A Night Out On The BoardWalk at Flying Fish and AbracadaBar
Disney dining fans have been anxiously awaiting the reopening of one of the most popular signature table service restaurants in Walt Disney World, and it’s finally here. After several months under refurbishment, Flying Fish (formerly Flying Fish Café) reopened this week with a new look, new menu, and a new chef leading the way (though Chef Tim Majoras is a familiar face to the restaurant, as he’s been with Flying Fish for the past five years). As a longtime favorite of mine, I was just as excited as all of you to try the new menu (and probably just as sad to see favorites like the potato-encrusted snapper fly away off the menu). But first, I had to make a quick stop into another new addition to the BoardWalk, right next door, at AbracadaBar.
Located in the space formerly occupied by Seashore Sweets, AbracadaBar is the newest addition to the Disney bar scene, though it may surprise a few guests with how different it is from other recent additions. AbracadaBar, open at 4:00 PM daily, is a bar, through and through, and decidedly not a lounge in the traditional Disney lounge sense. The menu (featuring a little magic trick of its own) is fairly short, featuring eight signature cocktails with high-end spirits, a selection of beers, wines, and two non-alcoholic drinks (that can also be tailored to your tastes if you prefer them on the alcoholic side).
If you frequent Disney lounges, you’ll notice something – I didn’t mention any food on the menu; that’s because there isn’t any, though your server will likely offer you some truffle popcorn to snack on with your drink. This is probably for a specific reason – there are a TON of food options on the BoardWalk (AbracadaBar itself is sandwiched between Trattoria al Forno and Flying Fish). It seems like it’s meant more as a stop-off for those on their way to their final dinner destination. This could be a great idea for the area, typically packed with adults looking for a fun place or two to spend a night out without kids.
The space inside AbracadaBar isn’t huge in size, and the beautiful dark finishes and ornate red and gold wallpaper inside make it pretty cozy but welcoming. The tables aren’t on top of each other, which is always a plus in a bar or lounge. I loved coming in to this atmosphere out of the harsh Florida summer sun – a quick twenty minute break inside to enjoy a drink was really all I needed. Speaking of a drink – what to sample? I’m a big fan of many of the style of cocktails on this menu, so my choice was difficult, but I settled on one of the rare-at-Disney drinks, the Elixir 13.
Served in a beautiful glass with eyes that “magically” appear as you drink, this cocktail is pretty simple – Lucid absinthe and water. Absinthe is definitely an acquired taste – if you like black licorice flavor, you’d love it. It comes to the table mixed (no drip here, if you’re familiar with this kind of service), but I found it to be not too sweet, and a really great pour, to be honest. Cocktails here are all $12, and for the price, the quality of the drink met the standard I’d expect. No discounts are accepted at the moment, but hopefully that changes in the future. For now, though, I definitely expect I’ll be back to try the rest of the menu while taking a late afternoon break from Epcot or before grabbing dinner around Crescent Lake.
The walk to Flying Fish is as easy as ever (the doorway between the restaurant and the bar allows easy access), and I was enthusiastically greeted by several Cast Members eager to show off their new home. Many of the former Flying Fish Cast Members have returned, but there are a few new faces here and there, with several longtime servers moving over from other signature restaurants like Citricos. The seater who walked me to my table gave me a quick tour of the new restaurant, still familiar in structure, but with jaw-dropping new finishes.
I was never particularly fond of Flying Fish’s old décor, but this new look is a perfect fit – now guests are taken “under the sea” with deep blues and silvers everywhere and gorgeous fish school and bubble sculptures adorning the ceilings. The chef’s counter, a very popular option, has been re-imagined into a very smart solution – three tables for four now sit perpendicular to the counter (instead of everyone seated at the counter in a row). This allows guests to still see into the show kitchen and talk to the chefs, but also gives them the ability to talk to everyone else in their party. I can’t wait to try this out in future meals. Overall, the darker finishes are more generic compared to the previous décor, but they make the whole restaurant feel much more upscale, fitting of the menu and prices.
The wine book I received when I sat down at my table was absolutely enormous, continuing Flying Fish’s trend of being one of the most wine-drinker-friendly restaurants at Disney. They now feature the rare wines by the glass program popular at Citricos and Yachtsman Steakhouse, so you can sample pours of wines most normally wouldn’t be able to buy by the bottle (unless you’ve won the lottery!). I waited to have wine with dinner, and instead decided to sample a few options off their new cocktail menu with my appetizers. Separated intuitively by flavor-profile (bitter, tart, savory, and sweet), the menu covers a wide array of tastes and liquors that would fit with most meals here – something many restaurants don’t tend to consider.
My first sample came from the Maple Bacon Peach Manhattan ($10.75), made with Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Amaro Averna (an Italian liqueur that, by itself, isn’t particularly tasty, but it makes a great mixer!), plus a garnish of a grilled peach slice infused with maple and bacon flavors and a piece of candied bacon. At first glance, I thought this drink would be total shtick – just an amalgamation of so many popular cocktail trends, but it really works. The drink itself was well-balanced, with the native maple and fruit notes of the whiskey playing well with the smoky and sweet peach garnish. The bacon was addicting – sweet and salty in taste, but also in aroma, so when you took a sip of the drink, even without a bite of the bacon, you still got a bit of it. Overall, I’d definitely order this drink again on a return visit.
But, you’re all here for the food, right? I know everyone is sad about the loss of beloved dishes (I’ve been known to go to Flying Fish Cafe just to eat the leek and fontina mac and cheese for dinner). My server, though, was very enthusiastic about the new offerings, and stressed that the slightly shorter menu allows them to focus more on the details of each dish. He heartily recommended a few dishes that he’d really loved after trying them, so I took his advice and went along for the ride. Among the options I didn’t order, but also came with high praise: Maine Lobster Nero Pasta (a 1.5 pound lobster already de-shelled for you on top of squid ink pasta with a golden tomato sauce and artichokes), Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon (served atop pancetta-laced lentils and garden vinaigrette-dressed kale), and the Wagyu filet mignon (with Okinawan potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms, and a bordelaise sauce).
Along with the new menu comes new bread service here at Flying Fish. Replacing the potato leek bread is a nori-sesame white bread. Similar in texture to the bread before (crunchy crust with a very soft and fluffy inside), this bread has small flakes of nori and sesame seeds inside. If you’ve ever had sushi, the nori here is the same – dried seaweed, just in a smaller form. The slight brininess of the nori and the nuttiness of the sesame in the bread gave it a great earthy flavor, and the crème fraiche butter with sea salt served with it put it over the top in terms of decadence. Yes, I just wrote an entire paragraph about the bread basket, but good bread deserves high praise – it’s often an afterthought at restaurants.
I started with the lighter of the two appetizers I ordered, Seared Yellowfin Tuna over compressed watermelon with a citrus espelette, black Cyprus sea salt, and avocado ($17). All things considered, I was impressed by the portion size – seven thin slices of perfectly rare, barely-touched-by-heat tuna tickled with black sea salt atop watermelon and avocado, with thin slices of pickled daikon and watermelon radish at the base of the dish (I see you playing with food puns here, Flying Fish, and I like it). With the watermelon compressed, it takes a lot of the water out of it and leaves the natural sweet flavor intact, mingling perfectly with the rich and fatty avocado and tuna, and the acidic daikon and citrus sauce. Flowers from the chef’s garden top off the absolutely gorgeous presentation. This dish definitely wowed me – high quality food and presentation, but with simple and non-fussy flavors that just really worked together.
Up next: the Kurobuta Pork Belly appetizer ($15). A healthy slice of seared pork belly sits atop a royal gala apple slaw, with a pork shank croquette and a shirred quail egg on top, surrounded by bing cherry gastrique. It sounds ridiculously fancy, and, technique-wise, it is, but if you’re a fan of pork, you’ll love this dish. The croquette is crunchy on the outside, thanks to the panko breading, with deeply savory pulled pork shank inside – these were addictive enough on their own. Then you add the quail egg yolk, which creates a sort of sauce for this decadent dish, and you’ll find yourself in food heaven. The pork belly itself was well-striated, not too fatty for my taste. All of the richness from the croquette and belly are instantly dissolved by the vinegary slaw and the sweet cherry sauce on the edge of the plate. This dish really hit the spot – indulgent and flavorful, sweet and salty; a great start for a meal here.
Paired with my pork appetizer, I sampled the pink grapefruit and lychee martini from the “sweet” portion of the cocktail menu. My server thought it would be a nice accompaniment to the cherry and apple flavors in the pork appetizer, and it really was. Sweetened by lychee sorbet and a lychee reduction, this martini (made with Grey Goose) and ruby red grapefruit juice was neither sour nor cloyingly sweet, as these ingredients might signal. There’s a very mild sweetness present here, and a nice pour of vodka, to boot. Martini lovers will like this drink, and it works well to pair with most dishes on the menu, as well.
For my entrée, I decided to stick to seafood (it is Flying “Fish”, after all) – ordering the Plancha-Seared Hokkaido Scallops with Antebellum grits, Brentwood sweet cord, and peppadew emulsion ($46). I was warned by my server that the chef recommended them at medium rare (which is a lower temperature than you’ll find most restaurants will serve them at). I was fine with this, but you may want to inquire if that makes you squeamish. The seared scallops were incredibly tender, not at all tough (which can happen at even the best of Disney signature restaurants). Hokkaido scallops are a bit sweeter than other varieties, so they paired perfectly with the warm sweet corn relish dotted with zucchini and a little bit of bacon. The creamy, fine grits and sweet, slightly bite-y peppadew pepper sauce round out the scallop and corn flavors to make a full and very satisfying meal.
These are easily the best scallops I’ve sampled in a Disney restaurant (grits, too), in a really well-executed dish. Paired with this entrée, my server suggested an option from the “Wines For The Sea” section of the Sommelier Wine Selections menu. The Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett ($13 for a glass) is on the drier side of the Riesling family, so it didn’t overpower the natural sweetness of the corn and scallops, and also worked as a great transition wine with my dessert. As much as it pained me, I chose to skip over the amazing-sounding chocolate “Under The Sea” dessert ($12), “Florida Reef” (a variation of key lime pie, with lemon and Florida citrus flavors) ($9), and the chocolate-banana napoleon (sure to be a nod to the former Flying Fish Café’s signature napoleon dessert) ($10); in the end, I chose the Cherries, Peaches, and Sea Shells dessert ($9).
Another recommendation from my fantastic server, this dish is the seasonal summer fruit dessert at Flying Fish, perfect as a lighter option at the end of your meal. The menu lists it as “marscarpone cream, Georgia peaches, cherries, hibiscus meringue, and rye bourbon caramel” – you’ll want to think of it as a light cheesecake with stone fruits and a few accents. The timbal of marscarpone was very fluffy, but it could’ve used a touch more lemon juice to cut through the creaminess for my taste. The small dollops of bourbon caramel provided a salty note to the dish, with the meringue sea shells offering both beautiful decoration and a bit of much-needed crunch. I’d expect the fruits to change out within the next few weeks as we transition to late summer and fall, but I imagine the base of the dessert will remain similar (and worth a try).
How does new Flying Fish compare to the old? Truthfully, it’s better. The atmosphere has been elevated dramatically with the new decor, white tablecloths, and beautiful finishes all around the restaurant. The wine program and cocktail list remain as innovative and wide-reaching as the previous selections, perfectly pairing with the menu. Service continues to surpass most Disney restaurants, meeting the level of greats like Citricos and California Grill. Best of all? The food really steps it up to match the new digs – high-end ingredients and modern techniques merge to showcase classic flavors from the land and sea. I was afraid that the charm and innovation ever-present in previous offerings here had disappeared, replaced with generic “fancy restaurant” dishes. I found, though, that every bite was better than the last, and I can’t wait to return and try more of the new menu in coming weeks.
7 thoughts on “A Night Out On The BoardWalk at Flying Fish and AbracadaBar”
Wow. Well then, that’s me off to make a reservation!
The last time we ate at Flying Fish Grill (about five years ago, now), we found the grill and the open kitchen made for a sufficiently smoky environment that it permeated everything, and even triggered my husband’s asthma. Has this been fixed?
I definitely know what you mean about the smoke – sometimes it was overwhelming sitting at the chef’s counter or bar. I didn’t notice the smoke smell as much anymore, probably because none of the current menu items are charred like they used to be. No guarantees that this wouldn’t change, since the menu, of course, is subject to change. The kitchen is still open to the dining room, but I didn’t notice it as much as I had on previous visits, if that helps at all.
Thanks for the review, Tessa, it makes me want to try it, but we’ll have our picky kids with us on this trip. I wonder if they would let us bring in meals for them from the nearby To-Go Cart on the Boardwalk, so everybody is happy?
Many restaurants are willing to work with you there, certainly, but I’d recommend taking a look at Flying Fish’s kid’s menu on the day you visit first. Right now, it features grilled chicken, steak, grilled and fried fish, and shrimp options, plus the standard Mickey pasta – a pretty wide variety that may work for even the pickiest of kids!
Another excellent review…well-informed and smart. You have become the new blog paradigm for epicurean reviews (and yes, that includes the Disney Food Blog). Your familiarity with an absinthe drip and Amaro Averna did not go unnoticed. And you seem to have excellent taste in cocktails….I am excited to try the MBP Manhattan as well. It is also nice to finally see a Boulevardier on a Disney menu, other than Blue Zoo of course.