Cuisine Scene:
Fulton's Crab House Review

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 13, 2004 Issue #251 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

What happens when three seafood lovers take a non-seafood eater to a restaurant with a name like Fulton's CRAB House? Sounds like the recipe for a culinary catastrophe, doesn't it?

The results actually surprised us.

On a recent Saturday night, ALL EARS® Editor Deb Wills (the non-seafood person) and I, along with our friends Glo from Miami and her husband Gary, paid a visit to the stately white riverboat formerly known as the Empress Lilly on the lake in Downtown Disney. Fulton's Crab House has been housed in the riverboat since March 1996, and is run by the Chicago-based Levy Restaurants chain, which also operates Portobello Yacht Club next door and Wolfgang Puck Café at Downtown Disney West Side.

Once on board the three-tiered boat, we were ushered through nautically themed rooms with dark woods and maritime art. There were tables out on the deck, but with the threatening skies we chose to dine inside. The upstairs room in which we were seated was adjacent to the lively Stone Crab Lounge, and washed in a soft blue light. Our window table overlooked the water with the new Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa on the far shore.

Our server Magdalena, a cheerful young woman from the Dominican Republic, was not only attentive, but also extremely knowledgeable about the day's specials. Upon her recommendations, we selected our starters and entrees, and then settled in for an evening of catching up with our old friends over what promised to be a fine dining experience.

It started out well, with cocktails prepared to our specifications -- very dry Grey Goose vodka martini and a Tanqueray martini (both a pricey $9), and Bombay gin and tonic ($8). Careful not to rush us, Magdalena eventually brought out our first course. The fresh house salad ($4.95) came with mixed greens accented with radicchio and endive, as well as carrots, cucumbers and a light sprinkle of balsamic vinaigrette. The Caesar salad ($5.95) was also dressed appropriately, not drenched, with fresh, crisp romaine and croutons.

Salad at Fulton's
Orange Roughy at Fulton's

Entrees, however, were delivered with mixed results. The New Zealand Orange Roughy with Gulf Shrimp ($29.95) was a clear winner. The white fish was light and moist, and topped with a savory Dungeness crab stuffing and wilted greens that were deemed "excellent." They could have been more generous with the plump shrimp -- there were only two -- but the overall presentation of this dish, garnished with half a bright red plum tomato, was very pleasing to both eye and palate.

Alas, the Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Filet ($25.95) did not live up to the same standards. When ordering, we were assured that the famous fish, a high-quality tuna known as "sushi grade," would be prepared "very rare" to preserve the freshness of taste and texture. Sadly, the tuna was slightly more grilled than promised. Yes, it was still pink in the center, but not as rare as we were expecting. The accompanying jasmine rice cake, however, was a fragrant and welcome accent to the fish, as was the bed of steamed bok choy upon which it rested.

The biggest disappointment of the evening was my selection. One of the daily specials, the White Atlantic Salmon ($25.95) came with a tartar sauce (they called it an herb hollandaise) and a side of julienned and grilled yellow and green squash. The salmon was more than slightly overdone, making it rather dry and robbing it of its natural light flavor. In addition, whoever seasoned the salmon, and its basil rice accompaniment, had a heavy hand with the salt, which left me asking for many a refill of my water glass.

Salmon at Fulton's
Pork Chop at Fulton's

The landlubber in our dining party landed the biggest surprise of the meal -- Deb Wills ordered the Double Cut Pork Chop ($24.95), which was charcoal grilled, served with an apple brandy demi-glace, and topped with a generous sprig of fresh rosemary. The juicy, flavorful meat -- really two conjoined, oversized chops -- was perfectly accented by the light fruity sauce, and left everyone who tasted it wanting more. The accompanying roast potatoes were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, while the grilled asparagus was smoky and not at all soggy. Anyone who has sampled and enjoyed the exceptional pork chops at the Wilderness Lodge's Artist Point restaurant would tell you that these Fulton's chops were a worthy rival.

While the main dishes yielded mixed feelings among us, the desserts brought unanimous cheers. The outstanding Milk Chocolate Crème Brulee ($5.95) is one of the best crème brulees I've ever tasted -- and I know my crème brulee. Sweet without being cloying or overpowering, the silky custard was topped with a well-broiled crust just this side of burnt, which broke only with a forceful tap of the spoon just as it should. A delicate combination of crunchy and creamy textures, this dessert was prepared perfectly and complemented with fresh whipped cream and a mint leaf garnish. What's more, the portion was such a nice size that it could be passed around the table with everyone getting an ample share. With crème brulee this delicious, I could even forgive them for overcooking the salmon.

Likewise, the warm Cherry Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream ($5.95) drew rave reviews for both the amount and flavor of its sweet-tart fruit and light crumbly topping. The ice cream flecked with vanilla bean melted on top of its fresh-from-the-oven companion to create a visual as well as culinary treat. Mmm… this homey dessert more than made up for the tuna.

Taking into account its uneven fish dishes, superb pork chops, and exceptional desserts, Fulton's Crab House certainly dispels the myth that seafood is the only thing a seafood restaurant can do right. I guess next time I visit -- and there will probably be a next time -- I'll actually venture to try the crab.

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Related Info:

Hours:
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Dinner: 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Stone Crab Lounge: 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Priority seating reservations are available by calling 407-934-BOAT (2628) or 407-WDW-DINE.

Paid admission to Pleasure Island is not required to dine at Fulton's Crab House.

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Other Articles by Debra Martin Koma