And just like that, Flying Fish, formerly known as Flying Fish Cafe, has become arguably the second most elegant restaurant at Walt Disney World. In my estimation, only Victoria & Albert’s offers a more upscale decor.
It took more than just dropping the word Cafe from the name. The restaurant, on Disney’s Boardwalk, was closed in February for a complete renovation. When it originally opened, almost 20 years ago, the Fish had a more whimsical decor that featured paeans to the glory days of Coney Island’s boardwalk, with such touches as booth backs that swooped like the track of a roller coaster, light fixtures of parachuting porpoises and touches of tiles that resembled fish scales.
All of that is gone, though there are still subtle hints at fish scales, such as in the tasteful flatware, which now is set on white tablecoths or stone instead of bare wood. (Comfier uphostered chairs, too, to replace the nautical-looking wooden ones.) The color scheme ranges from an azure blue to a deep violet, perhaps a nod to Tyrian purple, which is derived from mollusks.
Instead of drifting dolphins, a flowing sculpture of glass bubbles lights the length of the room. (See below for a video tour via Facebook Live but be aware that the audio quality is poor.)
There is still an on-stage kitchen, and instead of the tiled chef’s counter, gathering-height tables may be abutted next to the kitchen counter to affect chef tables of various sizes.
Speaking of the chef, there’s a new one in charge to go with the updated decor. And Tim Majoras, pictured at top, figured he might as well go and redesign the menu.
No, the potato-wrapped snapper first introduced by the restaurant’s original chef, John State, and retained by his successors is gone. I don’t think anyone will really miss it.
I was invited to try some of the new menu at the unveiling of the updated Fish on Wednesday, and I very much liked what I tasted.
Seafood, which the restaurant claims to be 100 percent sustainable, is still very much the focus of the menu, although meat items are given careful attention, too.
My hosts and I started with a sampler of appetizers. My favorite was the one called Tour of the Coast that featured locally sourced middleneck clams and Icy Blue Mussels from Cape Cod, firm nubbins of rock shrimp and tender grouper cheek from Florida, in a bit of celeriac purée.
I also liked the Blue Crab Bisque with big pieces of lump crabmeat in a rich and earthy stew that was tinged with a bit of sherry drizzled tableside.
Corn-encrusted Wild Gulf Shrimp were deftly crisped and prettily presented atop hearts of palm and bits of oranges.
Kurobota Pork Belly was a thick slab of bacon with a balancing act of a croquette filled with shredded shank meat topped by a shirred quail egg.
My favorite entree was also the one Majoras said was a must-have, the Chef's Thunder: Chilean Sea Bass with Spanish Octopus served on bomba arroz, a short-grain Spanish rice. The fish was beautifully seared and had wonderfully moist flesh. The octopus tentacle, coyly coiled around the fillet, had a delicious smoky note. Some tender-firm shrimp rounded out the dish.
Bison Strip Loin was our meat choice. It was prepared to the requested rare and served as coins on the plate on platforms of ancient grains and salsify with cipollini onions and green beans. A choron sauce — a bearnaise with a tint of tomato — graced the loin, which was nicely seasoned.
Only the Halibut disappointed. It was a beautiful piece of fish with a gorgeous golden glow. But sadly it had been overcooked and was terribly dry. The multicolored vegetables that accompanied and the beurre blanc sauce were delicious.
From the sampler of desserts, I liked Under the Sea, a mini sculpture of chocolates meant to resemble coral sponges sitting in a sea-bottom sand of crushed pistachios. Three sea salts were sprinkled on the Valrhona Manjari chocolate.
Speaking of salt, I loved that sea salt was sprinkled on the butter that came with the seaweed-flecked bread. I loved even more that the butter was room temperature and spreadable.
Service was first rate, and the dining room is still under the watchful direction of Stig Jacobsen, who also shepherds the wine program.
An interesting note about the wine list. Instead of designations of red and white, the list is divided between Wines for the Sea and Wines for the Land, which recognizes that both reds and whites can be suitable for meat or fish. I like that, though it may be confusing to some guests at first.
When I said that only Victoria & Albert’s is more elegant, I should clarify that V&A is way more so. With its open kitchen, Flying Fish maintains a somewhat more casual, approachable mien.
It’s interesting that Flying Fish, which once had a casual amusement park atmosphere has been made more upscale with its redo and California Grill, which opened with a Rainbow-Room style of sophistication was made less refined when it was remodeled a couple of years ago.
Both restaurants were originally designed by Martin Dorf of New York, who died in 2000. He also did the interior for Citricos, which is certainly ready for renewal.
Can’t wait to see what they do with that one.
Flying Fish is at Disney’s Boardwalk, 2101 Epcot Resorts Blvd., Orlando. It is open for dinner daily. Call 407-939-3463. By the way, the menu isn’t cheap. Most entrees are over $40, Moreover, valet parking is now $25. So self park and hike to the restaurant and you’ll be able to have something extra.