Friday, May 6, 2016

Club 33

My wife and I have done a lot of things at Disneyland. We’ve ridden in the Lilly Belle railcar. We’ve ridden in the wheelhouse of the Mark Twain river boat. We’ve ridden in the tender of one of the train locomotives. We always make a point of listening to the Dapper Dans. However, one exclusive experience we never thought we’d have a chance to do is eat dinner at Club 33.

If you don't take time to listen to the Dapper Dans, you have no soul.
Club 33 is a very exclusive club for Disney fans. It costs something like $25,000 to join, and then $10,000 a year after that. (Possibly even more now.) Even at those rates, the waiting list is years long, so even if we had the cash to join, we still wouldn’t be able to. Among their other perks, Club 33 members can eat and drink in the exclusive members-and-guests-only restaurant and lounge located above New Orleans Square in Disneyland. We had heard the meal was fantastic, but an even greater part of the appeal was that it was something that we would only ever hear about. Until a few years ago, when we ended up learning that we literally knew a guy who knew a guy. Someone we know knows a Club 33 member, and for the past couple of years, we’ve been trying to work it out to get a reservation for Club 33. On our last trip to Disneyland, it finally worked out.

As the date got closer, I started getting a little nervous about where we were supposed to go. Were we just supposed to go to the Club 33 door and ring the bell? Anxiously, I phoned the number on the confirmation to ask. The gentleman who answered the phone said that normally they ask that guests get information from the member who made the reservation. I panic-lied and said that the member was traveling, so we couldn’t get a hold of him. The Club 33 guy asked if I knew where the entrance to the club was, and I said yes. He said we just had to go to the door and present ourselves. On the one hand, I felt a little more confident. On the other hand, the insistence that I get information from the member made me worried that there was more we were supposed to know, like a secret password or something.

When we got to the park, we looked around New Orleans Square and made sure we knew where the Club 33 entrance was. I knew it had been moved from the old door right next to the Blue Bayou, over to where the Court of Angels courtyard entrance used to be. Sure enough, there was a big green door with a 33 above it, and what looked like a doorbell with a 33 on it.
The next day, I started getting a little anxious again. I didn’t help that when I got dressed, my wife noticed some sort of white streaks on the nice pants I had brought specifically to wear to Club 33, possibly from the lousy goopy sunscreen we had brought. (Thanks a lot, Honest Company.) Fortunately, she was able to get them cleaned up for me.

We enjoyed a nice afternoon tea at Steakhouse 55, which I wrote about last week. As the hour of our dinner approached, however, I became increasingly convinced that something was going to go wrong. I was sure I somehow didn’t have some vital piece of information, and we’d miss our reservation, and the member would be billed for the dinner, and would get mad at our friend.
Haunted Mansion tsum tsums purchased during my pre-dinner anxiety.
What does it say about us that the only Pirates of the Caribbean tsum tsums we bought were the animals and the Redhead?

About ten minutes before our reservation, following some pretty distracted shopping, we arrived at the Club 33 door. I pressed the button on the buzzer, and a voice asked if he could help us. I gave my name and said that we were there for dinner. He said he would be right there. The door opened, and a blazer-wearing host let us into the courtyard. It was like a 600-pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders. We were in!

(At this point, I should remind my readers that this isn’t a review blog. Not really, anyway. It’s me waxing enthusiastic about things that make me happy. So I don’t have a lot of pictures of stuff like the Club 33 door, or every step we took into the restaurant, or the menu. I didn’t take detailed notes about the food or wine, because we weren’t there to experience the meal through our phones.)

The courtyard was beautiful and calming. We were told we would be seated in a few moments, and could enjoy honey lemonade from a silver urn while we waited. I was so happy that we had gotten in, and so visibly relaxed, that my wife laughed at me. We probably waited for about 10 minutes, so I took pictures of the courtyard.

At some point, the doors opened, and a group of about six or seven people came in, accompanied by a park tour guide. They had a couple of strollers with them, and the men were dressed in T-shirts and jeans. The women were dressed pretty casually as well. Since one of my pet peeves is people who underdress for nice restaurants, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about them. On top of that, I had wanted to take a picture of the nice sculptures holding the lamps at the foot of the staircase, and they were in my way. So I didn’t even take my camera back out.

I noticed that my wife was trying to get my attention. I couldn’t tell what she wanted. She kept jerking her head towards these people, but I didn’t know if she was commenting on their lack of formal clothes, or the fact that they looked like they were bringing little kids into what we had hoped would be a quiet dinner.

Then one of the women, who was quite pregnant, walked right in front of me. I thought she looked a bit familiar. Suddenly, I realized that it was Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays Snow White on Once Upon a Time, one of my favorite TV shows. I turned my head and looked at the man who was with her. It was Josh Dallas, who plays her husband, Prince Charming, and is her husband is real life! I played it cool, didn’t say anything, and didn’t freak out. But I am so glad I didn’t take my camera out to take a picture of that sculpture, because I would have looked like just another putz who couldn’t give them their privacy.

(And when they were taken up by a hostess in the elevator, I heard them say that they were going to the lounge, because they weren’t dressed for dinner. I should have known that Snow White and Prince Charming would indeed have all the social graces.)

Eventually, I was drawn out of my star-struck haze when the hostess came to get us. She asked if we wanted to take the stairs or the elevator. We opted for the stairs, as it meant a more elegant view.

The stairs brought us to a lobby area, where we passed a harpsichord and a case full of souvenirs, and we were escorted through there into the Grand Salon dining room. We were actually seated near a small alcove just inside the entrance, so while there seemed to be plenty of diners in the room, it actually felt quite private and intimate.

The walls were decorated with concept art of park attractions. You can see the Mark Twain on the wall behind my wife.

The tables were set with place settings adorned with the Club 33 logo. The hostess sat us down, placed my wife’s napkin across her lap, and then offered to get a dark blue napkin to go with my black trousers. Very elegant.

I particularly liked the ornate lighting fixtures. I always try to look around for the details that I might otherwise miss, either high up or down low.

We overheard a server telling a family that this sideboard was actually from the set of Mary Poppins. So the evening was filled with celebrity sightings, both people and furniture!
From the set of Mary Poppins!

The menu and wine list were nice leather-bound folders. The restaurant offered two prix-fixe options: a five course dinner or a six-course dinner, the extra course being a cheese course. For an additional charge, you could add wine pairings to each course. We are eaters and drinkers, so we went for the six course meal plus the wine pairings. And we added cocktails on top of that.

My cocktail was a sidecar. In hindsight, I kind of wish I had ordered a real mint julep, since that felt more New-Orleans-y, plus we had gotten the non-alcoholic mint juleps from the French Market restaurant earlier that day. However, looking at the menu, the sidecar felt more like what I wanted: not too sweet, not too strong.

My wife ordered a gin fizz, because apparently we were characters in a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. This was the first time she had ever had this particular drink. All she remembers is that it tasted good. (As this story progresses, and you see how much wine we had, you will be surprised that we remember as much as we did about the early part of the meal.)

The first wine of the evening was a champagne. It was our second sparkling wine of the day, but the first actual champagne from Champagne. A great way to start off the meal.

For my appetizer, I ordered the prime beef tartare. I loves me some red meat, but I wasn’t planning on ordering a steak, so this was my fix for the day. I would rate it up there with some of the best beef tartare I’ve had in my life: not quite as good as the “smoked” tartare from Gordon Ramsey Steak, but otherwise nicely seasoned. And the quail egg was poached perfectly.

My wife ordered the fried zucchini blossom stuffed with cheese. Unfortunately, what she was served was the beef tartare. We let our server know immediately, and the correct dish was brought out fairly quickly. Apparently, he had accidentally rung mine in twice. Fortunately, it’s not like mine was going to get cold waiting for hers, so we were able to enjoy our appetizers together.

While we were waiting for our salads, the restaurant manager came over to ask how we were enjoying our evening. She asked if we had been in the park that day, and we related our morning spent with the Ghost Post scavenger hunt and afternoon tea at Steakhouse 55. When we told her how much we appreciated Katy, our server, she told us that she had been the manager at Steakhouse 55, and how happy she was to hear we had had such a great time, because she had initiated the afternoon tea while she had been there. Hopefully, our praise of Katy got passed along to the appropriate manager.

The next wines were paired with our salads. I enjoyed a pleasant rose, while my wife received a delicious Sancerre. If memory serves, our server actually splashed quite a bit of her wine on the tablecloth while pouring. Fortunately, he managed to miss her, and did get a napkin to cover up the stain so we wouldn’t have to look at it through the rest of the meal.

My salad had a nice strawberry vinaigrette dressing and—best of all—a big chunk of fried pork in the middle of it.

My wife had some nice avocado and berries and edible flower blossoms on hers, but more frisee lettuce on it than she had expected. The menu hadn’t mentioned the frisee, and neither of is is particularly a fan of it, so a large portion of her salad went uneaten.

After the salad came the bread—a nice brioche, served in a silver bowl with the Club 33 logo on it—accompanied by butter in a little dish with its own cloche covering it. So cute! The bread was very nice, but we didn’t want to fill up on it.

Next came the fish course (or, in the case of my not-a-seafood-fan wife, duck course). I had ordered the lobster lasagna, because how many times in my life will I be able to order that? Despite the many layers of pasta, it was still somehow light and refreshing.

It was accompanied by a nice Chardonnay. I had to laugh when I was served that wine, because Chardonnay is like the only wine my father-in-law likes. His claim: “I want a wine that tastes like wine,” which, for him, is Chardonnay.

My wife ordered a duck dish in lieu of the fish. It was gorgeous and tasty, but we don’t remember any of the details. We had planned on asking our server what it was wrapped in—my wife said it tasted vaguely like nori—but we forgot.

She received a red wine with her duck. (Maybe this was the one that got splashed onto the tablecloth. As you can see, we had a lot to drink that evening.)

After the fish course came some sort of alcoholic lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate.

And now, on to the entrees! I love lamb, and hadn’t had it in forever. This lamb chop was perfectly cooked, and served with a little rice cake.

My wife ordered the beef short rib, which was served with a green pea puree, vegetables, and a polenta cake. She said the meat was very tender and flavorful.

For the wine for this course, my wife had a nice Zinfandel, and I had a red wine from a vineyard called Pirate. I would purchase this wine just for the bottle. (Interestingly, the entrees and wines were served while my wife was in the restroom. Normally, at a fine dining restaurant, we would have expected the server to wait until we were both back at the table, but there you go.)

Along with the cheese plate, we each enjoyed a glass of Sandeman port, which is actually a personal favorite of my wife’s.

At this point, I had actually had so much to drink that I forgot to take photos of the cheese plate until after I’d had my first bite of the something panna cotta cheese and the fig jam. We also had a… brie? And a bleu cheese. Accompanying all this was the aforementioned fig jam (or fig marmalade), a small brioche, and honeycomb to enjoy with the bleu cheese. And enjoy it all we did.

After the cheese plate, we stepped out onto the balcony and took in the view down onto Cafe Orleans and the promenade between New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America.

Finally, dessert was served. I had ordered the chess pie, which, as you can see, was served with raspberries and a raspberry sorbet. It was delicious, but tasted a bit more like a chocolate tart than what I am used to in a chess pie (which is a lighter custard).

My wife ordered the chocolate bundt cake. We joked with the waiter about how the McDonalds outside Barstow was testing a menu that included a bundt cake, and how our cashier there pronounced it “Bundet cake.” He told us that they purchase their bundt cakes from the Nothing Bundt Cake bakery. It tasted great, and that bakery chain makes great cakes. However, it seemed odd that an exclusive fine dining restaurant would outsource their desserts instead of hiring a pastry chef.

With the desserts, I had a nice cabernet blend, and my wife had a wine that had strong hints of coffee in it.

Finally, we received the traditional going-away truffles. Oddly, we received one little bag which included two truffles and one orange jelly. The orange jelly was nice, but it was irritating to have to split it. (For what it’s worth, Steakhouse 55 gave us each a little package of truffles at the end of our afternoon tea. Because that’s WHAT YOU DO!)

On our way out, we stopped at the souvenir cabinet. A lot of items were only available to members, but we wanted something to remember the evening by, so we bought a pin. It came in a very cute Club 33 bag.

And so that is probably our one and only experience at Club 33, and it was a lot of fun! The atmosphere, despite our server’s occasional missteps, was easily one of the most pleasant we have experienced at a Disney restaurant anywhere. We knew there were families with children, but it was very calm, quiet, and relaxing. The decor was beautiful, and the whole experience was very elegant and pleasing.

Overall, however, the big thrill for us was getting to eat at Club 33 at all. We never thought that would happen, ever. It was frustrating, knowing that there was something at Disneyland that we would never be able to do, so it’s fantastic to cross that off the list. And the meal was great. Plus: Pirate wine! Ginnifer Goodwin! Josh Dallas! So thanks to my friend, and his Club 33 member friend, for giving us the chance to finally experience this. I would definitely recommend that any Disney fan have dinner here just once, if you possibly can. This was certainly something I will remember for a long time to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment