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  • 11 Things You Didn't Know About the 1964 World's FairThe IAAPA Legends panel remembers Walt Disney's role 50 years ago
  • Where to Eat? Fulton's Crab HouseVisiting Downtown Disney's most enduring iconic restaurant
  • Is This the Next Great Dark Ride?An All-Star Team of Theme Park Designers is Creating 'Justice League: Battle for Metropolis'
  • Our 2015 Orlando GuidebooksWe have two new guidebooks to help you plan your dream vacation.
11 Things You Didn't Know About the 1964 World's Fair Where to Eat? Fulton's Crab House Is This the Next Great Dark Ride? Our 2015 Orlando Guidebooks
Robert Niles

Where to Eat: Dinner at The Cowfish at Universal Orlando's CityWalk

Published: November 24, 2014 at 6:04 PM

For anyone who ever has been left emotionally paralyzed by the impossible decision between burgers or sushi for dinner, now, at long last, there's a restaurant for you — The Cowfish at Universal Orlando's CityWalk.

The Cowfish

If you think burgers and sushi an odd combination, just think of what The Cowfish offers as a 21st century, bar-friendly surf 'n turf. The Cowfish isn't the type of place where you tuck into a massive steak and lobster tail — it's a loud, casual, fun space where you split plates with friends while the friendly and accommodating staff keeps the drinks flowing.

The Cowfish opened just a couple of weeks ago, as the final piece in CityWalk's year-long refurbishment. Sitting above the equally impressive Vivo Italian Kitchen, The Cowfish offers its patio diners prime space to look over CityWalk in the evenings. It promises to become the "see and be seen" space at CityWalk.

But what about that food?

Calamari appetizer

I followed the recommendations of my server and started with the calamari "T & T" [tubes and tentacles] appetizer ($12). After the meal, my server confided that he usually orders this as an entree, and I understand why — it's easily enough for two, or maybe even four, to share as a first course. The Cowfish fries its calamari in a tempura-style crust, with a dusting of salt and parsley. Served atop a glaze of sweet chili sauce, The Cowfish's calamari avoids the typical flaws that so often doom this appetizer: a thick crust and chewy squid. Instead, this helping offered a light, crispy crust and tender meat that kept me shoveling in one piece after another.

For my entree, I decided not to make that awful decision between burger and sushi and to go instead with both. The Cowfish offers two "Bento boxes" that might be a "greatest hits" review of the extensive menu. The Cowfish Box is $14 and includes a mini-burger with American cheese and a four-piece serving of your choice of one of four rolls: California, Spicy Tuna, Vegetarian or Philly. The Fusion Specialty Box costs $2 more ($16) and allows you to choose from one of three of Cowfish's specialty sushi rolls: Mark's, Firecracker, or The Boss. Since those specialty rolls costs between $15-19 for a full nine-piece roll and the basic rolls cost just $7-8 for nine pieces, I figured going with the Fusion box was the better deal by $1.50 to $4, depending on the roll selection. (Hey, I like math.) Both boxes include a trio of sides: edamame, sweet potato fries, and a Thai cucumber salad.

Fusion Specialty Box, withe Mark's roll

I chose the Mark's roll, with tuna and jalapeño inside, all coated in panko and fried, then topped with "Japanese mayo" and Sriracha on each slice. Yeah, it's fussy. But I suspect that The Cowfish's rolls are created less with the intent of highlighting the flavor of individual fish (get the nigiri or sashimi if you want that), and more to startle awake taste buds that are slowly being lulled to sleep by an ongoing flow of alcohol. The Sriracha provides more heat than the jalapeños, which are deseeded and julienned. But the jalapeños definitely provided more warmth and depth of flavor than the cucumber slices one normally finds in sushi rolls. (I ignored the superfluous ponzu dipping sauce.)

Drinking an iced tea, I wondered if I might have preferred the relative simplicity of a spicy tuna roll. Still, I enjoyed devouring my Mark's roll. The Cowfish offers 12 specialty sushi rolls on its menu, as well as eight classic makimono rolls and five "burgushi" rolls, where beef, bison, or pork take the place of the tuna in the more traditional rolls.

When I saw the relatively tiny mini-cheeseburger in my Bento box, I suspected it would become an afterthought to the sushi. But this burger held its own, and required a full five bites to put away. It might not look like much from the top, but this is a deep, thick burger, with rich, beefy flavor. If you asked me to decide between the burger and sushi now... I still couldn't.

But I can report having made one decision: the sweet potato fries clearly are the best of the three sides I tried. I usually don't order sweet potato fries because I don't like the way that their higher moisture content causes them to come out so much less crispy than traditional potato fries. The Cowfish seems to have found a workaround by slicing their sweet potato fries with a flatter cut than the typical shoestring, creating more surface area on each fry. These fries stayed crispy throughout the meal, and with the calamari demonstrated that, if nothing else, The Cowfish knows how to fry stuff.

The Cowfish might have opened months after Vivo and Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, the other two new table-service restaurants that serve as the anchors of CityWalk's refurbishment. (The Cowfish is the only one not operated by Universal Orlando. It's a three-restaurant chain that started in 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.) But an initial visit suggests that The Cowfish will reward Universal fans for their patience.

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Robert Niles

Monday Top 10: For Which Theme Park Fans Give Thanks

Published: November 24, 2014 at 1:17 PM

With the Thanksgiving holiday this week in the United States, crowds are returning to the theme parks for the start of the annual holiday travel season. We will hit another lull in the crowds next week until the biggest two travel weeks of the year hit, starting the Saturday before Christmas, Dec. 20 this year. But let us avoid the temptation that so many theme parks and retailers succumb to in looking ahead to Christmas and forgetting about Thanksgiving.

Diagon Alley
We're thankful this year for Diagon Alley, among many other things.

So let us devote our Monday Top 10 list this week to the top 10 things for which theme park fans ought to give thanks this year. We would like to invite you to submit a personal Top 10 Thanksgiving list in the comments, but for now we will get the thanksgiving started with our own list.

10. Everything to eat at theme parks

The star of almost any Thanksgiving celebration is the food, and theme parks excel at keeping people well-fed. Where else can you get turkey leg year-'round?

9. Healthier food options

As theme parks have expanded their menus over the years, they haven't gone the "state fair" route of simply frying anything they could fit into a vat of boiling oil. Theme parks have added healthier options to their menus and have devoted more resources to accommodating people with food allergies and special diets. Last week in Orlando, I ate rotisserie chicken, green beans, grilled mahi mahi, sautéed vegetables, sushi, edamame, gluten-free cookies — food far from the old stereotype of pizza, chicken fingers, and burgers. Sure, the trend toward healthier options is inconsistent across the industry, and people continue to buy a lot of the same old stuff. But we're thankful to have the option of eating better than that when we visit our favorite parks.

8. Improved accessibility

Accommodation isn't just a dietary issue. Over the years, theme parks have become more accommodating of people of differing physical abilities. Whether you or travel with a person with disabilities, you should welcome this trend toward accessibility. Accommodation requires creativity, and anything that inspires designers to be more creative is all right in our book. Does anyone really wish for more of those narrow, metal-railed, back-and-forth queues? We didn't think so. People love rides that accommodate their entire family. (Think: Hogwarts Express, which might be the most immersive totally-accessible attraction ever built.)

7. The return of the dark ride

Fans of dark rides know they're having a year to be thankful for when they're getting new dark rides from Cedar Fair and Six Flags. Imagine, a Six Flags dark ride might be the best new attraction next year!

6. Immersive environments

It's not just dark rides putting the theme into theme parks. The past few years have brought fans some of the most immersive themed environments ever built for parks, led by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands at Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Japan. Disney's upping its game, too, with Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, the Ratatouille miniland at Walt Disney Studios Paris, and the upcoming World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

5. J.K. Rowling

Let's be honest: It's highly doubtful that the current boom in the theme park industry, including all these new dark rides and immersive lands, would be happening if not for a certain Scottish author and her boy wizard. J.K. Rowling didn't just create Harry Potter — she's wisely used her influence as Potter's creator to demand that her partners follow an uncompromising set of standards in protecting and expanding her wizarding world. And fans are the better for it, as her vision has led to unprecedented growth at Universal Orlando, which has inspired other parks to invest to try to chase some of that market growth, too.

4. Creative designers

Of course, none of this happens without the work of the themed entertainment industry's creative designers, too. So let us give thanks to the designers, engineers, and other creative professionals who develop new attractions for us at theme parks around the world.

3. Visitors who know what they are doing

Designers can do their best in developing high-capacity attractions that promote smooth guest flow, but it really does help when visitors know what they're doing when visiting the parks. So thank you to all visitors who take the time to do some advance research before visiting a theme park — those who buy their tickets in advance, read about the available attractions, and make decisions about where to visit and what to eat so that they're not gumming up the park by standing around lost and arguing all day. Yes, we are talking about you, dear Theme Park Insider readers. We're thankful for you every single day of the year!

2. Visitors who help other visitors

Knowing your own business is helpful, but people who take time to help other visitors with theirs deserve an extra helping of thanks this holiday season. Whether you stop to give directions, take a photo for someone, allow someone to go ahead or just offer a needed smile to a stressed-out guest, please accept our thanks for doing so much to make theme parks among the most welcoming destinations on Earth.

1. Cast members, Team members, Model citizens and all other in-park employees

But we're the amateurs in making theme parks welcoming destinations. The top spot on our list must go to the pros. Thank you to every front-line theme park employee — the people who run the rides, perform the shows, sell the tickets, drive the trams, prepare and serve the food, and keep everything clean and working throughout the day. Be sure to be extra generous with your tips this holiday season to those who can accept tips, and to be extra-generous with your smiles, thanks you's and compliments to those who cannot. Theme park employees should know that theme park fans love them, appreciate them, and give thanks for the work that they do.

For what are you giving thanks as a theme park fan this holiday season?

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Robert Niles

King Kong Construction Update, Plus a First Look at the Blueprints

Published: November 23, 2014 at 12:52 PM

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Robert Niles

Vote of the Week: Do You Play Carnival Games?

Published: November 21, 2014 at 11:42 AM

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Derek Potter

Master the Midway: The Theme Park Insider Guide to Winning Carnival Games

Published: November 21, 2014 at 9:57 AM

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Robert Niles

Looking Ahead to the Next Great Transformation in the Theme Park Industry

Published: November 21, 2014 at 9:05 AM

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Robert Niles

Disney Springs Construction Update

Published: November 20, 2014 at 10:12 AM

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Robert Niles

11 Things You Might Not Have Known About Disney and the 1964 New York World's Fair

Published: November 19, 2014 at 9:23 PM

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Robert Niles

Where to Eat: Lunch at Fulton's Crab House at Walt Disney World

Published: November 19, 2014 at 11:42 AM

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Robert Niles

Coming Attractions, at IAAPA 2014 in Orlando

Published: November 18, 2014 at 5:48 PM

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Robert Niles

Universal's Diagon Alley Leads the 21st Annual Thea Awards

Published: November 18, 2014 at 12:30 PM

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Robert Niles

First Look at Six Flags' Justice League: Battle for Metropolis

Published: November 18, 2014 at 11:29 AM

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