Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fulton's Crab House

It was just beginning to rain when Mom, Dad, Aaron, Elizabeth, and myself all left the house.  By the time we hit the edge of Disney property, the slight drizzle had turned into a hard rain, and by the time we drove into the Downtown Disney parking lot, it had gone back to constant drizzle.

A short walk in the rain, with the wind off the lake pulling at our umbrellas, and we had reached our destination:  Fulton's Crab House.
Fulton's Crab House

As with Raglan Road and T-Rex, Fulton's is not officially a Disney restaurant at all.  It is an independently owned and operated business legally considered a "licensed third-party partner" with the Walt Disney Company.  But as it is operating on Disney property, and you can get reservations through Disney Dining Reservations, we're going to give it honorary "Disney restaurant" status for the purposes of the tour.

To get to Fulton's, park in Downtown Disney's Lot E, as if you were going to T-Rex, but keep doing past the dinosaur festooned restaurant until you see the big paddlewheel boat.  That boat is Fulton's Crab House.

I wasn't kidding about the boat part.
It was still raining when we arrived at Lot E, so I pulled up to the curb, let Mom and Dad out, and then parked the car.  By the time Elizabeth, Aaron, and I reached the restaurant proper, Mom and Dad had us checked in, and all we had to do was wait to be called for our table.

The wait was literally about thirty seconds.

The young man escorting us to our table (I did not get his name) mentioned that we were going to be seated on the second floor, and as neither Mom nor Dad can really do stairs anymore, we were led to a very small (and I suspect only very rarely used) elevator.

Waiting for the elevator.

As expected for a seafood restaurant located in a big boat, the decor is all about fish, fishing, ships, and so on.  It was pretty neat, though I have to tell you the dining spaces felt slightly odd-shaped to me.  The center of the boat was where the kitchens and utility spaces were kept, so the outside and the bow and stern sections (the front and the back sections, that is) were set for dining... which meant some of the dining rooms (this restaurant is divided into smaller rooms rather than being one large dining space) were... a little different, shall we say.

One of the long, skinny dining rooms.
You can easily see the fish motif in this shot, but...



From the elevator, we were led into the Constellation Room, one of the big, semi-circular rooms that you can find at the bow (the front end, that is) and the stern (the back end) of the boat. Its called the Constellation Room because the ceiling is decorated with the constellations visible from the Northern hemisphere.

I have to tell you, the Constellation Room has a pretty good view of the surrounding countryside.

Our table in the Constellation Room.
Only part of the view.
I told you it was raining...
Another part of the view.
There was a lot more to it than these two shots.

Our seater (whose name I never did get, unfortunately), brought us to our table and waited for us to get seated.  I immediately noticed that the table was wrapped in thick butcher's paper.  Normally, a paper-covered table in a full-service restaurant is only found in places that get a lot of kids or is basing their theme on "let's be goofy and random".

Once the meal started, I swiftly discovered that the table is covered in paper because we were going to get messy while eating, and paper is easier to clean up than shellfish-stained cloth tablecloths.  All you have to do with the paper is ball it up and toss it.  No laundry required.

So once we were sat down, the young man said, "And here is your server, Rhonda."

That caused me to blink.  Just a bit.  That's how much of a surprise this was.  There was absolutely no waiting between our sitting down and the server getting to the table, because she had been waiting by our table the whole time.

As for her by name.

Rhonda handed out menus as she welcomed us in, and was quick to answer all of our questions as we perused them.  We talked with Rhonda about where she's worked, about where we worked (Mom and I, at least... the fact that I cook at the Grand made an impression), about the restaurant, and about the food.  She was very helpful and offered some good suggestions.

Drink orders were taken and while Rhonda went off to take care of those, we made some preliminary decisions.  Mom decided to get a bowl of the lobster bisque and Elizabeth joined her, I decided on a cup of the New England clam chowder, and two orders of the portobello mushroom mushroom fries for the entire table to split.

Portobello mushroom fries.
The portobello mushroom fries, it turns out, are full-sized portobello mushrooms that have been cut into strips, beer-battered, and then deep fried.  They're served with a honey mustard.  These are an interesting take on the standard fried mushroom, and have a pretty good flavor, but in the end they're basically just fried mushrooms.  The honey mustard they are served with was dijon, with a touch of mayonnaise, and honey.  Again, not bad, but pretty standard.

(Dad did, however, mention wanting to try them at home.)

The lobster bisque actually involved a bit of performance.  The bowls were set in front of Mom and Elizabeth, and then Rhonda brought forward these copper pots, each with a long handle.  She proceeded to pour the soup into the bowl from the pots.

Pouring lobster bisque for Mom.
Pouring lobster bisque for Elizabeth.
The bisque.  Its color was perfect.
The lobster bisque had a great flavor, slightly smokey with a hint of cayenne in the background.  Mom tasted it and immediately made the "oh that's good" face.  Elizabeth was grooving on hers as well.  The rest of us got tastes of it, and it was, indeed, pretty good.  But it wasn't the highlight of the appetizer round.  No, that award goes to this:

The New England clam chowder.
Remember the Soul Soup from the Raglan Road review?  Yeah, the clam chowder was that level of fantastic.  I took a bite of it and was immediately in heaven.  The clam chowder was rich, creamy, and was absolutely loaded with clam pieces.  I could tell it was made with a really good white wine, and the emulsion was just amazing.

Mom, seeing the look on my face as she ate her bisque, asked me what was up.  So I told her.  The clam chowder was eye-wideningly amazing.  So she asked for a bite.

One thing you need to know about my mother:  she's picky.  Don't get me wrong, I love her to death, but she frustrates the hell out of the chef in me because basically she likes about a half-dozen things, and that is it.  She hates going out of her comfort zone, foodwise, and sometimes it takes me always twisting her arm off to get her to try anything she hasn't tried yet.  If she's tried it, and decided she doesn't like it, you can't get her to try it again even if you held a gun up to her head.  She's just that stubborn when it comes to food.

She likes clam chowder... as long as its the Manhattan kind.  You know, the kind made with tomato broth?  The kind that doesn't have cream in it.  The kind that's thin, and runny, and red?  Yeah.  If its not Manhattan clam chowder, she doesn't want it.  So, as I said, she took a spoonful of the clam chowder.  And then said, "I ordered the wrong soup... I should have got the clam chowder." Don't get me wrong... the bisque was fine.  Nothing wrong with the bisque.  But by comparison, it was a bit weak.

Sooner than I thought, my soup was gone, and I honestly lamented it out loud.  I looked at the cup, sighed a bit, and said "My soup is gone.  Why is my soup gone?" in precisely the same confused voice Jack Sparrow used when he asked what happened to the rum. 

Eventually, some entree choices were made.  I had watched this lobster-bedecked something waltz by just a moment before, so I ordered one.  Its formal name is the Fulton's Seafood Tower, and believe it or not, its an appetizer intended for two people.

The Fulton's Seafood Tower
My staring contest with a fully cooked lobster.
I'm wondering where the hell to begin with this thing.
The Seafood tower is a bi-level construct featuring a whole steamed lobster, four raw oysters, six absolutely huge shrimp, and some Alaskan king crab legs.  The lobster has been cleaned for you, so you don't have to go mucking about with the poor bug's internal organs before eating it, and the crab legs and claws have been split to make extracting the meat much, much easier.  Remember, folks, this is listed under the appetizers.

Mom and Aaron ordered the Chilled Seafood Trio.  From what I understand, this entree is essentially the same as the Fulton's Seafood Tower, without the tower and the pan of whole lobster.  Both Mom and Aaron elected to have their oysters fried, while I took mine raw.

The chilled seafood trio.
The chilled seafood trio consists of Alaskan king crab legs, oysters (in this case fried ones), and peel-and-eat shrimp (eight of them... visibly smaller than the monster shrimp I had on my plate).

Dad, on the other hand, ordered the Hook and Sinker.  This is a "create your own combo" with half of one of the sandwiches (you have a choice between their chicken sandwich, the oyster po'boy, and the shrimp po'boy) and a cup of one of their soups, or (if you choose) a table salad.  Dad went with the lobster bisque.

The Hook and Sinker.
Everybody enjoyed their lunch, and we all had a really good time with each other.  But the honest truth is this:  while everything tasted good, it wasn't all that special.  What I mean is that we could have had the same meal at pretty much any Red Lobster.  Granted, the ambiance was nice, and the extra touches were cool, and Rhonda was just super... but still, with the single exception of the New England clam chowder, the food itself was good but not exceptional.

There was a small list of defects with the meal:
  • Some of the lobster meat was a bit overcooked, and thus was rubbery.
  • Everyone who ate crab (me, Aaron, and Mom) each encountered one jointful of crabmeat that seemed to have been soaked in saltwater overnight after it had been cooked.
  • The peel-and-eat shrimp on the chilled seafood trio were very bland, and didn't seem to have been seasoned when they were cooked.
  • The bread on the top of Dad's sandwich was hard and crusty while the bottom piece was soft and pliable...
  • We had to ask for drawn butter.  In pretty much every other seafood place I've ever been to, you get that as a matter of course.
You get the idea.  None of these problems were "fatal".  We all thought it was a good meal and had a good time eating it, but as I've already said, we could have gone to Red Lobster and had about the same meal.

Of course, we wouldn't have had the fantastic service provided by Rhonda, nor the great view, nor the fantastic surroundings.  And those factors made what would have been a pretty standard meal a bit special.  So... would I recommend Fulton's to friends?  Yeah, I would.  I'd warn them not to expect miracles, but yeah, I'd recommend it.  Let's call it three-and-three-quarters stars out of five.

The accumulated bill (we were all going dutch today) was a little over $150 for five people.  My own part of that damage, for the Fulton's Seafood Tower, a drink, and some soup, was $54.  And just to note... I'm writing this some six hours after we got done eating, and am still not that hungry, so the money is well worth it.

And if you go, ask for Rhonda by name.

Next up:  Bongo's Cuban Cafe, at Downtown Disney.

Schedule Update

As always, please note that these dates are subject to change, and when I get the chance I'll be adding stops on to the tour in between these predetermined stops.

The following dates are confirmed and reserved:
  • 14 October 2012:  Bongo's Cuban Cafe, at Downtown Disney.
  • 11 November 2012:  The Liberty Tree Tavern, in Liberty Square, at the Magic Kingdom.
  • 16 December 2012:  Olivia's Cafe, at the Old Key West Resort.
  • 13 January 2013:  Tony's Town Square Restaurant, in Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom.
  • 17 February 2013:  Be Our Guest, in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.
  • 9 March 2013:  Artist Point, at the Wilderness Lodge. 
The following dates are planned, but have yet to be set in stone and are absolutely not confirmed:
  • April 2013:  Captain Jack's, at Downtown Disney.
  • May 2013:  Maya Grill, at the Coronado Springs Resort.
  • June 2013:  The Biergarten, at the Germany Pavillion, Epcot
  • July 2013:  Tusker House, at Animal Kingdom.
  • August 2013:  Restaurant Marrakesh, at the Morocco Pavillion, Epcot.
  • September 2013:  1900 Park Fare (Breakfast), at the Grand Floridian Resort
  • October 2013:  The Crystal Palace, in Main Street, at the Magic Kingdom.
  • November 2013: Boatwright's Hall, at the Port Orleans Resort.
  • December 2013:  Kouzzina by Cat Cora, at Disney's Boardwalk.
And that makes a year of planned restaurant stops.  More dates will be added as the opportunity arises.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant

And so it was that on a pleasant Friday afternoon, my brother Nathan and I embarked upon a trip to Downtown Disney, there to partake in some Irish hospitality.  This stop on the Walt Disney World Restaurant Tour is Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant.

Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant

Now, like a lot of the restaurants at Downtown Disney, Raglan Road  is technically not a Disney restaurant at all.  It is an independently owned and operated business legally considered a "licensed third-party partner" with the Walt Disney Company.  But as it is operating on Disney property, and you can get reservations through Disney Dining Reservations, we're going to give it honorary "Disney restaurant" status for the purposes of the tour.

Raglan Road is located near the eastern edge of Pleasure Island (the opposite end from where the huge Planet Hollywood globe is located), between the Apricot Lane Boutique on one side and Fuego by Sosa Cigars on the other.  You'll want to park in either Lot F or Lot G and hoof it to the curb.  You'll not be able to miss Raglan Road's sign as you cross the bridge onto Pleasure Island itself.

Like I said, you're not be able to miss the restaurant as you cross the bridge.
The day was nice and sunny and not yet stiflingly hot (that would come later) when we got to the restaurant.  We actually got there two hours ahead of our reservation, but there was absolutely no problem getting a table, as the early lunch hours had only just started.  We were seated by Samantha, who mentioned in passing that the Irish folk band (whose name I did not catch) that would be performing that evening was in the middle of a sound check.  Would we mind that?

No, we wouldn't mind that.  At least, we wouldn't mind that in theory.

Samantha, our seater.

The problem was, Samantha put us right in front of the amplifiers.  I mean, literally, I could reach over my shoulder and touch the speakers from our table without stretching or leaning.  Within seconds, Nathan and I were fed up with the Irish folk band and wanted them to die from some horrible tropical disease... the kind that has no cure and leaves one twisted in great pain.

The bar from our initial table
The main taproom from our initial table.
The gentleman in red continually rubbed his temples as the band did its sound check.  He was, if anything, closer to the speakers than Nathan and I were.

So after a moment's fevered consultation with Samantha, we got moved to another part of the restaurant.  A quieter part, near the end of the bar, in what was known as the Raglan Room.  We had a huge portrait of author/playwright George Bernard Shaw overlooking us as we ate.  Within moments after our move to a new table, a very pleasant young lady named Stephanie came by to drop off some menus and take our drink orders.  While we were waiting for those to come back, I took a moment to take a look around.

The menu.

Stephanie, our waitress.
I tell you, if all servers were like this one...

I've been to Ireland, and seen authentic Irish pubs, and I have to say I'm impressed.  One thing that Raglan Road advertises itself as is authentically Irish (the owners are Irish, the chef is Irish, and even the building, they say, was built in Ireland and moved to the US), as opposed to other so-called Irish pubs in America which say they are Irish, but never seem to pull it off.

This felt authentic, and it certainly looked authentic.  Other than being about three times the size of a real Irish pub, these guys got it right.  The Raglan Room has wooden chairs with armrests, oak panels on the wall with paintings of notable Irish personages everywhere, and a fireplace that made of heavy wood, inlaid tile, and wrought iron.  Nathan even noted that the glass in the partitions had to be close to 50 years old because they just don't make it like that anymore (Nathan is an artist who works in many media... he knows such things).

Stephanie returned to drop off a bread basket filled with a honey soda bread and a plate with olive oil and a Guiness reduction dipping sauce.  The bread, while not warm, was a delightfully chewy, multi-grain bread that had a slight honey taste.  The dipping sauce was different from anything I have had before.  It was sweet, with a light caramel flavor, and I immediately started cataloging half a dozen things I could use that on (I'm thinking of a glaze for a grilled leg of lamb...).  Stephanie helpfully let us know that the reduction was on sale by the bottle in their gift shop

Soda bread, and the Guinness reduction dipping sauce.
Stephanie asked us if we knew what we wanted to order, and we both had to confess that  we hadn't made much progress on that front.  There were a lot of choices, and it all looked so very good.  We decided to each have a bowl of the Soul Soup while we riddled out the rest of the menu and made our final decisions regarding what we were going to eat.

Soul Soup
Soul Soup is a cream-based cheese soup featuring Guiness Stout and Dubliner cheese.  It had an amazing, deep smoky flavor characteristic of Dubliner, plus some sweetness from the Guiness.  This combined well with a hint of cayenne.  To be honest, Nathan and I both could have simply had bowl after bowl of the soup, it was so delicious.

Stephanie let us alone to our thoughts, and eventually we decided:  since we literally could not make up our minds, we'd order two entrees together, and split them both.  In the end, we chose to get two more appetizers, the Dalkey Duo and the Mighty Mussels, and one entree, the Salmon of Knowledge.

The Dalkey Duo
The Dalkey Duo are cocktail sausages that have been battered and deep fried.  They come with a white mustard dipping sauce, but to be honest the remnants of the Soul Soup proved to be a better dip for the sausages than the mustard.  That is not to say the mustard, which was obviously made in house and did not come out of a jar, was bad... its just that the soup was so awesome anything else paled in comparison.

The sausages had a nice flavor, meaty with just a hint of spice kick to them, and they were served already perched on the end of forks.  The presentation of this appetizer just amused the heck out of me, because I had never actually thought of preforking an appetizer in any restaurant I've ever worked in.  It was clever and amusing and the sausages were great, so all in all this is a very successful menu item in my opinion.

The Mighty Mussels
There is literally nothing bad I can say about the Mighty Mussels.  They weren't rubbery (which is a sure sign of overcooking), and came right out of their shells easily.  The mussels themselves were tender and delicious.  The yellow curry sauce had infused the mussels just enough to add to the flavor without being overpowering.  I was a bit surprised to find that there wasn't any heat to the curry at all, but after a while I'd forgotten about that as I was caught up in the joys of shellfish.

Nathan, in particular, pointed out one very important aspect about these mussels:  there was no grit.  We both are fans of well-done mussels, but we have to admit that we have often ordered mussels only to find that they are nearly inedible because of the amount of sand particles left in them.  These mussels had been cleaned carefully before cooking.

One last thing:  the garnish on the mussels was made of parsley and some crustinis.  We didn't even glance at the garnish; rather, we just shoved it to the side to get to the shellfish.  It seems a bit much for the dish, and was unnecessary.

The Salmon of Knowledge.
The Salmon of Knowledge is maple-glazed Alaskan salmon, served with mashed potatoes, some julienned cabbage, mushrooms, and a sweet creme-fraiche sauce.  It was quickly discovered that this piece of fish was so tender that it fell apart at the touch of our forks and chewing was strictly optional.  It was moist and delicious, and the flavor of the salmon matched well with the taste of the sauce and potatoes.

I should mention that the skin was charred.  At first we thought that the skin on the fish had been blackened, as with some Cajun dishes.  But no... it was charred.  Nathan and I honestly thought we found the first little flaw in Raglan Road's food, but after a while we realized that this had been done intentionally so as to protect the meat of the fish from overcooking.  The flesh of the salmon fell away from the skin easily, and we pushed it aside in our quest to get to the rest of the salmony deliciousness.

Once again, it was the garnish choices that came across as badly thought out with this dish as they had with the mussels.  In this case, the garnish was a spray of parsley and a pair of grape tomatoes.  Uncooked grape tomatoes.  Grape tomatoes that were overwarmed by their presence on the hot plate, and thus were inedible and bad-tasting.

Yes, I eat my garnishes... don't you?

After the meal, Nathan and I sat for a moment, contemplating dessert... but we were both too full to even consider them.  Besides, we were heading for the Magic Kingdom, and there were orange swirls to be had.  Instead, we let our meals settle and talked about our dining experience.

The portions were a great value for their reasonable size and we were very pleased that we could get resat so easily when it was discovered how horrible our original table was.  The prices were pretty reasonable (the entire meal came to $65, including tip), given that we ordered a lot of food.  And Stephanie was the kind of server who was always on the ball with drinks, gave helpful hints, and didn't mind just having a quick chat about the place.

Would I recommend Raglan Road?  You better damned believe I will.  And I'm already planning my next trip out there.  This time, I'm taking Mom, who does love her Irish food.

Five stars out of five.  Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant has shoved the San Angel Inn out of the #2 spot on my list of the best Disney restaurants, just behind the Grand Floridian Cafe which still sits at #1.

Next up:  The long-awaited and much advertised trip to Fulton's Crab House, at Downtown Disney.