- Aldrin Capulong
King Fish Bistro
2124 Edgewater Drive
Quick: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see the words “Kingfish Bistro”? If you thought “Vietnamese-owned Italian restaurant,” you’d be really close. If you thought “Vietnamese-owned Italian restaurant with an identity crisis,” you’d be damned near spot-on. When you see the glare of neon reflecting off pristine inlaid tile floors; when wine glasses rest on coasters emblazoned with the words “Bud Light”; when walls decorated with Tuscan scenes hang next to koi-fish wall fountains, it tends to raise some red flags, and many were raised on our visit to College Park’s latest Italian eatery. For one, the place didn’t seem to be very busy. And when we saw a menu dominated by pizzas, pastas, calzones and risottos, we were a little thrown. There were as many chicken dishes as there were fish dishes, and none, seemingly, comprised “kingfish.” After a simple inquiry, the origin of the restaurant’s appellation was revealed: seems that owner Kim Nguyen’s surname has a historically regal affiliation in Vietnam and, well, she loves fish: hence “Kingfish.”
Nguyen also loves Italian cuisine and ran successful Italian restaurants in Minnesota and California before moving to Orlando to be closer to family. Kim’s sister, in fact, runs Winter Park’s Park Ave. Pizza, so there’s clearly a love of Italian cuisine in this family. Poring over the long list of items on the menu, we thought it fitting to keep our focus on the fish, so we started with an insalata de pesce ($11.95) and were duly impressed by the slab of perfectly grilled king salmon, especially considering how often restaurants have overcooked it for us. Artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and pine nuts kept the salad in its proper Mediterranean context. Finely minced meatballs ($3.99) were light, almost airy, and contained very little flavor, though we did enjoy scooping up the sauce with glistening, herbaceous house focaccia. From the list of risottos, the King Special ($12.50) seemed an apropos order, but after a couple of bites, it was clear the rice was overdone, and the pool of oil and creamy pesto made the dish mushy. A shame, given the nicely meshing flavors of grilled chicken, artichoke, leeks and sun-dried tomatoes.
Kingfish, I came to learn, is a common name given to a number of different species of fishes of which cobia ($16.95), offered as a special this evening, is one. So kingfish, it turned out, was offered (at least on this particular evening), and given its wonderful pan-roasting and placement atop linguine tossed in a light, creamy tarragon sauce, we’re thinking it should be a permanent menu fixture.
Service couldn’t have been more professional. Our server offered us wine by the glass from a couple of reserved bottles they had in the back – the light German pinot noir ($11) paired nicely with our meal – and comped our espressos, as they had just received their machine that day. Chocolate lava ($5.95) and lemon layer cakes ($5.95) are not desserts that leave an impression but, rather, fill a need.
Given the number of Italian restaurants flanking both sides of Edgewater Drive, I can’t be certain this one is necessarily filling a need, but in speaking with Nguyen, as lively and energetic a restaurateur you’ll find, I got the sense that her determination will ensure that Kingfish Bistro gives College Park the royal treatment.