcement, and there was no music other than the normal music being played on Buena Vista Street.  There was absolutely no attention being drawn to this event other than the presence of the various cast members and guards.  Some guests did sit/stand around watching the ceremony.

After both flags were lowered and disconnected, the honor guard folded both flags.

Once they were done folding the flags, the honor guard prepared to leave, and once again, the cast members stopped pedestrian traffic on the street long enough for the guards to march off with the folded flags.

The crux of the main ceremony was the same as at Disneyland (obviously without a band, without the Dapper Dans and without the military salutes), though admittedly, the details of the marching and stopping and repositioning of the guards and the folding of the flags wasn't as crisp as I was used to seeing at Disneyland.

I don't know if Ernie is actually working on training guards to do a flag retreat ceremony at DCA.  I hope it is true.  If it's not currently true, I hope it soon becomes true.  There are some logistic problems that need to be solved because the flagpole isn't as contained as it is at Disneyland, but I'm sure Ernie would have no problem finding suitable solutions.  It may be that everyone was so concerned about getting Cars Land and Buena Vista Street up and running for the preview days and for official opening day that they didn't think about the flags having to be lowered, so they haven't worked out the details of a proper flag retreat ceremony for DCA yet.  I hope that sometime soon, guests will be able to observe flag retreat ceremonies at both Disneyland and DCA.

Carthay Circle Restaurant - dinner - June 15, 2012

I'm not usually one to try out a new restaurant when it first opens.  I usually like to give it some time for them to work out the kinks that are understandable and even expected when it comes to opening a new restaurant.  But I'd been hearing about the Carthay Circle Restaurant, which was opening up on the new Buena Vista Street, the re-imagined front entrance to Disney California Adventure.  It was supposed to be the new restaurant shepherded by the Executive Chef of Napa Rose, Andrew Sutton.  We were planning on being at the park on opening day, June 15, 2012, anyway, so when they announced that reservations were open, I called to see what I might be able to get.  I ended up getting a table for four at a good time for dinner and was happy when a couple of friends were available to join us.

The husband and I had been at the resort all day, and one of our friends had joined us shortly after noon.  Our other friend arrived after work and met us at the restaurant.

We checked in at the desk downstairs and were invited to take a seat in the lounge until they called us for our table.  That was nice because it gave us a chance to look around a bit downstairs.  We browsed the lounge menu and decided we'd come back to visit on another occasion.

Carthay Circle Lounge downstairs.

Carthay Circle Lounge downstairs, looking towards the bar area.

After a little while, we were told that our table was ready and were escorted upstairs.  We opted for the stairs rather than the elevator so we could see the grand stairs that led up to the restaurant.  We were marveling at how beautiful everything was.

When we got upstairs, we were staring at the main dining room and our host took us to our table.  Luckily for us, our host saw how we were just absorbing the wonderful sight of the new restaurant and decided to take the "scenic route" to our table.  If the entrance to the main room was at 6 o'clock, he went counter-clockwise until he arrived at our table, which was at 9 o'clock.  I was especially pleased to discover that our table happened to be right in front of the kitchen.  Well, the main part of the kitchen anyway, where the hot food kitchen and the pass were.  There was another window leading into another part of the kitchen where cold food was prepared.

Shortly after we were seated, our server came by to introduce herself, and then we perused our menu.  So many wonderful things to decide from.  She told us about the house biscuits, and we decided to get an order to share for the table.

Charger plate and table setting.

It was difficult to decide what to order, and we ended up asking our server several questions about some of the menu items.  Finally, we put our order in and then continued to enjoy the sights of the new restaurant.

I was looking over at the kitchen and the pass, and I noticed Executive Chef Andrew Sutton was working the pass, while Chef Gloria was actually inside the kitchen.  Chef Sutton never really looked up, so I wasn't able to get his attention to say hi, but then, he was very busy, so probably didn't have time to chat anyway.

The pass and the hot food kitchen behind.  At the pass whose face you can't see is Executive Chef Andrew Sutton.

The biscuits were delivered to the table first, so we each tried them.  There were seven little balls, which were filled with white cheddar, bacon and jalapeno and came with an apricot honey butter sauce.  They were pretty good.

Biscuits with white cheddar, bacon and jalapeno, with an apricot honey butter sauce.

We were still looking around the restaurant, and we noticed the beautiful images on the ceiling, which were themed to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", appropriately enough.

Our starters were then delivered.  I had the grape leaves with goat cheese on an olive sauce, served with garlic.  The grape leaves themselves were a bit tougher than I was used to having.  Usually when I've had them, the leaves are usually soft enough that they pretty much just melt and not really needing a knife, but these required a bit more cutting with the knife and chewing, so it added a bit of a different texture mixture with the soft, gooey goat cheese inside.  I can't say if I liked it more or less than normal, it was just different.  I love olives, so all the olive pieces in the sauce were very nice.  But best of all was the entire bulb of garlic that came with the dish.  It took me a bit to figure out how best to get every delicious morsel of garlic out of it, but it was worth it.  I shared some with my table mates, and I also took some of the table bread and spread some of the soft garlic on it along with butter that had sea salt sprinkled on top.  But then I also just ate the rest of the garlic by itself.  Mmmmmmmm, delicious.

Grape leaves with goat cheese served with garlic.

The husband's starter was an heirloom tomato salad, which he enjoyed.

Heirloom tomato salad with wild arugula and lemon olive oil sorbet.

One of our friends had the simple green salad, which she enjoyed.

Simple green salad with warm brie and apricot.

After our starters, we enjoyed more conversation and more admiring of the decor and ambiance of the restaurant.  We also chatted with our server a couple times.  She was very nice and friendly and even went along with some of the silly banter we were engaging in, so we liked her a lot.

Then it was time for our entrees.  I had the grilled quail.  I hadn't expected there to be two of them, though, so it was a pretty good portion size.  The quail was nicely cooked and tasty.  The haricots verts were good as well, but I never did figure out what was underneath them.  It didn't taste like a potato product, but more polenta-like.  The menu hadn't indicated an accompaniment to the quail other than the haricots verts, but it was good nonetheless.

Grilled quail.

The husband had the rack of lamb and loved it.

Colorado rack of lamb with fried zucchini blossom.

One of our friends had the bacon wrapped shrimp and said it was a wonderful dish.

Bacon wrapped shrimp.

Our other friend had the cavatelli pasta with braised lamb and enjoyed her dish as well.

Cavatelli pasta with braised lamb.

As we were almost done with our entrees, it turns out that Chef Sutton had happened to look up and see us, so he came over to say hello.  It was later in the evening at this point, so the kitchen wasn't quite as busy as they'd been earlier.  His first comment was that we didn't wait long to try out the new place.  I told him we just couldn't wait.  We told him how much we liked the new restaurant and were enjoying our meal and chatted with him for a few minutes.  A little bit later, another of the chefs we'd gotten to know a bit from Napa Rose saw us, so I waved to him, and he waved back, and then he ended up coming over to our table to chat a bit.  Shortly after that, I saw a manager that we'd interacted with a bit at Napa Rose, so I waved at him.  He came over to our table to say hello and to see how our meal was going.  We talked about the new restaurant some, and then he offered to take us on a tour when we were done with our meal, and we thanked him and said we'd definitely take him up on that.

After we were done with our entrees, we decided to browse the dessert menu.  Our server also asked if we were interested in World of Color viewing tickets.  For dining at Carthay Circle, if you order an entree and either a starter or a dessert, you then get viewing tickets.  Since three of us had ordered starters, we only needed to order one dessert in order for all four of us to get viewing tickets.  It had been announced earlier in the park that a third World of Color showing had been added at 11:30pm.  I asked if there might be tickets available for that showing but it turns out they only had tickets for the 10:00-ish show at that point, which we weren't going to be able to make without leaving almost immediately.  We were all pretty full and we hadn't really planned on seeing World of Color, and it was also getting a bit late in the evening and we still had a tour to go on, so we decided to skip dessert.  (If you're planning to use the viewing tickets, be sure to plan your meal at the right time so that you're not rushing through dinner.)  We closed out our check and then asked our server to find the manager who'd offered us the tour.  She came back shortly to say that he'd be out in a few minutes.  By this time, there weren't very many diners left in the restaurant.

I have to include a disclaimer here.  I was so thrilled to be taken on the tour and so caught up in everything he was telling us that I completely didn't even think about taking out my camera to take pictures.  So whereas I usually have nice pictures to accompany my descriptions, this time, all you get are words.

When the manager came back, he took us to the main entrance of the dining room to start our tour.  He told us about all that they'd done to best try to recreate the original theatre.  The main dining room was the audience seating area, and the hot kitchen area was supposed to be the movie screen.  Chef Sutton had mentioned that to us as well, and he'd quipped that the cold kitchen area was supposed to be the concession stand.  Each of the rooms in the restaurant has a name, and the manager told us about the side rooms in the restaurant.  They're semi-private in that they don't have doors, but the openings to the rooms are situated at an angle, so each room ends up being a bit of an alcove and has room for a small table, probably seating 4 or 6 at most.  He then took us to one of the sunrooms that is then connected to one of the balcony terraces, which is the larger of the two they have.  The sunroom was very pretty, and I could see how that would be a very nice place to enjoy a meal in the daytime, with the sunlight streaming in.  The restaurant is only open for lunch and dinner, but I think it would be beautiful to enjoy a lovely breakfast on the terrace, which has a gorgeous view of Buena Vista Street and the Hollywood Backlot.

We then went to the room that was at the very front of the building - I can't remember what that room is called.  It's a separate meeting room that does actually have a glass door that can be closed for more privacy.  There's a big round table in there that seats 10, and there are sideboards in there for serving purposes as well.  The manager told us that the electrical outlets in the room are behind the sideboards, so they need to be moved whenever they want to use the electrical outlets, which he joked can be a bit inconvenient.  The room has a window that looks out directly onto Buena Vista Street.  The manager told us that they recreated the ironwork on the front of the building exactly as it was, based on pictures, and in doing so, they discovered there was a hidden Mickey in the original ironwork, which was visible right outside the window.

Daytime picture of front of Carthay Circle building.

Close-up of top middle section, showing the hidden Mickey.

Another angle of the hidden Mickey.

And yet another angle of the hidden Mickey.

He also told us about the table in the room, the base of which was influenced by Snow White's wishing well.  It would have been an odd sight to see all of us peering under the table to look at the base.

As a side note, the connection of the restaurant/theatre to Snow White had not been lost on me.  I knew I'd be wandering around inside the building that day, so I'd purposely worn a t-shirt from a Snow White anniversary celebration held at the resort several years prior.  I'd planned to change into a blouse for dinner, but the husband convinced me to stay in the t-shirt since we were actually dining inside the "theatre".  I'm glad he did, because the subject of Snow White came up on several occasions with our server, Chef Sutton, and the manager, so anytime it did, especially when it came to the question of which Disney movie premiered at the Carthay Circle, I only had to point at my t-shirt.

The manager then took us to another room, the Hollywood room, and he explained that they had pictures up on the walls of some of the people who'd won Oscars for Disney films.  My thoughts went for a second to the film "Tarzan", and then I turned to look at the first picture right inside the door, and I was stunned to see that it was a picture of Phil Collins holding his Oscar for Best Original Song.  I'm a huge fan of Phil Collins, so I might have made some kind of squealing noise and turned into a crazy fan girl for a few seconds before I got myself under control.  A friend took a picture of me in front of Phil's picture.

We then went into another room that then connected to the second balcony terrace.  This room was much bigger than the sunroom on the other side, and I loved that that there were little portals in the first part of the room so that the sunlight could penetrate into the inside part of the room as well.  We then went out onto the terrace, which was smaller than the other one, and which looks out towards the walkway right next to the Grizzly River peak and you get a great view of the Soarin' building as well.  We were admiring the ironwork holding up the lights outside, and we must have been pretty intent on that because it took a few minutes for the husband to notice that someone on the terrace was trying to get our attention.  Turns out that one of the more well-known cast members was also dining at the restaurant that night.  He'd apparently been waving at us, not more than a few feet in front of us, and we'd all been oblivious because we were too busy looking at our surroundings.  He jokingly gave us a hard time for being so caught up in lamps and ironworks to even notice any of the people.  We said hi and shared a laugh and then we continued on our tour.

The manager took us back into the main dining room, and we got a good look at the very middle, which has what looks like a giant vase where they keep all the opened bottles of wine that they serve by the glass.  The set-up is pretty magnificent, and the restaurant boasts a large selection of wines available by the glass and by the bottle.

He then took us downstairs, and we rode the elevator down because he wanted to show us the pictures in the elevator, which were pictures of the original theatre.  When we arrived at the lounge downstairs, he directed our attention to the picture at the first landing of the stairs.  It's the only color picture in the entire restaurant, and it's a picture of the image that had been on the curtain in the original theatre.  The overhead lamps in the lounge are also re-creations of the original lamps in the theatre - I believe you can see the lamp in one of the pictures in the elevator.

He showed us around the lounge area and then we went in the bar area as well.  There's a little side area that is set up to host wine tasting events.  He then took us back towards the entrance to the lounge.  There's a little display area there which is sealed and climate controlled and which currently hosts some original artwork from Snow White.  He said the contents would change probably every six months.

We enjoyed a wonderful meal at the restaurant, and we had the good fortune to have been taken on a terrific tour as well.  It was really wonderful to get all the details about the re-creation of the theatre.  It reminded me a lot of the work that Disney went through in the restoration of the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York.  They released a book on that endeavour - I'd love to have a book detailing all the work and research that went into bringing the Carthay Circle Theatre, and the rest of Buena Vista Street for that matter, to life as well.

Thanks to everyone at Carthay Circle Restaurant for contributing to a wonderful and memorable evening.

Oh, the manager told us about another hidden Mickey at the Carthay Circle building as well.

Do you know where this is?

Another angle.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Uva Bar and Cafe - grand re-opening June 6, 2012

The downstairs cafe attached to Catal Restaurant, known as the Uva Bar, has been closed for a little while as they re-designed the outdoor seating section and re-vamped the menu.  The Uva Bar was set to re-open to the public on Thursday, June 7, 2012, but there was a grand re-opening party on Wednesday, June 6, 2012, which we were lucky to have been invited to.  The servers came around with samples of many of the items on the menu as well as off the new drink menu.  There was also a band who provided lovely music during the event.

The outdoor seating now has very short shrubbery, and the space has been expanded a bit as well, allowing for more tables and a more open-air feel.

The decor has been changed quite a bit, with vibrant colors and funky designs and some interesting tables as well.

It's a surfboard table!

The new look of the bar.  The TVs have been removed, and there were no chairs out during the event.

But of course, the most important things were the food and drinks!

Uva mule - vodka, fresh house-made ginger syrup, lime juice, soda water and mint.

I love ginger, so when I heard there was ginger in this drink, I knew I had to try it.  But even I wasn't prepared for exactly how ginger-y it was.  It's not just ginger-flavored like you'd get in a liquer, but there's actual crushed/shredded/squished ginger in the drink.  And the ginger definitely gives the drink a distinctive bite.  I very much enjoyed this drink.

Returning to the menu is the lamb burger, and slider versions were available for sampling.  Very nicely done, and very tasty.

Lamb slider - house ground lamb, piquillo peppers, feta, arugula, lemon dill aioli, pickled red onion on brioche bun.

Also making a return to the menu are the tuna tartare tacos.  Tuna sashimi in a tiny taco shell - what's not to love?

Tuna tartare tacos - crispy taco with fresh ahi tuna, crushed avocado, shaved radish, soy vinaigrette and micro cilantro.

Bacalao can also be found on the menu at Catal Restaurant upstairs.

Bacalao - salt cod fritters, malt vinegar aioli, sprout salad and lemon vinaigrette.

Shishito peppers have also previously been available on Catal Restaurant's menu.

Shishito peppers with sea salt and lemon garlic emulsion.

One of the new items to the menu, and a particular favorite of mine, is the octopus salad.  The sauce does have a bit of a bite to it, which I loved.  And the octopus was nicely cooked, not too rubbery like it can be if not cooked properly.

Octopus a la plancha - "banh mi" salad, charred scallion crema, Ho Chi Minh vinaigrette.

Another of the delicious new dishes is the corn arepas.

Corn arepas - seared corn cakes topped with pulled pork, mojo sauce, cilantro and shaved red onion.

The Uva Bar has previously had flatbread, but this is a new flavor.

Market tomato flatbread - fresh mozzarella, Calabrian chilies, chorizo picante, oregano and extra virgin olive oil.

Another of the new dishes I really liked was the shrimp cocktail.

Shrimp coctel - laughing bird shrimp, spicy tomato sauce, jalapeno, cucumber, lime and cilantro.

There are some new desserts on the menu as well, including ice cream sandwiches and milkshakes.

Orange 50/50 milkshake.

Mocha milkshakes.

Ice cream sandwiches, which were quickly melting.

We had noticed that there were many new glassware designs in use as well, so we ended up getting some drinks in the new glasses.  The darker one on the right is a blackberry gimlet, the middle one is a raspberry gimlet, and I can't remember what the one on the left is, except I believe it was also raspberry based.

There was an abundance of glassware and drinks around.

Here's the new menu for the Uva Bar.

(Click on the picture for a larger, more readable version of the menu.)

We had a lovely time, enjoying all of the delicious food and tasty drinks and just spending time with friends and catching up with some of the Uva Bar employees.  As it got later in the evening, the lights in the bar came up, so here are some pictures of the bar and seating areas.

The top portion above the bar changes colors.

Bar chairs have been added to the bar area.

Purse hooks have been added under the bar.

A closer look at a purse hook.

Round seating is now available at the Uva Bar.

Regular chairs are available as well.

What does it look like under the cushion?

Close-up of the design on the planters.

All of the things we tried were delicious, and we're looking forward to returning to the Uva Bar.  The only difficulty will be deciding what to order!

P.S.  Thanks to Matt M., who took many of the pictures you see above.