Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews – Flying Fish Café and Kouzzina
BY MIKE WARING – OCTOBER 2010
We also used this opportunity to review some of the restaurants within easy walking distance of the hotel, including Flying Fish Café and Kouzzina. It was our first visit to Kouzzina and we had not been to Flying Fish together in many years, though I had eaten there without Mike about 5 years ago, and really enjoyed it at that time. As you’ll read below, this time Flying Fish was terribly disappointing, but Kouzzina was a delightful new discovery.
Don’t miss Mike’s earlier review from the same visit, of the brand-new Epcot restaurant La Hacienda de San Angel.
It’s been a long time since we’ve visited the Flying Fish Café: not since our honeymoon in 2000, as a matter of fact. So many long, long years ago. When I was young and carefree, and had marginally more hair than now.
It’s not as though we didn’t want to eat at Flying Fish in the interim. Indeed, we’ve scheduled a reservation there four or five times over the last six years. But I invariably made the reservation for the last night of our trip, and usually as our visits spin down we grew less interested in food and more interested in antacids and lying around moaning about overindulgence. So we keep cancelling the reservation, vowing to go next time we are in town. And finally this year, we went.
And we regretted it.
This visit, we decided we’d schedule a trip to Flying Fish at the start of the trip. Because we were staying at Disney’s BoardWalk, it would be quite easy to wander over when we were ready for some fine seafood. At least that was the plan.
The restaurant doesn’t seem to have changed a great deal. It’s clean and very bright with high ceilings, an open kitchen, and an impressive noise level, perhaps due to the impressive number of children dining at 8:00 pm.
Our waiter was efficient and fast moving. He was also rather impersonal, but that was partly because, like several other high-end Disney restaurants, the waiter assigned to your table only takes your order and later checks to see if everything is okay. Other staff actually bring the dishes. From the looks of it, our waiter had a phenomenal number of tables to service. Even with a much reduced workload per table, he rarely interacted with us for more than the absolute minimum time needed. At one point he stopped by to see if we were ready to order, but we didn’t immediately respond because our guest was in the middle of an amusing story of some sort. The waiter, his time obviously more important than ours — and really, who are we to complain, we’re just the customers — zoomed off to another table after what had to be the unbelievably tedious period of between ten and fifteen seconds.
Since the Flying Fish Cafe is a fish restaurant (what, you were surprised?), we had the pork chops. Okay, not really… though you know, if they offered a pork chop with say a softshell crab on top, I might be tempted. Just saying.
I started with mussels served in a pesto flavored broth with masses of fennel. Quite a lot of fennel. Like really, more fennel than I normally see in a couple of months. It was tasty, though, and the mussels were large and plump. Not the best mussels I’ve ever had, but nice.
Mary had the wild Florida shrimp cocktail, which was pretty undistinguished. At least the shrimp weren’t covered in masses of cocktail sauce, though the ‘wild’ shrimp were pretty much like non-wild shrimp, except for the higher price. And the price was high: $17 for about 5 medium-sized shrimp, a few wedges of grapefruit and a little puddle of mango sauce.
Our companion for the evening, a British fellow we found panhandling on the BoardWalk (just kidding), ordered the fried calamari. He thought the squid bits were spicy, though really his opinion can be pretty much discounted as he’s a Brit, and they think HP sauce is spicy — and a condiment that can be used on virtually everything. The batter on the calamari was more crusty panko-ish (this is a trademarked term now, by the way, so hands off), than light and airy.
Our entrees consisted of the signature potato wrapped red snapper (me), and two orders of the whole fish (Mary and unnamed British guy). The red snapper was undeniably tasty, though the accompanying sauce was a bit rich for my taste, and resulted in a midnight fumble in the bathroom for some antacid, a crash as the toiletries bag slipped from my grasp onto to the hard tile floor, an intensely irritated wife who was suddenly awakened by said crash, much apologizing, and a vow never to order that particular dish again.
Mary picked at her whole fish. She said it was pretty, and a pretty impressive amount of food, but not that good. The whole fish had a fried coating that appeared identical to the one previously encountered on the calamari. The heavily-seasoned coating was fairly tasty (think KFC breading), but it obscured the delicate flavor of the fish, and it was far too heavy. Maybe that’s just us, though. Mary has had the two of us on a diet for the past several months, which has been quite effective but has put us off eating vast amounts of deep-fried food. The Brit liked his whole fish and made yummy-yummy noises, but then again Brits will eat a whole shoe if you batter and deep fry it, so I’ll take his opinion under advisement.
We finished with a couple of desserts that were the low point of the meal. Mary had a trio of fruit sorbets, consisting of orange-mango, blackberry and spiced pear. The spiced pear tasted, according to Mary, like holiday soap. The blackberry sorbet was so tart as to be virtually inedible. The orange-mango might have been good but it was buried under the other two sorbets, and the one taste Mary was able to wrest from the dish seemed a bit bitter and not terribly pleasant. The sorbets were also gritty, with big ice crystals.
I had a blueberry tart, which also suffered from being a bit too sour. So it was a tart tart. (Heh, I couldn’t help myself.) The pastry shell was pretty much completely lacking in any discernible flavor. The accompanying lemon sorbet was considerably better than all of Mary’s sorbets, combined, which is kind of sad.
Bottom line: Flying Fish is priced competitively with other Disney “Signature” restaurants like California Grill and Artist Point, but it’s not worth that kind of money. The food isn’t consistently a disaster, but it definitely isn’t worth the price. The ambiance is frankly unpleasant, with a very high noise level and a very harried and hurried wait staff. We paid over $200 for a party of three: and mind you, we had one, and only one, glass of wine between the three of us, plus we got a 20% off discount from Tables in Wonderland. That is an unconscionable amount of money for what we received. If you want a big expensive blow-out type meal, go with California Grill for the view and the food, or Artist Point for the food and the much quieter, pleasant ambiance.
Kouzzina is the newish restaurant in the space that once contained Spoodles on Boardwalk. I’m not sure why Spoodles had to go, but to be honest, I’m not going to lament its demise.
The current iteration is a restaurant overseen by Cat Cora, a Food Network celebrity chef. Now, over the years I’ve had the opportunity to sample the offerings of a number of celebrity chefs and have come to the conclusion that if I get something that is minimally digestible, at a cost less than the going price of a small sedan, I’ll be happy. So it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I was not looking forward to our visit to Kouzzina with bated breath.
Plus, and again to be perfectly frank, because this week I decided to try a change-up, and now I’m no longer Mike, I’m Frank, and if I’m going to be Frank, I should be a perfect Frank. Oh, where was I? Yes… Cat Cora, to be honest, is not someone I had ever heard of, so I didn’t know if I’d even like her style of food.
As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised. Very pleasantly surprised. The décor, from what I can remember, has not changed much. The current tables look suspiciously like the old tables and are most definitely painted. Therefore, using deductive reasoning, I have to assume that when the they turned over Spoodles to the new chef they apparently didn’t turn over any money for remodelling. The sound level is also pretty much unchanged from Spoodles. It’s loud. Really loud. Open kitchen, hard surfaces everywhere, and many cranky and/or over-excited children, produce a din that is striking. Overall, décor and ambiance are not the reasons to dine at Kouzzina. (Though Mary tells me the restaurant will close later this fall for a full remodel, which will hopefully improve both.)
Anyway, that leaves food and service. First, the service. The service was a tiny baby step above what you would experience at a mid-range chain restaurant, like Cheesecake Factory. Based on our recent experiences at Walt Disney World, this means Kouzzina’s service was the equivalent of well, good service, say three stars, as compared to the service at pretty much everyplace else we sampled during the week, where a single star would have been overly generous. Our server, within the limits of what she had to work with (which was too many tables to properly give great service), did a pretty good job and was certainly more personable than almost any other server we encountered during our visit. So thumbs up all around.
Food. Ah, sweet, savoury, salty, tart, tasty food. Kouzzina was a real treat. I expected uninspired, bland chain restaurant food at best, and it far surpassed my expectations. As a matter of fact, Kouzzina offered us the best meal we had all week, and that’s in a list that included Flying Fish Café, Hacienda de San Angel, Kimono’s Sushi Bar, and Via Napoli.
The cuisine is Greek accented, with the chef’s upbringing in Mississippi supposedly having an influence as well. I say supposedly, because to be honest I didn’t see a lick of influence of any type of Southern cooking. Well, there is a side dish called Farmhouse Greens, which doesn’t seem very Greek to me – but that’s about it.
However, Southern/Greek fusion aside, the Greek side of things is pretty darn good. I mean really good. Mary started with an order of dolmades, or grape leaves stuffed with rice, dill, and onion. They were quite simply the best dolmades I’ve had in many a year. I could go on and on about these babies, but Mary made me edit this down, so instead of the ten thousand word paean to the splendiferousness of these little green delights, you will have to be content with this one statement: Whatever you do, order the dolmades!
I had a starter of fried cheese. Not the traditional Greek restaurant spectacle of flaming Kasseri cheese. It was a buttery sautéed slab of cheese, crispy around the edges and very good in itself, but not quite as good as the dolmades. Nothing will ever be as good as those dolmades!
Since Mary had had the whole fish the previous night at Flying Fish Café, it was my turn to jump on the grenade and order the whole fish at Kouzzina. Pan roasted with green olives, braised greens, fennel, and smoked chilis, this whole fish was head and shoulders (if fish can be said to have shoulders) above the whole fish at Flying Fish. Roasted simply, without heavy sauces or coatings, this fish was beautifully prepared and very tasty. The sides were likewise nicely done.
Mary ordered the Kouzzina Trio, consisting of a lamb burger, Pastitisio (described on the menu as “Greek Lasagna”), and Cinnamon Stewed Chicken with Orzo. The lamb burger was slider sized but perfectly cooked and well seasoned. If you like lamb burgers this is a good choice. The Pastitisio, with a tomato-y, cinnamon-y meat sauce over round noodles, was full of good flavours and filling. The Cinnamon Stewed Chicken, served over orzo, wasn’t Mary’s favourite and it seemed a little underseasoned. Not bad, mind you, just not as good as everything else.
(I’ve just noticed that somehow my version of Microsoft Word has apparently loaded a British version of the dictionary function – it keeps adding ‘u’s to words like savoury and flavour. How strange. I like it. )
Along with the entrees we also ordered a couple of sides – Brussels Sprouts sautéed with capers and lemon, and Smashed Garlic Fried Potatoes. The first was wonderful. The second was good, but not terribly exciting.
After a whole fish, I figured that discretion was the better part of a good night’s sleep untroubled by indigestion, and skipped dessert. Or that was my plan, but they offered a special of fried dough balls with caramel sauce (think doughnuts or better yet, beignets), and who am I to turn down fried dough? Someone who’s going to be four hundred pounds some day, that’s who. Mary had the Greek Style Yogurt Sorbet with fruit and mint syrup, which she thought was good enough to take home and adopt.
Our meal at Kouzzina was the best we had all week at Walt Disney World, hands down. Although I am not a fan of the noise level in this restaurant, and it might be better served with a few softer surfaces to absorb some of the ambient sound, hopefully the remodel will fix those problems. In any case, the overall experience was pleasurable.
The value for money was much, much higher than in Flying Fish Café. Two appetizers, two entrees, two sides, two desserts, coffee, and ice tea, came to just around $100, not including tip. Well worth it in our opinion. Kouzzina, if they maintain the present quality, will be a restaurant we’ll be happy to revisit again and again.