There is enough good food here to keep Flying Fish Cafe on the short list of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World.
The Fish itself, however, is a little stale. The interior, which was once exciting and invigorating, seems to have faded. And as far as service is concerned, I witnessed a waiter perform an act that would be unacceptable in even the greasiest of greasy spoons. But we’ll come back to that.
The menu, dated and printed daily, is a single sheet that, although presented in a confusing order, leaves no question that the restaurant is aptly named. I sampled only seafood entrees, although there is a steak and a chicken breast for those who wander in clueless, and I was not dissatisfied with any of them.
One of the specials – which are listed under the heading Chef’s Thunder, a reference to a Coney Island ride, one assumes – was a pan-roasted black grouper ($27). The fish itself was a fine fillet, firm with moist flakes, but it was the accompaniments of littleneck clams, baby artichokes, nicoise olives and olive oil that gave the dish a wonderfully briny note.
Another special on one of my visits was the whole crispy yellowtail snapper ($29), an impressive presentation that had the fish placed on the plate as though it were still swimming. The crispy fried flesh came off the bone easily, and its sweet flavor went well with the basmati rice and vinaigrette sauce.
The Fish’s signature dish of potato-wrapped red snapper ($27) remains on the revamped menu (indeed, so popular is it with regulars that Curry could remove it only at his own peril). John State was the first in the area to present this now common concoction and it’s still a winner. The fillet is wrapped with a long thin potato slice and deep-fried to a dark brown crisp. The creamy leek fondue may be new, but it still comes with the appropriate wine reduction sauce.
One of my guests had the oak grilled mahi mahi ($29), which was served on a wonderful risotto laden with lumps of rock shrimp. On another visit the same risotto was served with wahoo. Regardless of the fish, the risotto was an ingenue that upstaged the star.
For appetizers, the peeky toe crab cakes ($13) were full of meat that was complemented well by the ancho-chile remoulade. Ahi tuna tartare ($12) was slightly dull, but the oak grilled dayboat scallops ($12), served with fresh corn polenta and onion rings, were quite a treat.
As far as starters go, however, I enjoyed the frisee salad ($9) as much as anything. The frizzy leaves with a slightly bitter taste were accompanied by oven roasted beets, goat cheese, candied pecans and drizzled with an orange vinaigrette. Each component was distinct, and they all came together to make an excitingly tasty salad.
Goat cheese is best as an appetizer and not as a dessert, which was made clear with the goat cheese beignets ($8). The fritterlike nuggets were too savory for dessert, even with the Rainier cherries served with them. The Fish was the first restaurant in the area to present the omnipresent chocolate lave cake ($8), which is still good although I think some of the imitators now do it better.
ut it will likely be a long time before I taste a dessert as satisfying as the banana Napoleon ($8). A sheet of crisped phyllo dough was set atop a creamy vanilla creme brulee with large diagonal slices of bananas sitting nearby in a sweet caramel sauce.
Service was exemplary on one visit and stunningly bad on another. On that occasion the waiter brought a second glass of wine for my dinner guests and when he removed the used glasses he poured out the last drops of wine into the new wine. It doesn’t matter that they were the same wines, that was one crass act.
The interior of Flying Fish was designed by the late Martin Dorf, who also did California Grill and Citricos. It is a whimsical paean to the glory days of Coney Island, with booth backs that rise and dip like the tracks of a roller coaster and light fixtures of parachuting porpoises. Columns and decorated with fish scales and even the tiny tiles on the food bar surfaces appear fishlike. But the interior seems to have faded somewhat and it no longer seems special. One of my companions put it right: It seems like any other Disney restaurant.
On the surface perhaps, but in regards to the food, the tradition of high quality continues.