Thursday, April 7, 2011

Flying Fish Cafe - dinner review - February 10, 2011

We had been to the Flying Fish Cafe at the Boardwalk Resort once before, the previous August. We had the then-new Chef's Tasting Menu experience. And we were hooked. When we decided to make a return trip to WDW, we made sure to book the Chef's Tasting Menu at Flying Fish again.

We checked in for our 8:15 reservation. On our previous visit, we had been there on a Sunday night, when Executive Chef Tim Keating wasn't there, so we hadn't met him yet. This time, though, since it was a Thursday night, he was there, and he introduced himself to us (the man is REALLY tall), and we were shown to our seats at the counter. There were four places set up, but the other two people never showed. How sad.

The setup for our places at the counter.

With the Chef's Tasting Menu, you don't order at all. The menu for the evening is created by the chef dependent upon what ingredients are available and the chef's cooking whim. If you have any food allergies/preferences, you can relay that ahead of time. The husband has a very strong aversion to cilantro, and we had stopped by the previous night so that the husband could ask that no cilantro be used for us. Chef Keating mentioned that immediately upon meeting us, assuring us that no cilantro would be used in our evening's meal.

Shortly thereafter, another manager came by to say hello, and he had specifically wanted to meet the person who had asked for "no cilantro please" as he was also very adverse to cilantro and wanted to meet a kindred spirit. We learned later that he was the area manager of food and beverage for the Boardwalk Resort.

This was the menu that we were going to be enjoying.

First was the amuse bouches. Usually, it's a singular noun, so I was kind of amused that in this instance, it was a plural noun. But then, once the dish was delivered, it made sense because there were two separate items.

Free-range "egg shake" and sturgeon caviar with yellow tomato & basil relish.

Both items were very tasty, and I loved the presentation of the funky cup and dish.

The Tasting Menu includes wine pairings for each dish. Previously, you could add the wine pairings for a nominal fee. I am not much of a wine drinker, so I didn't add the wine pairings and just ordered a drink on the side. They now no longer offer that option since the wines are included. We had told them I wasn't interested in the wine pairings, so they were instead bringing me alternate non-alcoholic drinks to have with my meal, which were still very nice. However, I had decided that I was going to be ordering a drink on the side anyway - I had previously had the blood orange margarita, and it was simply amazing. I couldn't very well pass up the opportunity to have it again.

Blood orange margarita.

The first course was orecchiette pasta with Main lobster.

Lobster with orrechiette pasta with fennel, oven-dried sweet peppers, arugula and lobster roe crema.

This was really an amazing dish. Many times, courses that claim to contain lobster only have little shreds of lobster meat that are almost indistinguishable from the other ingredients. That was not the case here. There were nice big pieces of lobster meat, and all the different flavors went very well together. In a larger portion size, this would have made a great entree as well.

The second course was duck prosciutto with scallops and duck confit.

Duck prosciutto with scallops, duck confit, duck-roasted salsifis and tiny onions.

Again, this was a really amazing dish. The scallops were very good, perfectly cooked, but the piece of duck prosciutto on top was incredible. We also liked the root vegetables that were underneath the scallops. We noticed that there were slivers of turnips in the mix, and we mentioned to Chef Keating that we really liked them. He said that he hadn't originally planned to put them in, but he just decided to at the last minute. This dish would also have done nicely as an entree.

Next up was the palate cleanser, so this is a good time for a sidebar.

The counter seats are in front of a side part of the open kitchen. Sous chefs are preparing courses for other people in the restaurant, and that's also where Chef Keating was preparing our courses. Yes, he was actually cooking them himself. We had seen the menu, so we could see that the items he was cooking had the same ingredients as what we were having. It was really nice to be able to watch him actually cook what we were then going to be eating. Once the dishes were prepared and plated, he was also the one to bring the dishes out to us. As he set them down, he explained what everything was, and if we had questions, we were able to ask him. He was very forthcoming with answering our questions, so it was a really good opportunity to ask about many of the things we were eating as well as other food-related questions.

At one point, we were discussing cilantro again, how some people like it (me included) and some people absolutely hate it. Micro greens are fairly commonly used nowadays, and it can be hard to tell the difference between micro cilantro and micro basil or micro parsley or an assortment of any other micro greens. I asked Chef Keating if there was a way to recognize the micro cilantro so that the husband would know whether or not he needed to pick it out of a dish without having to actually taste it. Chef Keating went away for a couple minutes and came back with a palmful of micro cilantro to show us. He said that when he ordered them, he liked his grower to let them grow out a tiny bit more, until the leaves actually start to form a bit more, but most people use them when they're barely sprouted. The husband did get a good enough look to note the shape of the barely-showing leaves, enough that he can actually now spot the difference between micro cilantro and other micro greens.

OK, back to the actual palate cleanser. Chef Keating came by with two small glasses. He put one down in front of the husband, and he was about to put the second one down in front of me when he saw my blood orange margarita and eyed it confusedly. He said he thought I didn't drink alcohol, since I had declined the wine pairings. I told him that I just wasn't much of a wine drinker, but alcohol is fine. At that point, he took the glass that he'd put in front of the husband and set it in front of me instead, and he said he'd be right back. We saw him go to the bar, and he was there for a minute and then came back. He then set the second glass in front of the husband. The palate cleanser was a lychee sorbet, but since he thought I didn't drink alcohol, he had omitted the lemoncello from my glass. Once he realized that alcohol itself wasn't the issue, he went back to have them put lemoncello in the second glass. Lychee sorbet and lemoncello - two of my favorite things, together. Mmmmm, it was heavenly.

Palate cleanser - lychee sorbet with lemoncello.

Then it came time for the main course - veal tenderloin with crepe of mushrooms, goat cheese and leek.

Veal tenderloin with Cascade Mountain wild mushrooms, goat cheese and leek crespelle "package" (aka crepe).

The crepe was underneath the slices of the veal tenderloin. Everything was cooked very nicely and was delicious, and the ingredients of the crepe were a nice accompaniment to the tenderloin.

Since it had been cleared up that I wasn't adverse to alcohol, just most wines, they brought me a cranberrytini to pair with my entree. Mmmm, another yummy cocktail. (I'll admit that with so much to eat and drink already, I ended up not finishing either the blood orange margarita or the cranberrytini, but each was very tasty.)


Finally, it was time for dessert - white chocolate and passion fruit semi-freddo with cherry compote.

White chocolate and passion fruit semi-freddo with a chocolate feuillatine and caramelized cherry compote.

I am not normally a fan of white chocolate, but the flavoring was very light in the dessert, and I really enjoyed the cherries.

It was a spectacular meal, but our experience wasn't over yet. The bartender came over to check on us to see if there was anything else that we needed. I mentioned that it was only my second time in the restaurant, and on our first visit, we never made it past the counter, which is at the front of the restaurant, so I had no idea what the restaurant itself really looked like, so I really just wanted to walk around for a bit if that was ok. He assured me that was alright and asked if we knew the story behind the theming of the restaurant. When we said no, he offered to take us around the restaurant to show us and explain, and we gladly took him up on his offer.

While the Boardwalk Resort is themed to the boardwalk in Atlantic City, the Flying Fish Cafe is actually themed to Coney Island in New York. He walked us to the back of the restaurant so we could see the side rooms there, and he showed us the architecture on the walls which simulated the curves of a roller coaster. Atop the curves were painted murals of a roller coaster train and riders. Other architecture at the front of the restaurant and used to divide the space also resembled a roller coaster track. He explained that the name of the restaurant came from a roller coaster that had been at Coney Island - one of its cars was named Flying Fish. There's also a decoration of sorts that descends from the ceiling at the front of the restaurant that's an homage to the famous parachute jump at Coney Island, and there's a depiction of a giant ferris wheel at the back wall of the restaurant as well. He also showed us various decorations around and above the bar that also went along with the same theming as the rest of the restaurant.

We thanked him for showing us the restaurant and telling us the story of its theming. We were sorry that it was time for our night to end, but we wanted to say goodbye to Chef Keating and to thank him for an incredible meal. He had already gone in the back to do other things, and a manager was nice enough to go get him for us. When he came out, we talked a bit more, and we asked him how he'd arrived at Flying Fish. He said that many years ago, when Disney was first building the Boardwalk Resort, that space had been intended to be leased out to an outside restaurant chain, famous for a particular dessert, but then Disney decided they needed another signature restaurant, and the Flying Fish Cafe was born. Chef Keating said that he and his family had enjoyed dining at Flying Fish, and he had been a guest chef for a couple of years at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, and several years ago, Disney was looking for someone to come in and take over the executive chef job at Flying Fish and offered it to him, which he jumped at. He loves working at Flying Fish.

We talked a bit more about some of the dishes we'd enjoyed that night, and discussion got around to radishes and other root vegetables, which we enjoy. On our prior visit, we had the opportunity to chat with some of the sous chefs who had been cooking in front of us, and they had told us that Chef Keating was particularly enamoured of radishes, of all kinds, and he likes to use them in his cooking. He confirmed that and rattled off a list of different radishes that he had in the kitchen's stock in the back. I mentioned watermelon radishes to him because I remembered having seem them listed on a regular menu on our last visit, and they had sounded intriguing. He explained them a bit to us, and then he actually ended up showing one to us, including cutting into it to show us exactly why it's called a watermelon radish. He sliced off a bit for each of us to try. I'm not skilled enough to describe the flavor, but we like radishes and turnips and such anyway, so we enjoyed it.

Chef Keating also ended up showing us the micro greens that they get for the restaurant, and I was a bit stunned when he said that the micro greens come all mixed together, so in order to fulfill the husband's "no cilantro" request, Chef Keating himself had picked out the micro cilantro from a handful of the micro greens so that he could use the rest as garnish on our dishes. I didn't know it all came mixed and was amazed not only that the cilantro had to be picked out, but that he'd done it himself. I jokingly said to the husband, "See what you made him do," but Chef Keating was quick to respond that no one "made" him do anything. It was what needed to be done, so he did it.

It was fairly late by this time, and the restaurant was almost empty, so we thanked Chef Keating again and finally left. I don't expect I will ever be able to order off the menu at Flying Fish (even though the regular menu looks terrific too) because I can't imagine going there and NOT doing the Chef's Tasting Menu. It was an absolutely amazing dining experience. It wasn't just the delicious food but also the opportunity to have that much time to speak to Chef Keating as well. I am lucky enough to have experienced some pretty wonderful meals, but I have to say that I think this one night tops them all.

At the beginning of the meal, you get a little fold-out menu.

Left side of the fold-out.

Right side of the fold-out.

The picture on the left looks like it's taken at the Land Pavilion at Epcot. During the course of the meal, a picture is taken of your group with the chef, and at the end of the meal, you get a souvenir menu with your picture in the spot where the lettuce picture was previously.

The Chef's Tasting Menu is currently being offered Sunday through Thursday. (Note that at the link provided, Chef Keating is in the middle of the picture.) There are two seatings per night: 5:45pm and 8:15pm. Up to six people can be accommodated at each seating.

And, as if this review isn't long enough as it is, I have to indulge and include the pictures of our meal from our prior visit on August 8, 2010. You can stop now if you want.

The decorations in our section of the counter seats. It was beautifully set up, and I kind of missed having that this time.

The pretty charger plate.

My view of the open kitchen right in front of us.

Down the counter a bit is more wood being fed into the stove.

Special tasting (before the amuse bouche) was tiny heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and basil oil.

My drink was a blood orange margarita.

The amuse bouche was warm Belize peninsula shrimp cocktail with seaweed, tiny greens and wasabi caviar.

The first course was clam and orrechiette pasta with tiny heirloom tomatoes, piquillo peppers and prosciutto cracklins.

The second course was tuna with asian greens, snap peas, artichokes and varietal squash.

The palate cleanser was lemoncello gelato on semi frozen strawberry slice defrosted with lemoncello.

A different view of the palate cleanser.

The main course was lamb shank with corn pudding (with polenta) and mushrooms.

Dessert was apricot and tupelo honey delice fantasie with almond gelato and chocolate accents.

My cappuccino came with a biscotti.

The Chef's Tasting Menu on August 8, 2010.

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