We return to Flying Fish, the BoardWalk-area signature restaurant located on Crescent Lake and to the right of AbracadaBar and Trattoria al Forno.
This is the website’s second review of Flying Fish, post-refurbishment, with the first look available here. But since the first review only included phone pictures and with a recent menu update, I thought it would be prudent to make a return visit.
Tom “Making Pretty Scenes Look 15% Prettier” Bricker of the excellent Disney Tourist Blog joins us, so I apologize in advance if there’s some stray Nikon equipment in the pictures. It upsets me just as much as it upsets you. Sometimes I will take a picture and be relatively pleased with the results, only to see Bricker’s shot and wonder if we were even looking at the same thing. I’m actually not even sure why I’m writing this review.
The restaurant’s interior is a lot classier than it was prior to the reopening, which occurred around this time last year.
The playful flying fish motif is a little more understated.
According to Disney, we now enjoy a “sophisticated interpretation of nostalgic seaside meals.”
But I think it’s a lively, interesting space and one where I feel more comfortable dropping the kind of money that Disney charges at signature restaurants.
I think Disney does a nice job of naturally breaking up the restaurant so it “feels” intimate, even when it’s busy.
Here at 5pm, shortly after the restaurant opens, we have the place to ourselves. We have to tuck Bricker into bed by 7pm, after all.
Here’s what the restaurant looked like pre-refurbishment – the decor provided a whimsical environment, but it wasn’t the sort of atmosphere that beckons me to drop $50 on a steak and $100 on a bottle of wine.
Here’s the menu:
This is a significant departure from what we saw last time when the average entree price was $51.56 across the eight selections. Now there’s just six entree choices with an average price of $47.
Gone is the $79 Abalone & Prawns entree and scallops have been substituted for the lobster in the pasta dish, which has in turn reduced the price there from $64 to $48. I was wary of paying that much for the lobster dish above, but I felt like the menu really undersold the large size of the tail. I wasn’t mad at all.
The popular Potato-Wrapped Snapper of yesteryear has still not returned to the menu, which I still find surprising considering Disney went out of their way to “guarantee” its return, in addition to the Char-crusted Strip Steak. I’m in favor of chefs paving their own way, but a lot of what Disney sells is based on nostalgia and there were a lot of ardent Flying Fish fans disappointed in being unable to return to their favorite dishes.
Considering the menu is already fairly limited, you would think re-adding popular dishes would be in the cards, particularly considering the amount of discounting Disney is currently offering. Florida residents currently receive a “free” appetizer with entree purchase, in addition to free valet parking. Annual Passholders and Tables in Wonderland users also receive 30% off through the end of this month, so long as reservations are made before 6:30pm or after 8:30pm. Cast also receive 40% off at the moment. This all seems to indicate a reduction in demand – if Disney could fill the restaurant at full price, they would.
Speaking of Tables in Wonderland, Disney offered cardholders a 1-day 40% off promotion back on June 25th with only four days notice. This seemed strange, but it turns out that this was one of the locations where Bob Iger ate during his last visit and Disney had canceled all reservations so he could enjoy himself in peace and quiet. Somebody decided that Bob probably would prefer not to sit in an empty restaurant, so Disney increased the discount as a means to fill the restaurant in short order. It worked.
I’ll miss the tuna appetizer, which I thought was fantastic for $17 with Compressed Watermelon, Citrus Espelette, Black Cyprus Sea Salt, and Avocado. Really flavorful and incredibly high quality.
But appetizers and drinks are done exceptionally well at Flying Fish and the bar is one of the best spots property-wide to grab a bite to eat along with a signature cocktail or handpicked wine.
Over the years, I’ve split my time at Flying Fish between the bar and restaurant pretty evenly.
Service is among the best anywhere and the bartenders have been around forever, which means they can offer insight not only into the menu, but also the history of the restaurant and surrounding areas. Definitely ask for a recommendation.
Speaking of drinks, the signature cocktail menu is one of the best on property with some really interesting selections made with high quality ingredients.
My longtime favorite is the Blood Orange Margarita. Freshly shaken, it’s about 722% better than anything La Cava is serving these days with a sweet and spicy flavor profile.
This time around, I tried the $12.50 “Old Fashioned Cocktail – Knob Creek Disney Select Bourbon, House-crafted Bitters Valencia Oranget, Turbinado Sugar, Luxardo Cherry.” There may not be another whiskey-based cocktail on property that’s this good – the citrus makes a great impact, while still allowing the flavors of the bourbon to show through. Really good.
All of the Nikon photography was making me a little uneasy, so I also ordered the $10.75 “Maple Bacon Fig Manhattan – Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Averna Amaro, Bacon-infused Maple Syrup, Honeyed Black Mission Figs, Candied Bacon,” which was poured from the shaker tableside. It’s a nice touch. The drink was otherwise rye-forward and expertly mixed. Really good.
If wine sounds good, there’s an extensive list:
I like that Cakebread Chardonnay.
Bread here is interesting with seaweed baked right in. It adds a little bit of a salty sea vibe, but it’s very subtle.
The salted butter is also very good.
We started with the $13 “Kurobuta Pork Belly – Croquette, Royal Gala Apple Slaw, Bing Cherry Gastique.”
This was fantastic and one of my favorite dishes that I’ve sampled in recent memory. The pork belly was impossibly tender, but retained a nice firmness. The smoky flavors of the pork contrasted really nicely with the tart cherry and sweet apple. The croquette was densely packed with flavorful pork along with its satisfying crunchy exterior. This is a 10/10 and actually $2 cheaper than when the restaurant opened, though you’ll no longer find the quail egg on top of the croquette. Very good and a nice way to start the meal if you’re looking at one of the seafood entrees.
We also tried the $13 “Masago-crusted Grouper Cheeks – Flying Fish Roe, Sea Beans, Lotus Root.” Not all fish have cheeks, but larger fish typically do and using them fits in well with Flying Fish’s sustainable efforts. The meat is mild and tender inside of the pleasantly crunchy exterior. It reminded me of the masago-crusted scallop that I enjoyed on my last visit to Victoria & Albert’s. And it didn’t arrive with any butter lectures.
I was also impressed by the amount and quality of roe included. Yes it’s a garnish, but yes, you will want to scoop it all up – flavorful without being too salty. Even the beans and lotus root tasted delicious. I think I would have liked some sort of sauce to go with the cheeks – they are sort of one-note. But that note is very good and it’s a large portion for the price. Impressive.
Entree-wise, Bricker went with the $39 “Õra King New Zealand Salmon – Antebellum White Grits, Shishito, Cilantro-Cumin Butter.” It’s the most impressive salmon filet that I had ever seen – incredibly thick, meaty, and tender with a wonderful flavor and texture, in addition to the bright color and beautiful marbling. The peppers underneath packed a little bit of fire on top of the creamy grits, while the butter added an herbal quality with a little bit of citrus. The fish easily surpassed my experience at Artist Point, where you’ll also pay $10+ more.
Because I’m much more of a baller, I went with the $55 “Snake River Farms Wagyu Strip Loin – Cheddar Gratin Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower, Red Wine Butter.”
I was impressed by the size and flavor of the steak, but not so much the tenderness.
It was actually surprisingly tough. But on the plus side, it was seasoned nicely, cooked well, and there was a ton of it. But the steak has increased in size by about double since the restaurant opened and there’s probably something to say for that. I appreciated having more meat than I could handle. The potatoes had a rich cheesiness to them and were cooked to a nice al dente, so they still maintained a nice firmness. I thought the red wine sauce did a nice job of bringing the natural flavors of the vegetables out. Overall, I’m not sure where I come down on this. “Snake River Wagyu Strip” implies a tender piece of meat and this was very much not that. It would be nice to see a higher quality piece of beef offered in a six or eight ounce portion with the option to go with a larger strip if that’s the direction you want to go.
I would be remiss not to mention one of my favorite things in the Peanut Butter Freeze.
This is an incredibly refreshing drink with a really rich, addicting peanut-butter-chocolate flavor. It sounds a little weird, but it’s absolutely delicious.
Some more after-dinner drink options:
Our server, who was fantastic all meal, was very excited about the restaurant’s cappuccino, so he mistakenly identified Bricker as a pretty big deal and brought us one to photograph, and then another to sample. It tasted like coffee.
Desserts here are inventive and continue the underwater theme.
Because we are just that precious, Tom and I shared the $12 “Under the Sea – Valrhona Chocolate, Chocolate Coral Sponge, Pistachio Sand, Dehydrated Milk Foam, Tasting of Three Sea Salts.”
I’m not sure the finished product necessarily “looks” like a coral reef, but it makes up for it with the variety of flavors and textures. The Valhona Chocolate is great quality with a deep, luscious flavor. The sea salts bring out those flavors and make the dessert all the more irresistible. And it’s a fun plating with the pistachio sand and coral sponge. Very good overall.
Overall, the current menu at Flying Fish “feels” a little limited with just six entree choices. But everything sounded good and it may be more important to do six things extremely well than add options just for the sake of offering an expanded menu. It seems to me like they should probably add the snapper and char-crusted steak back on the menu – they’re not personal favorites of mine, but considering how unpopular the restaurant seems to be at the moment, it’s silly to offer fewer options. Perhaps changing the sides out more often would help breathe new life.
I was a little disappointed in the quality of my steak given the description and the price point. I enjoyed a steak in West Memphis last week that was similar in size and quality for $19.99. We all know Disney pricing is inflated, but the quality should be superior even if a premium is charged for the experience. But the appetizers were fantastic, dessert was fun, the drinks were imaginative, and service was friendly, attentive, and professional. We had a 5pm reservation and basically had the restaurant to ourselves. We were there for two hours, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. Everything was paced nicely.
Flying Fish remains my choice for a “date night” style dinner. It’s a classy space without the need for any gimmicks. Maybe just skip the steak at the seafood restaurant.