John Turi - Wine, Places to Try

Napa Rose Restaurant, Disneyland

So, let’s mix things up a bit this month; shall we. 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.

Napa Rose, Disneyland

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. Napa 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, they 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.