Dining Out and About: Flying Fish Cafe

by Jack Spence, AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the Febuary 12, 2008 Issue #438 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Before I start my review, I'd like to share with you some thoughts contained in an email that I received from one of my readers after my last article (Le Cellier) was published. The reader pointed out that in my review I found fault, to some degree, with the food, service, and crowded dining room. Yet, I still wholeheartedly recommended the restaurant. He questioned if perhaps my love for Disney overrode my objectivity.

To be honest, I'm sure it does on some level. After all, I moved to Orlando just so I could be close to Disney World. Disney is my hobby. How could my love for the Mouse not influence my opinion? So anyone who reads one of my reviews might want to keep this in mind.

But on the other hand, I have eaten at every Disney World restaurant multiple times and my reviews are rarely based on a single visit. The Le Cellier Restaurant is a fine example. I pointed out some faults encountered on my most recent meal, but over the years my general impression of this restaurant has been extremely good -- and that's why I recommended it.

Several days before I write a review I like to eat at the restaurant one last time. I want to refresh my memory and to make sure I'm talking about the current menu. However, my opinion is pretty well set before this "last meal." And I can assure you, I do not love or even like all Disney restaurants. There are a handful that I actually do not like -- even after giving them a third, fourth, and sometimes fifth try -- so I am capable of being critical of Disney. But at the moment, I'm only writing about the places I do like.

Now, on to the Flying Fish Cafe... Well, maybe not. Let's first take a detour. Located down the hall from the Boardwalk Resort lobby is one of the most charming spots in all of Disney World, the Belle Vue Lounge. Almost hidden from view, this cozy retreat is the perfect place to sit and relax before or after dinner while you sip your favorite cocktail.

The lounge is designed as a 1930s sitting room. Flowered upholstery, oriental rugs and potted plants create a comfortable atmosphere that feels miles away from the bustling Boardwalk outside. Two antique radios play bygone tunes and comedy skits that are still good for a smile.

Guests can sit at the bar, in one of the comfortable seating areas, or outside on the veranda in white wicker chairs. Although the lounge is always open for relaxing, drink service does not begin until 5 p.m. Various board games are also available to keep youngsters, and maybe even adults, entertained while waiting for your reservation time to draw near. When it's time for dinner, it's only a short walk to the Flying Fish Cafe.

Disney's Boardwalk was designed by Robert A. M. Stern and it combines many of the architectural details that could be found within Atlantic beach towns of the early 1900s. It was fashioned to look like row houses, and as businesses grew, adjoining houses were connected by doors and hallways. Here, families can be entertained by street performers and games, shops, and restaurants. And the crowning jewel of this Boardwalk is the Flying Fish Cafe.

Coney Island was the inspiration for the Flying Fish Cafe. Its decor is a fusion of nostalgia and the contemporary. Here, stylized roller coasters dominate the walls complete with blue light bulbs that line the railing. Even the booth partitions have curving backs to suggest the hills and drops of the famous Cyclone. On the back wall is a large floor-to-ceiling backlit Ferris Wheel. And large, overhead murals depict the Steeplechase and other assorted carnival rides. Even the chandeliers are worth your attention. Pairs of fish are perched under parachutes as if to suggest yet another Coney Island attraction. Pay close attention to the beautiful, cloud-painted ceiling. If you look carefully the stars change colors every several minutes. Even the napkins sport little flying fish.

One side of the restaurant has large windows that look out onto a charming courtyard. The other side features a show kitchen with ample seating along a beautifully tiled bar. The dining tables are spaced nicely, allowing plenty of room between parties. In the back of the restaurant is a small alcove. The tables in here afford a more intimate feel. This restaurant does not have a cocktail lounge, which is why I suggest visiting the Bellevue Lounge if you'd like to relax before or after dinner.

I've heard two similar stories as to how the restaurant got its name. One server told me that the restaurant was named after a roller coaster at Coney Island. Another suggested that the restaurant was named for a particular car on the Cyclone. I did a lot of searching on the web, but I was unable to find a reference to either tale. But regardless of how the restaurant got its name, as you might expect, it is a seafood restaurant.

If I had to guess, I've probably eaten at the Flying Fish Cafe nine or 10 times. In fact, with the exception of Victoria & Albert's, it's probably my favorite Disney World restaurant when I'm looking for a special night out. On every occasion, I have been extremely pleased with both the food and service, and I like the atmosphere as well.

First, let's start with the service. It's attentive! You will be greeted by your server shortly after you are seated. After introductions, your drink order will be taken and once your beverages have been served, they will never be allowed to run empty.

The servers are also very familiar with their offerings. They will explain as little or as much as you'd like to know about the menu. And like all Disney World restaurants, if you have a special dietary request, the chef will be more than happy to visit your table and help you make a decision.

One of my pet peeves is to be rushed in and out of a restaurant within 45 minutes when I'm spending the dollars that the Flying Fish demands. So when I eat at any high end restaurant I let it be known up front that I'm in no hurry. On my last visit to the Flying Fish, I told my server this and he knew exactly how to handle my request. First he took my wine order (I was drinking wine throughout dinner instead of starting with cocktails). After he served the wine, my party ordered appetizers. We decided not to order entrees until we had finished the first course and our server was more than happy to wait. Eventually we did order and our meals arrived at the table almost a full hour after our initial seating. Perfect! By the time we finished dessert, two hours had passed. I couldn't have been happier with the timing of the meal.

At the same time we were dining at a leisurely pace, our server took care of another party in almost half the time. In other words, he knew how to give the guests exactly what they asked for.

If I had to find some fault with the service at the Flying Fish it might be to say that the staff borders on a casualness that some might not find suitable for a restaurant of this caliber. But then I have to remind myself, the theme here is Coney Island so this relaxed attitude is what is called for.

Now let's talk about the food. The menu will have today's date printed at the bottom as the chef tries to feature the freshest seafood available. The style is "New American" with a simple but elegant flair. The menu usually features about 10 entrees. Eight are sea-based and the other two are for landlubbers -- and that's where I'll start.

The very best New York steak I have ever tasted is served at the Flying Fish. And if you don't believe me, just ask your server. In fact, last month I ate at the Flying Fish and the Yachtsman Steakhouse back-to-back. At both restaurants I ordered the New York. It was no contest. The Flying Fish steak was more tender, more flavorful, and more attractively served than at the Yachtsman Steakhouse, which is known for its beef. The only nod I can give to the Yachtsman Steakhouse is that they cooked my steak more to my specification. I always order my meat rare. The Yachtsman Steakhouse served it red on the inside, as they should. The Flying Fish version was dark pink -- that's not rare. However, the taste of the Flying Fish New York was so superior that I didn't even care.

Their signature seafood dish is the Potato-wrapped Red Snapper. This is a good selection. Raw potatoes are sliced extremely thin (like potato chips) and then wrapped around the snapper before it's cooked. The spices used and the texture of the fish and potato makes for a wonderful meal.

Also good are the Oak-grilled Main Diver Scallops. I'm always afraid when I order scallops that I won't get enough to fill me up. That's not the case here. You receive three large scallops that are seared just right on the outside and tender in the middle. I also worry when I order scallops that they will be gritty. That was definitely not a concern. The kitchen rinsed these well before cooking.

I've also tried the Szechuan Peppercorn-spiced Yellowfin Tuna Loin. Sushi-grade tuna is used and the chef suggests it be served rare. To be honest, I didn't feel the fish itself had a lot of taste, but the spices it was encrusted in were flavorful, as were the vegetables it was served with.

There are three appetizers that I feel are worth mentioning. First, the Whidbey Island Penn Cove Mussels. These are tasty and plentiful. I didn't actually count how many I got the last time I ordered them, but I'd have to guess I was served about 40. In fact, it was almost too many. I'd recommend sharing these if you're considering ordering them. Also, be sure to use some of the sourdough bread that is served at your table to sop up the drippings.

Another great choice before your meal is the Worldly Artisanal Cheeses. Here you get five samplings of cheese (sorry, I only remember blue) and four accompaniments. These include honeycomb, chutney, raisins on the vine, and a cranberry, pear, and raisin compote. Mixing and matching the various cheeses with the garnishes is wonderful, and the presentation is beautiful.

My last recommendation is the Maine Lobster "Soup and Sandwich." The soup is good, but not outstanding. However, the finger-sized lobster club sandwich is excellent. I could easily make a meal of this marvel if they served an entree-sized portion.

For dessert, the Flying Fish offers a fine selection of port, sherry, and cognac. And for those of you with a sweet tooth, the sugary stuff is also well-represented.

The last time I dined here I was in the mood for cheesecake. My server informed me that their cheesecake was sugar-free, but thought I might like it anyway. I did. Mind you, it doesn't taste like a traditional cheesecake, but it was rich and creamy and I would order it again.

The Warm Valrhona Chocolate Galette is a must for chocoholics. Warm cake smothered in hot fudge is served with fresh raspberries on the side. You won't be sorry.

If you're interested in seeing any of these creations come to life, be sure to request a seat at the beautifully tiled counter that faces the show kitchen. Here you can watch an army of chefs work their magic. However, I believe these seats are best for parties of two. Since you're sitting next to each other single file, conversation becomes difficult when you must lean over the person next to you to talk to someone further down the line.

A few more thoughts before I end this... Unless you sit in the small alcove dining room in the back, this restaurant can be noisy. That's not necessarily a bad thing. For me, the sounds seem to combine into "white" noise. But if you're looking for a tranquil evening, you won't find it here.

Another appeal to this restaurant is its location on the Boardwalk. This is a great place to stroll before and after your meal -- a place to watch people, shop, and pretend you've been transported back to another era.

On my last visit to the restaurant, I counted 12 children under the age of 10 scattered on my side of the dining room -- there were more behind me. This surprised me, as this is not a restaurant intended for youngsters. The menu is sophisticated, the atmosphere adult, and there are no characters to keep little ones entertained. Then I remembered the Disney Dining Plan and I understood why there were so many kids here.

If you're looking for the restrooms, you'll find them next door off of the Seashore Sweets shop. Ask your server.

The Flying Fish Cafe opens at 5:30 p.m. and the last party is seated at 10 p.m. Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Appetizers $9 - $18; entrees $28 - $38; desserts $6 - $15. The restaurant requests no tank tops, cut-offs, or bathing suits.

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Related links:

Flying Fish Menu: http://allears.net/dining/menu/flying-fish-cafe/dinner
Flying Fish Children's Menu: http://allears.net/dining/menu/flying-fish-cafe/child-dinner Flying Fish Photo Gallery: http://allears.net/din/ffish.htm

Other articles by Jack Spence: http://allears.net/btp/jacks.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.