I was invited to a wine dinner recently at Flying Fish Cafe and I flew at the chance.
It had been years since I visited the Disney’s BoardWalk seafooder, and the last visit was marred by an incident that is sure to be included in my round-up of goofs and gaffes. I had invited my supervisor and our newly hired department manager to dine with me. I figured it was a good move to take them to a place that was almost certain to impress. When FFC opened in 1996 it was an immediate hit. With a fun decor by Martin Dorf, a superb menu by John State and a well-trained serving staff, the restaurant had much to recommend.
But when I returned, in 2002, the kitchen was under the direction of Robert Curry and the food was still stellar. But the decor had begun to fade a bit, and it had lost some of its uniqueness.
But the real stunner was the service on the visit with my bosses. We were drinking wines by the glass, and when our new supervisor was nearly finished with her first glass she asked the waiter for another. He returned to the table with a full glass of wine, lifted the almost empty one and then poured the last drops into the new glass.
I was dumbstruck.
Could that really have been 11 years ago?
Now Tim Keating is running the kitchen to great acclaim, so I figured it was time to get back and check things out. And the fact that it was a wine dinner made it all the more exciting. Couldn’t wait to see how they’re pouring wines these days.
Expertly, as it turns out. And the food is just as wonderful as always.
After some amuses to our bouches that included artisan salume, prosciutto and mousse trufee de canard and spiced Marcon almonds, we started the meal with a roasted triplesweet Zellwood corn bisque with beignets of smoked corn and leeks plus Laughing Bird shrimp and Serrano ham cracklins. For many at my table, this would continue to be their favorite course of the evening, and it was wonderful.
The featured winery for the dinner was Copain Wines of Healdsburg, Calif., represented by Tony McClung, the winery’s general manager. For the soup course McClung paired a Tous Ensemble 2011 chardonnay, a medium bodied wine with bits of pear and lemon on the tongue.
A more vibrant chardonnay, the 2010 Brousseau, was served with the fennel pollen and herb-roasted Maine lobster. The dish had saffron arancini torta, spiced nebrodini bianco mushrooms and tiny fennel (apparently some of the pollen found its way). The lobster meat was tender and sweet, and I enjoyed the texture of the lobster against the chewy mushrooms.
The first of two entrees was the terriyaki-charred yellowfin tuna with confit duck leg, morel cushrooms and golden beets. The beets were the highlight of the dish for me, which is not to say the rest of it wasn’t wonderful. Copain’s Monument Tree pinot noir, 2010, named for a landmark redwood tree, added rounded fruits in a full-bodied wine that was as enjoyable to drink as the duck jus in the bowl.
The second entree was a Kurobuta pork belly and sliced tenderloin of Heritage Berkshire shoulder, served with a leek ragout, gnocchi and Pecorino Toscano Stagionato, a premium artisanal cheese. With a meat entree this good, the place may need to be renamed the Flying Fish and Pig Cafe. A 2009 Halcon syrah was chosen as the pairing, and the deliciously balanced fruity wine did well with the fattiness of the pork belly.
“Cheese as Dessert” was the end course, and frankly I’ll take cheese as dessert anytime. Though nothing stood out as an exceptional cheese, the Porto and Verfus-poached Gaucho pear that somehow sneaked in there was pretty darned good.
Service was back to its old self, with the staff expertly pouring the wines and tending to every need.
It’s true the decor is getting faded, much like the Coney Island attractions it is meant to recall. And the dinner was served in a side alcove under a ceiling that is supposed to look like tenting from a carnival sideshow but is actually a hard surface off of which sound bounced to a deafening degree.
The first restaurant space that Martin Dorf was hired to design for WDW, the California Grill, is currently being remodeled. Perhaps this one is ready, too.
But leave the food alone. Flying Fish Cafe is doing just fine there.
Flying Fish Cafe is at Disney’s BoardWalk. It is open for dinner daily. Here is a link to the Flying Fish Cafe web page. The phone number for reservations is 407-939-3463.