$1.4B Disney’s Calif. Adventure park, megamall launch all-star dining lures

$1.4B Disney’s Calif. Adventure park, megamall launch all-star dining lures

Amy Spector

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — New Orleans’ Ralph Brennan adjusted the antennae of a lobster model outside the French Quarter-like facade of Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen to ensure that they wouldn’t poke any of the projected 75,000 daily passersby at the new Downtown Disney development here.

Meanwhile, not far from Brennan’s new triple-concept operation, Patina Group co-founder Christine Splichal was inspecting staffers at the Mediterranean-style Catal Restaurant & Uva Bar to make sure all were wearing their Disney-required name tags.

And across a plaza from the open-air Uva Bar — which this month became the first-ever public venue selling alcohol at the Disneyland Resort–dancers at Y Arriba Y Arriba posed on the restaurant’s balcony in shimmering white tango gowns, looking like the frosting on a tropical cake.

Those were some of the scenes just days before the Jan. 12 grand opening of the free-admission Downtown Disney mall, whose dining attractions also include the West Coast debuts of Restaurant Associates’ Manhattan-based Naples trattoria and the mega-sports bar cafe ESPN Zone, from the Disney-owned TV network.

Downtown Disney also boasts restaurateurs Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel’s first La Brea Bakery cafe prototype, a $20 million Mayan pyramidlike Rainforest Cafe branch and the L.A. area’s second House of Blues club-restaurant.

But the 300,000-square-foot complex is only the first of two debuting Disney developments, which together make up the $1.4 billion expansion of the seminal Disneyland.

With the launch next month of the adjacent Disney’s California Adventure theme park, replete with lavish restaurant concepts by Wolfgang Puck, Robert Modavi, McDonald’s and Disney’s own hospitality guru, Michael Berry, the Anaheim-born Disney attractions empire now has a California counterpart to its multiple-theme-park success story in Florida.

According to Disney Parks & Resorts president Paul Pressler, “The new Disneyland Resort will redefine the Southern California vacation experience.” Park officials predict that 7 million visitors will kick the tires on the new additions in the first year.

The two new developments target different audiences, however. Disney’s California Ad venture, whose separate $43-$33 adult-child admission prices match those of Disneyland, is a 55-acre theme park slated to open Feb. 8 and cater to a more grown-up segment of the traditional theme park clientele.

Meanwhile, Downtown Disney is geared toward local residents as well as conventioneers who attend neighboring events at the recently expanded Anaheim Convention Center.

Both the eye-popping entertainment mall and California Adventure are aimed at vacationers and conventioneers who will bed down inside the new park at its 751-room Grand Californian Hotel, an arts-and-crafts-style architectural gem reminiscent of a mammoth national park lodge.

Disney officials have told Brennan, Christine and Joachim Splichal and the other restaurateurs operating in Downtown Disney to expect crowds ranging from 35,000 to 70,000 visitors daily. To accommodate those throngs, Disney built 2,713 parking spaces for Downtown Disney, whose patrons also can use the new 10,000-space “Mickey & Friends” parking structure — North America’s largest — which serves the entire resort.

The restaurants lining the landscaped, al fresco concourse of Downtown Disney include a full-service model for future La Brea Bakery cafe outlets and branch No. 8 of the West Hollywood, Calif.-based House of Blues chain, which Disney co-owns. A similar HOB branch operates at the Downtown Disney in Orlando, Fla.

New York-based Restaurant Associates’ Los Angeles arm, Patina Group, which the Splichals oversee with partners Octavio Becerra, Stephanie Edens and Sean Knight, operates the Naples Ristorante y Pizzeria, which boasts the putative largest exhibition hearth oven on the West Coast and fanciful Italian clown architectural motifs.

Brennan, whose New Orleans operations are Mr. B’s Bistro, Bacco, Red Fish Grill and the jazz club Storyville District, said he has been traveling to Southern California every week since last Labor Day to ready Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. Even though his new landlord has lived up to its reputation for running a tight ship, “the Disney people have been great to work with,” he commented.

His California debut comes in a 15,000-square-foot, two-story edifice that includes the quick-service Creole Cafe, serving Po’ Boys, gumbo, beignets and bread pudding, and the main table-service operation around an open courtyard. Upstairs, customers can make reservations and dine in more posh surroundings.

Patina Group assembled a nine-member culinary team, headed by corporate chef Octavio Becerra, to open the company’s three Downtown Disney operations, including Catal, Uva Bar and Naples. Becerra brought back Patina Group alumnus Bret Thompson as executive chef for upstairs, 270-seat Catal Restaurant and the plaza-based Uva Bar, where 120 guests can dine on tapas-style items and order a variety of wines by the glass as well as beers and liquors.

Though stylish and not inexpensive, the new restaurants mark what Joachim Splichal called the Patina Group’s first foray into casual, “family-style” dining.

All full-service restaurants in Downtown Disney and within California Adventure will be allowed to serve alcohol, which until now has been reserved only for guests of Disneyland’s private Club 33.

Catal had a soft opening in early January and already was tallying 370 daily covers on weekends, Splichal said. He anticipated per-person check averages to rise from their current mid-$20 level to around $28.

Chef Corrado Gianotti will oversee the pizza hearths at Naples when it opens in early February. Located across the promenade from Catal, Naples features a pizza elevator to transfer the cooked pies to upstairs diners. The restaurant has 250 seats downstairs and an additional 235 upstairs, half of them on an outdoor terrace.

Located between Disneyland, Disney’s California Adventure and the Grand Californian Hotel, Downtown Disney is linked to all three by Disneyland’s monorail, which stops in all four venues as it traverses the overall resort.

Inside Disney’s California Adventure, celebrated chef Puck and famed winemaker Mondavi will be among the operators of 27 food outlets in the park’s three theme areas. Those operations include the Hollywood & Dine food court and the ABC Soap Opera Bistro, in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area; Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill and Taste Pilot’s Grill, in the Golden State sector; and Puck’s 250-seat Avalon Cove and 100-seat cocktail lounge, in the Paradise Pier area.

Operated by Santa Monica-based Wolfgang Puck Food Co., Avalon Cove resembles a sandcastle and features undersea motifs.

At the foot of “Grizzly Peak” is the park’s intended high-ticket dining attraction — the Mondavi-run Vineyard Room, where tabs are expected to reach $50. Next door, Mondavi will operate the Golden Vine Winery, complete with a mini-vineyard, winemaking apparatus and a tasting room.

In the Grand Californian Hotel are Storyteller’s Cafe and Napa Rose, a 237-seat restaurant serving the cuisine of Andrew Sutton, former executive chef of Napa Valley’s acclaimed Auberge du Soleil. The restaurant has a display kitchen, a 78-seat bar and a 600-bottle wine cellar.

Disneyland’s Michael Berry, the former Harvard University foodservice chief and IFMA Silver Plate winner, boasted four years ago that Disney stood alone among foodservice developers as a force that simultaneously was creating some two dozen “very unique” restaurants and another 30 kiosks and carts for the park expansion. The project could see its restaurant build-out budget reach an unprecedented $1,000 a square foot, said Berry, the park’s senior VP of operations.

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