Where to eat? Flying Fish Café Chef's Counter at Walt Disney World's Boardwalk Resort
Written by Russell Meyer
For me, the Holy Grail of Disney dining experiences always will be the Chef's Table at Victoria & Albert's. The Five-Diamond-rated restaurant's ultimate meal is quite possibly the hardest advanced dining reservation (ADR) to grab in all of Walt Disney World. Not only is the table immensely popular, but there is only one party booked at the table each night. Every time my wife and I travel to Orlando, we have always tried to book this exclusive experience with no success. For those interested in trying, bookings begin 180 days in advance, and V&A's has its own reservation number. However, if you book an on-site hotel, you can begin booking 180 days in advance of your check-in day (so if you book a 10-day stay, you can book ADRs 190 days in advance). V&A's does have a wait list that you can be placed on in the event that the party booked at the table happens to cancel, but you probably have a better chance of being handed a free admission ticket than getting the Chef's Table off the wait list. In response to the incredible popularity of the Chef's Table, V&A's unveiled the Queen Victoria Room that is essentially the same experience as the Chef's Table without the one-on-one interaction with Chef Scott Hunnel.
Now, we always try to have one really nice meal on our trips to Walt Disney World. We typically visit in October, during EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival, and last October's trip was no different. As we usually do, we attempted to book a reservation at V&A's Chef's Table, but once again we were forced onto the waitlist. When the signature dining experiences were announced in July for the Food and Wine Festival, there weren't any dinners that really interested us. We strongly considered booking V&A's Queen Victoria Room, but discovered that another highly respected Disney restaurant also had a chef's table experience.
Flying Fish Café, located at Disney's Boardwalk Resort, specializes in American seafood cuisine in a lively dining room. The Chef's Wine Tasting Dinner experience accommodates up to 6 guests with two seatings each night (5:30 PM and 8:15 PM). For $129 per person plus tax, guests are served a five-course dinner paired with wine. Guests are seated at a counter right in front of the kitchen, with a great view of the action. As a person who's a bit of a foodie and always interested in the workings of the kitchen, the seating location is unmatched, but my one complaint would be that it did get a bit hot with a sear station a few feet away from my face.
Like most chef's table experiences (not only Disney, but most high-end restaurants), the evening opens with an introduction by a member of the kitchen staff, review of the evening's menu, and verification of allergies and significant distastes.
Our meal started with an amuse-bouche course consisting of a boule of dill-cured Norwegian smoked salmon and herb-laced Jonah crab garnished with sweet-sour fennel and heirloom radishes, kaffir lime-chive oil, and mote marine Siberian sturgeon caviar. The saltiness of the caviar and salmon was perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the oil and vegetables. The subtle taste of the crab was the star, and was not overpowered by any of the more powerful ingredients.
The amuse was paired with a Chandon extra dry riche champagne, which was an appropriate pairing to awaken the palate and open all of the senses. The sparkling wine had just enough sweetness to match the dish, and allowed the delicate taste of the crab to linger.
The first course was then presented, featuring crispy kuri squash and duck confit arancini with duck prosciutto, cucamelons, tiny greens, and piquant preserved lemon remoulade. For me, this was a combination of very unusual ingredients that I would never think to put together. The duck prosciutto was not as salty as I had expected, but the cucamelons were quite a unique experience, reminding me a bit of gherkins in texture without the potent, overpowering flavor. The remaining flavors on the plate were a bit bland, but this dish was really about the textural experience contrasting the crispiness of the arancini (like a fritter), the crunchiness of the cucamelons, and almost creaminess of the duck prosciutto. This course was paired with a Torres Esmeralda Catalunya (2010) that became the real highlight. The soft tannins and very forward dark cherry aroma helped to lift the dish and enhance the subtle flavors of the squash and duck.
The second course followed with frutti di mare-laced garganelli pasta served with calamari, Penn Cove mussels and Pine Island shrimp. The pasta also had tiny leeks, braised artichokes, and a lobster roe butter-enhanced artichoke crema. This was one of those dishes that I could eat all day every day. I'm a huge fan of seafood pasta, and this was by far one of the best I've ever had. The pasta, which looks like penne, is actually a sheet pasta that is hand-rolled into a tubular shape, instead of extruded. I could definitely tell the amount of care and effort that went into making the pasta as it was perfectly al dente, and absorbed the flavors within the sauce without losing its texture. I wished this course could have been a bit larger, but paired with a glass of Sauvia Soave Classico DOC Veneto (2010) and its citrus aroma and dry finish, I was more than satisfied.
Our palates were then given a bit of a break with an “Intermezzo” consisting of a Meyer lemon sorbet and limoncello. Even my wife, who tends to dislike limoncello, enjoyed this course. The chef noted that many guests like to mix the two components to make a slush, but I enjoyed each component separately.
After the brief break, the main course was presented -- a Tazmanian pepper and lemon thyme-scented Marcho Farms veal tenderloin served with tiny brussel sprouts, fava beans, porcini mushrooms, and celery root with a truffle, port wine, and veal reduction. The veal was incredibly tender, with an intense but not overpowering reduction that was like liquid gold. The vegetables served with the veal would not have been my first choice, but were perfect for the season and complementary to the veal. I'm not a huge fan of fava beans, but enjoyed their textural contrast to the bright sprouts and earthy mushrooms. The main course was paired with a glass of Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti Firenze (2010), and. yes, I had to comment to the chef that the combination of fava beans and Chianti made me feel like Hannibal Lecter.
The meal was completed with a wonderful dessert course of decadent dark chocolate and drunken raspberry creation served with chocolate panne cotta and salted chocolate caramels. Paired with a glass of Pacific Rim Framboise, the course was a chocolate/raspberry lover's dream. For me, the star of this course was the salted chocolate caramels. Sweet and salty desserts have become more prevalent on menus recently, but these delectable, chewy delights were a perfect end to the meal.
After a little over two hours and five amazing wine-paired courses, we reached the end of a delicious meal. While I felt some of the courses were a little lacking in portion size, I was more than satisfied when we reached the end of the meal. I've had other multi-course tasting menus where I was stuffed two or three courses before the end and felt guilty sending plates back to the kitchen with delicious food remaining. It was refreshing to be able to reach the end of a multi-course meal and not feel engorged. The progression of courses was well executed, and hit on all corners of the palate. Textures sometimes took precedent over flavors, but overall, I felt that the menu was well executed. For guests looking for that extra special dining experience at the Walt Disney World Resort, and who cannot book or afford the V&A's Chef's Table or Queen Victoria Room, I highly recommend the Flying Fish Café Chef's Counter. It's a fine dining experience in an energetic setting with a highly satisfying and well-executed menu, but also accessible in both price and availability.
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