Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Happiest Place (to Eat) on Earth, part 2

On our second day at Disneyland, we were met by family local to Southern California. Though it's usually just the two of us, we find that we have a lot of fun at Disneyland when we get to spend time with family and friends. For dinner, we all went to Ariel's Grotto at California Adventure. For those unfamiliar with this establishment, it's a higher-end family dining restaurant with a hook: While guests are eating dinner the Disney princesses - Snow White, Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, Aurora - visit each table, signing autographs and posing for pictures. It's a good opportunity to meet the princesses without standing in line as guests do elsewhere in the parks.

The meal started with a three-tiered antipasti platter featuring salami, mozzarella cheese, Roma tomatoes, gherkins, olives and raw vegetables. Requests for refills on these items were cheerfully fulfilled.

Additionally, we were served a green salad with vinaigrette, and rolls to munch on while we waited for our entrees. Like the antipasti platter, a new serving of salad was quickly brought out when the first was finished.

Entree choices included cioppino, pasta, and chicken breast, amongst others. I selected the Santa Maria style tri-tip, served with vegetables and cheddar herb mashed potatoes. It was far from the best tri-tip I've ever had - my father-in-law's holds that distinction - but it was quite tasty and made for a nice contrast to the vendor snacks we're used to eating at Disneyland and California Adventure.

The dessert platter that followed was loaded with a variety of goodies including cookies, chocolate cake and fresh strawberries.

Despite our status as die-hard Disney fans, Ariel's Grotto is probably not the kind of restaurant Katie and I would eat at were it just the two of us. More than likely if we were in the mood for a sit-down meal, we would opt for ESPN Zone or any of the other eateries featured in the last entry. However, the food was quite good, and our nieces - both of whom had been there many times before - had a ball. The food is expensive - expect to pay around $30 per person - but you're paying more for the experience than for the food itself. If you find yourself at California Adventure with hungry daughters and some time to sit and eat, try to get a table at Ariel's Grotto (or better yet, make a reservation ahead of time). They'll thank you for it.

I'll close this entry with a review of one of our favorite eating establishments in Southern California, located on the grounds of a theme park we never actually visit. Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, right outside the main entrance of Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, has been a vital part of almost every trip we've taken to the greater Los Angeles area.

Being annual passholders to Disneyland, there are few things capable of pulling us away from the park for a few hours. Mrs. Knott's happens to be the most consistent of these. The restaurant is something out of a bygone era: The decor is early American country kitchen, and the waitresses dress like no other waitstaff I've ever seen, in frilly dresses and striped aprons that I imagine are similar to the ones the restaurant's original waitresses wore in the 1930s.

Mrs. Knott's specializes in traditional American dining, and their menu includes roast turkey, pot pies, sandwiches, barbecued ribs, and of course, fried chicken. Dinner entrees are served with a choice of chicken noodle soup or cherry rhubarb, a small green salad, a side of cabbage or sweet corn, and dessert. Unfortunately, the line for dinner is frequently more than an hour long, and while we have stood in it - there's no leaving your name and waiting in the bar - we find it much more convenient to simply come for lunch. During the week there is rarely any wait, and lunch entrees include a choice of soup, salad or cherry rhubarb, and either cabbage or corn. In addition to this, generous portions ensure that their lunches are more than satisfying. Dessert is not included, but can be ordered separately. We rarely have room.

Katie and I are both partial to the chicken noodle soup. It's creamy and satisfying, with hearty noodles and chunks of chicken.

I usually order the chicken fried steak, served with mashed potatoes.

Though I tend to order soda when eating out, at Mrs. Knott's I always get their boysenberry punch.

All entrees are preceded by hot, freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits and many varieties of fruit-flavored jam. It's the perfect appetizer before a grand and delicious meal.

On this trip, we stopped at Mrs. Knott's just before the long drive home, and thus kept it simple. I had the soup, Katie had a salad, and we shared an order of fries and onion rings.

I miss the chicken fried steak.

Stay tuned for part 3. That's right: Dessert!


  1. Ariel's Grotto doesn't look like a place for me. When I am at an amusement park, I want junk!

  2. I agree, Manuel! Disneyland and (relatively) elegant dining are not concepts that go hand in hand. Unless I'm at ESPN Zone, I prefer something that I can hold in one hand and eat on the go, while waiting in line for a ride, watching a parade or fireworks, etc. It was a cute thing to do once, but if we ever have a daughter we will condition her to appreciate authentic amusement park cuisine (i.e. junk food) as much as we do.

    Miss Sassy Pants - excellent question! I actually had to look it up in order to give you an accurate answer. A gherkin is a small pickled cucumber usually about half the size of a dill pickle. Although the term was originally used to described a specific variety of cucumber, today it is commonly used to describe any small cucumber that is pickled. In the picture of the antipasti platter, the gherkins are not visible; however, there are pictures of gherkins (as an accompaniment to sandwiches) in the first three Food albums on my Facebook page.

  3. Exactly. I'm not sure why I didn't just say that!

    Part 3 should be posted by the end of the week, and it promises to be a very sweet entry.

  4. I got teary-eyed when I saw the picture of the Knott's Berry Farm Buttermilk biscuits. :-) They are the BEST biscuits I have ever tasted, and always look forward to them when I am in Southern California. You can not go wrong with their Fried Chicken, either!