Published: November 24, 2014 at 6:04 PM
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?
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.
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.