Flying Fish Cafe

by Debra Martin Koma

When you hear your dining companions using phrases like "the best I've ever had," and "out of this world", you know that you're sharing a stellar dining experience with them.

That's how it was on a recent night at the Boardwalk's Flying Fish.

The whimsical decor of the place -- bronze flying fish light fixtures, a seaside carnival mural -- belies the seriousness of the cuisine. And by that, I don't mean serious as in heavy-handed. I mean serious as in "really good food."

Even my almost-9-year-old, leery about coming along for a boring dinner of food and wine talk with the grown-ups, gave Flying Fish thumbs up. From the moment we were seated, he was showered with special attention by our most accommodating server, Jacki. Besides pointing out the scavenger hunt printed on the back of the children's menu, she offered him menu advice and presented him with a hand-held, fish-shaped ring-toss game.

After bringing us crunchy sourdough bread with a tender, warm center, Jacki served us the beverages of our choice (including a refreshing "Swirl-a-Whirl" kids' strawberry colada for our youngest diner) and elaborated on the night's menu for us, then tactfully left us to attempt to make up our minds.

And a difficult task it was. Clearly a seafood restaurant, Flying Fish selections range from poached Maine lobster and crab cakes to roasted sturgeon and oak- grilled salmon. There are also several appealing non-fish choices, but some meat-and-potatoes types may find the menu slanted a little too much toward the nouvelle and seafood for their tastes. After much discussion, we "picked our poisson," so to speak, and our dining extravaganza began.

Starters included a memorable cream of wild mushroom soup with a hint of cinnamon, and a caesar salad with crunchy garlic croutons and a lacy parmesan "crisp" garnish (both $8). The children's salad ($2.75), a small romaine with tiny croutons and a light ranch dressing, pleased my young man, while my elder male companion proclaimed the Mediterranean mussels, with spicy homemade chorizo sausage, shallots and garlic ($11), an unsurpassed combination of flavors -- quite a pronouncement from a lifelong Jersey shore-goer! Although tuna tartare with sesame and wasabi came highly recommended by a fellow diner who'd tried it on a previous visit, no one felt quite up to trying the raw fish this time. Instead, we sampled just one of the triple-cheese filled ravioli in a sweet red pepper and herb pesto, which Jacki, ever willing to please us, served even though the ravioli were really a main entree.

Our appetites duly whetted by the first course, we eagerly anticipated our respective entrees. The delicately smoky oak-grilled scallops ($27 for only four of them!) were enhanced with a light, slightly tart tangerine sauce. They came with a shrimp and garlic risotto that was, quite simply, creamy perfection -- some of the best, tenderest risotto I've ever had. My husband's Asian-inspired yellowfin tuna, sprinkled with sesames, was prepared rare, entirely befitting the fine sushi quality of the fish. The unusual red snapper ($25) encrusted in a crunchy egg roll-like wrapper made of potato was light and moist, although the accompanying creamed leeks were on the bland side. The non-seafood entree sampled -- mouth-watering oak-grilled pork tenderloin with sweet Maui onion bread pudding ($21) -- was flavorful and tender, barely requiring a knife to cut it.

For the youngest member of our group, a medium grilled sirloin with French fries may have been "too costly" (as he put it) at $12, but was clearly worth every penny -- he ate nearly every morsel.

Although the portions at Flying Fish are on the modest side -- those with hearty appetites may find themselves craving more -- we found that we almost didn't have room for dessert. Almost. Fortunately, a sense of duty forced us to carry on -- we simply had to try a little of everything possible!

It's a good thing we did -- the desserts were exceptional. The winner of The Best of the Evening award, though, was the Banana Napoleon. Layers of light phyllo, bananas and vanilla creme brulee were drizzled with a warm and buttery caramel sauce that made our tongues very happy indeed! We enjoyed this outstanding dessert with a not-too-sweet Malvira dessert wine called Birbet Brachetto. Scrumptious.

We had heard about the restaurant's chocolate "lava" cake, a rich chocolate cake infused with warm liquid chocolate, but none of us were inclined to sample such a heavy dessert. Instead, I tried the orange-cream filled crepes, with candied zest and a dab of fresh whipped cream and found them very light, very tender and not too rich at all. My husband's coconut creme caramel, which he ate with the accompanying cookie spoon, was exactly the right creamy consistency and was garnished with grated coconut! Even my son's chocolatey cupcake sundae filled with French vanilla ice cream was something a little out of the ordinary.

Although the atmosphere is slightly more adult than many of Walt Disney World's other restaurants, parents should not be overly afraid of bringing children to Flying Fish. The waitstaff is very accommodating to children and they scarcely bat an eye when you take the scavenger hunt list in hand with your little one to seek out the parachutes, roller coaster, fish hooks and other items. The children's menu, which offers more than the usual chicken nuggets and grilled cheese, is a bit steep, but seems to have something for every little palate. Children's entrees include pasta, grilled chicken breast, and fish and chips and range in price from $6-$12.

Make no mistake: Flying Fish is not an inexpensive dining experience. Adult ala carte entrees the night we dined there ranged from $17 to $28, with starters from $8 to $15. Desserts were in the $7-$8 range. Total bill, including a round of cocktails and bottle of wine, with tax (but before tip) for four adults and one child was $261.

But was it worth it? Oh yes. Yes indeed.

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