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Seafood around the World
by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the April 12, 2005 Issue #290 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
What's the old joke? I'm on the seafood diet -- I see food and I eat it!
Well, I decided to try a REAL seafood diet on a recent trip to Walt Disney World. We ate at not one, but two of the resort's pricier seafood restaurants, and stopped at a fishy counter service place for good measure -- an abbreviated version of Seafood around the World, if you will.
Our findings? Whether you're doing low-fat, low-carb or even no diet at all, there are plenty of fantastic fruits de la mer (that's fruits of the sea, to you and me) to tantalize your taste buds.
Todd English's bluezoo
One of the newest entries in the Walt Disney World restaurant arena is this swank celebrity-chef establishment in the WDW Dolphin Hotel, which opened December 2003. Owner Todd English is well known for his Boston flagship eatery, Olives, and he has outlets in Las Vegas and on the Queen Mary 2, in addition to this Orlando location. The premise of bluezoo is, clearly, to create a hip, haute ambience, combining, as English himself put it at the restaurant's grand opening, "the freshest seafood with coastal cuisines."
Any discussion of the restaurant's food has to be preceded by some details of the fantastic decor, which captures your attention the moment you pass through the entrance. Designed by Jeffrey Beers, the architect also responsible for Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurants Jiko and Boma, the space is dominated by an aquatic theme. Design elements include aqua-colored chandeliers with water bubble-like crystals and a shimmering metallic wall hanging over the raw bar that conjures the image of a school of fish riding a wave. At the far end of the bar, chefs scurry busily around an open fire, which features English's unique "dancing fish" rotisserie -- whole fish are skewered upright and placed at a slight angle so they can "dance" around the flames.
Our server for the evening was most accommodating. The restaurant was moderately crowded, yet he appeared promptly and made knowledgeable recommendations without ever being overbearing. He brought a basket of warm bread right away -- and what delicious bread it was. There were three types, each better than the next: a chewy multi-grain peppered with sunflower seeds, a crispy thin lavosh, and a light, fluffy onion bread, all served with an unusual fennel-seed butter.
As we studied the menu over generous-sized and reasonably priced cocktails (sorry, no frozen drinks available for our 13-year-old smoothie-lover!), we also noted dishes being served at neighboring tables. The shellfish platter presented at the next table was most impressive, with a variety of lobster tail, shrimp and other crustaceans attractively displayed in tiers on ice. It was enough to set any seafood lover's mouth to watering.
Before ordering, we made several inquiries as to whether any substitutions were possible -- could we please have a veggie instead of the specialty sauce with the fish? Our server went out of his way to find out, and was most apologetic when he found no subs were possible. We were a bit surprised at the lack of flexibility, but decided we could work around it.
After we'd had plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere, our appetizers arrived. The roasted beet salad with greens, goat cheese, and candied walnuts ($9) came with two types of beets -- one a deep, dark red with an almost flowery flavor, the other an unusual, golden cylindrical shape. Drizzled with a tart vinaigrette and accented with the crunchiness of the sweetened nuts and herbed croutons made from focaccia, along with creamy dots of chevre, this salad was a winner. My husband, having grown up at the Jersey shore, fancies himself the seafood aficionado, so he opted for a half-dozen oysters... did I mention they were from the RAW bar? After mulling over a selection of about a half-dozen varieties from various regions, he chose six Kumomoto oysters ($2 each) from the Pacific Northwest. Calling them "creamy," he added that they were like "taking a bite of a wave." (Of course, he says this whenever he eats fresh shellfish, but it's meant to be the highest praise indeed.) The final appetizer sampled was the "Olive's" classico flatbread ($9), a recipe imported from English's Boston-based restaurant. The over-sized portion was enough for three to taste, and was prepared with good fresh tomato sauce, globs of fresh mozzarella, and leaves of torn basil.
In between courses, our server returned with hot moist towels for us to refresh ourselves before the main course -- a nice touch, since the towels are usually meant just for those dining from the raw bar.
Of the entrees, the roasted whole sea bass ($27), "This Evening's Dancing Fish," was our favorite. The fish was presented most appealingly, with a wand of grilled romaine gracing the top of the plate. Accompanied by a white bean puree, and lightly coated with a lemon caper emulsion, the flaky light white fish was moist with just a hint of garlic.
Our son chose the mahi mahi, under the heading of "simply fish," as it was simply prepared -- plain, and grilled to his specifications ($26). The "simply fish" entrees are accompanied with your choice of one of three sauces (which we had hoped to make a substitution for). Instead, his dad and I shared his selection of the baby shrimp, parsley, and a buttery lemon sauce, which would have made a savory meal by itself, loaded as it was with juicy little shrimp. The addition of the lobster broccoli stuffed cheddar potato ($7) was unnecessary in the end -- after the flatbread and the fish, our young man could barely manage more than a few bites of the large spud, overflowing with a flavorful cheesy filling.
After doing so many things right, we were surprised at our most disappointing dish of the evening, my Lobster Bolognese ($25) -- disappointing mainly because of how it was prepared and presented. The menu's description called it "rigatoni pasta...... lobster tail.....sherry infused sauce, mascarpone and fennel salad." My expectation was that the sauce would be prepared with lobster and cheese IN it -- I'm half-Italian, so I believe that a true Bolognese is one with ground meat in the sauce. But instead, the whole lobster tail, in the shell, perched atop the plate of rigatoni, with a heap of shredded fennel salad piled on top of it. A large lump of creamy mascarpone cheese was served on the side. It was clear that the lobster tail had been baked, as it was very salty -- the salt from the shell doesn't carry over into the lobster meat quite as much with boiling or steaming. In addition, the meat was very difficult to remove from the shell. The rigatoni itself was quite tasty with a light tomato sauce, and the fennel salad was a nice complement, but overall I'd rate this dish just an "eh."
Sadly, we were all filled to bursting, so that we didn't sample a dessert here -- couldn't squeeze in another bite, not even in the name of research! Dinner for three, which included two cocktails and two glasses of wine, totaled around $150 before tip. (Note that unlike many other WDW Swan and Dolphin restaurants, bluezoo does not give Disney Vacation Club members discounts, nor does it honor the Disney Dining Experience card, since the WDW Dolphin is not a Disney property.)
In spite of the price, and the lackluster lobster Bolognese, we did make a mental note, in big bold letters, to return to Todd English's bluezoo -- it's now among our top five Disney dining experiences.
Flying Fish Cafe
Our visit the next evening to one of our other faves, the BoardWalk's Flying Fish Cafe, led to much different results.
We've always enjoyed the laid-back, whimsical setting of Flying Fish -- the fish hook light fixtures, the lighted parachutes suspended from the ceiling, and especially the Coney Island mural complete with roller coaster and floor-to-ceiling Ferris wheel. But this visit, smack in the middle of spring break, saw a slightly more hectic pace at this very popular restaurant. Arriving early for our 6:30 p.m. Priority Seating, we waited more than 40 minutes for a table for three, a delay that got our evening off to a less than favorable start.
Since our last visit more than a year ago, Flying Fish's kitchen has come under the direction of a new chef, Jens Dahlmann, who joined WDW from the four-star, five-diamond Café L'Europe in Palm Beach, Fla., after classical training in Swiss and German restaurants, and a stint at Le Cirque 2000 in New York City.
As we reviewed the menu, which we found had not changed much since our last visit, we noticed a significant lag between when we placed our drink orders and when we received our water and bread (sourdough, served cold). To say that the place was hopping would be an understatement. Not only were servers and bus boys running at a pace that would make a sprinter proud, but two managers were also busily clearing and setting tables.
Against this frenetic backdrop, we couldn't quite relax, and we wondered when our starters would ever arrive. They finally did, of course, and we found our selection of Creamy Sweet Onion Soup ($8) just as described: creamy and slightly sweet, presented in a lidded soup crock, topped with a crumbling of fried leeks and a dash of pungent truffle oil. The Chef's Thunder appetizer of the day, however, was definitely over-priced and over-praised. "Grilled Jumbo Sea Scallops" ($16) turned out to be two medium-sized scallops floating on truffle brown butter, with a salad of organic greens in a crunchy Parmesan basket. Though the scallops were grilled to perfection, they were most definitely not worth $8 apiece.
Many of the restaurant's best-known entrees are still on the menu at Flying Fish, and we decided to not stray too far from the familiar. My husband chose one of the long-time house signature dishes, the potato wrapped snapper ($34). The snapper was a hair overcooked, leaving the edges slightly tough, but the overall flavor was, as usual, superb. Thankfully, the potato wrapper had sealed in much of the fish's moisture, preventing it from drying out too much, and it was flaky and perfectly complemented by the subtle flavors of the leek fondue and red wine butter sauce that accompanied it.
The Oak Grilled Atlantic Salmon ($28) with tiny pearl onions and peas was also just a tad overdone, but the fish, which boasted a hint of oregano, flaked nicely, and the accompanying sun-dried tomato-pancetta vinaigrette was a nice, not-too-salty, accent.
Another of the "Chef's Thunder" specials, the Pan-Roasted Fillet of Cod ($33) proved to be the evening's best choice. Cooked perfectly, the delicate flavor of the thick white fish was preserved and seasoned with just a whisper of pepper. The dish came with a buttery fennel and fresh parsley mariniere sauce, and plentiful tiny rock shrimp, on a bed of crushed Yukon gold potatoes, made more colorful by a few diced tomatoes.
Surprisingly, there was room for a shared dessert after such filling entrees, and so we placed an order early on for the fabled Valrhona Chocolate Souffle ($10). When it finally came, our immediate area was filled with the heady aroma of rich, deep, dark chocolate. HOT chocolate. Our server took the little souffle dish of nearly black chocolate perfection and to our dismay, pushed in the top with a spoon. But we needn't have worried -- all he was doing was making a spot for the warm Frangelico Sabayon, which he poured in generously. The thick, sweet cream deserves a spot on the menu as a dessert in its own right, and my husband and I took care of it, sparing our underage charge too much alcohol content, as we sipped on good, strong coffee. What a sacrifice. We all pronounced the souffle exactly what a dessert should be.
Dinner for three, again with two cocktails and two glasses of wine, but this time with dessert and two coffees, came to almost $180 before tip, and before the 20 percent discount offered with the Disney Dining Experience card.
Considering that the price of dinner at bluezoo was slightly less, but that the food quality was, in many cases, superior, we feel that Flying Fish has slipped a notch or two on our list. We also preferred the more relaxed atmosphere at bluezoo, feeling the service was less harried and there were more refined touches, leading to a more enjoyable dining experience overall.
Perhaps, Flying Fish has become a victim of its popularity and convenient location -- but they should take note that just around the corner is a most attractive alternative and competitor.
We ended our Seafood around the World weekend with a return visit to the Harry Ramsden's Yorkshire County Fish Shop in Epcot's UK pavilion. As we have found in the past, this counter service spot serves up wonderful fish in the English manner -- yes, the fries are frozen, but the fish is really quite good! And we really enjoy the fact that they provide malt vinegar, to give it the truly British accent. It's not the place if you're looking for low-fat fish, but we still give this spot the thumbs up if you want a quick and hearty lunch that's NOT another burger or a dog.
If we'd had more time, we'd have revisited even more of the eateries specializing in seafood "around the World." Alas, there are only so many hours in a long weekend. But if you have a hankering to try your own "See Food Seafood Diet," here are some other locations you could visit:
Reef in Living Seas
--Tempura Kiku/Matsunoma Lounge in Japan
--Fulton's Crab House at Downtown Disney (Read our review)
--Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
--Cap'n Jack's at Downtown Disney -- They don't have the raw bar any more, but they still focus on seafood here.
--Kimono's at the WDW Swan -- Sushi and karaoke!
--Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom --Fried fish, tuna sandwich, seafood chowder, all in a cozy counter service spot.
--Cape May Cafe Clam Bake dinner buffet