There aren’t many events where you can brush shoulders with both Mickey Mouse and Angelina Jolie. The third D23 Expo, which took place over the weekend of August 9th, might be the only one. Disney’s bi-annual fan convention was launched in 2009. The "D" stands for Disney, of course, and "23" refers to 1923, the year Walt founded his company. Held at the Anaheim Convention Center, the Expo is like Comic-Con for Disney fans. There’s lots to buy, lots of people dressed up as their favorite characters, and lots of celebrities. Jolie was there to promote Maleficent, the upcoming live-action film in which she stars as the villainous who cast the soporific spell on Sleeping Beauty.
As much as I enjoyed the pageantry of the convention, I came for the attractions and the food. Neither disappointed. At 7 am each morning, we had access to both Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure Park before they officially opened. Being able to step right into Soarin’ Over California and Radiator Springs Racers was almost as thrilling as the rides themselves.
I was even more excited to eat at the Carthay Circle Restaurant and not just because the cuisine is by Chef Andrew Sutton of the acclaimed Napa Rose, one of my favorite restaurants in all of California. The restaurant is named for the Carthay Circle Theatre, a gorgeous movie palace from Hollywood’s Golden Age, where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had its world premiere in 1937. Sadly, the theater was demolished in 1969. I live just blocks away from the site of the Carthay Circle Theatre-now a couple of office buildings-so it was wonderful to step inside Disney’s faithful reproduction of the iconic octagonal theater, with its high bell tower and neon sign. (Plus, the firecracker duck wings and biscuits stuffed with white cheddar, bacon and jalapeno are addictive!)
The next night a friend and I dined at Catal Restaurant, the Patina Group’s fine-dining Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Disney. We’d featured the restaurant’s housemade red sangria as a Signature Drink in the Summer issue of California Meetings + Events and I was eager to try the "blanca" version on this balmy summer night. Lush with the season’s stone fruit, it was a gorgeous complement to our dinner of Spanish octopus with white beans, lobster paella and suckling pig served with corn cake, pickled shallots, black Tuscan kale and a smoked cider jus. And just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, the fireworks at Disneyland began, and we had the perfect view from our balcony table.
If you’re planning events at Disneyland or at the Anaheim Convention Center, Catal, which has several private dining rooms, is an elegant, relaxed setting for a cocktail party or dinner. As for me, next time I’m in Mickey’s neighborhood, I’m going to stop by Catal’s al fresco Uva Bar for the tuna tartare tacos and sea salt garlic fries, housemade ice cream sandwiches. I think it’s the perfect way to make the happiest place in the world even happier.