Every year for the past 10 years, Executive Chef Frank Pabst of the Blue Water Cafe has created a month long event to highlight ingredients that may not be as well-known. A more important premise behind the event is avoid using species that are over-fished and harvested in a damaging manner. I was invited, along with other media, to preview Blue Water Cafe's Unsung Heroes 2014 (in the month of February) offerings from Chef Pabst. 10% of the proceeds from Unsung Heroes go towards the Ocean Wise program.
The first dish to hit the table didn't catch my eye at first because it looked like flat bread and hummus. How very wrong I was... It was actually the Herring Roe which was presented as a taramosalata with grilled flat bread. The herring roe spread was creamy and smooth with a mild taste of the sea. The drizzle of oil oil was aromatic as well as the hint of lemon. Next up, we had the Whelk which was chilled seas snails accompanied by aioli. Although the snails had a nice chewy pop, they were rather ordinary. Of course the aioli and lemon wedges would alleviate that problem. However, I would've liked to see a touch more seasoning.
Moving along, we were presented with white Anchovy bruschetta with marinated red peppers, mozzarella and arugula. The first thing I noticed was the pure flavour of the fish oils which was aromatic and buttery. The acidity from the peppers provided a really nice balance as well as offering up some sweetness. Once again, the Herring "tartar" with ginger, shiso and green onion in a ponzu sauce highlighted the natural oils of the fish. There was no mistaking what type of fish was in the mix as it was announced in every bite. The acidity from the ginger and ponzu helped temper the "fishiness". I also liked the crunch from the ginger as it provided the necessary textural contrast. The 3rd dish of this round was the Seaweed salad with cucumber, red onion, shichimi togarashi, ginger, sesame and tamari. This was a texturally interesting mix of ingredients where there was differing types of crunch. It was almost as if the textures were layered. The dressing was pretty classic with sesame and soy.
Continuing on, we had the stir-fried Jellyfish with pork belly, wood ear mushrooms, snow peas, cabbage and hoisin sauce. Interestingly, the main focus of the dish was the moist and meaty pork belly with crackling. There was lots of depth and crunch without an over-reliance on salt. However, I thought the jellyfish was overshadowed. My favourite item of the whole meal hands-down was the Sea Urchin mousse in a crispy shell with ponzu jelly and avocado sauce. This delicious morsel gives foie gras a good run for its money. The mousse was super smooth and rich doing its best emulation of foie gras. It had a sweet depth of flavour which was accented by the zip of the ponzu jelly. Of course the little crunchy nest was the perfect textural necessity and serving vessel. Another well-executed offering was the squid ink fettuccine with Sea Cucumber innards, serrano pepper in a saffron broth. The al dente pasta was bathed in a buttery aromatic broth which was just flavourful enough (with a background spicy finish) without disturbing the delicate sweetness of the tender and lightly crunchy sea cucumber innards.
Heading into the homestretch,we had the smoked Mackerel with celeriac, apples, watercress and pickled mustard seed sauce. The mackerel was moist and fatty (where the fish oils were apparent once again). The light smoke was present without being overwhelming. The textural balance came from the celeriac and apples while the watercress afforded a mild pepperiness. Although the pickled mustard seed sauce offered up some tartness, I would've liked to see even more acidity. Plated with attractive colours, the charred Octopus with morcilla sausage, picquillo peppers, arugula white bean puree and chorizo oil was a veritable party in my mouth. The tender pieces of octopus were spiked with flavours including the sweet peppers, rich blood sausage and aromatic chorizo oil. I thought the flavours were purposeful and impactful. Our last savoury dish was the Sardine stuffed with pine nut gremolata and wrapped in a crispy potato blanket accompanied by a shaved fennel salad, meyer lemon and black garlic. Trying not to sound like a broken record, the fatty fish was natural tasting and really benefited from the crunch of the blanket. The germolata did its nutty herby thing while the acidity from the lemon, bitter sweetness from the garlic and licorice hit from the fennel created a wealth of flavours.
With all these delicious offerings, dessert was practically an afterthought. But we'd still eat dessert right? So we were presented with a selection of Petit Fours including Chocolate Hazelnut Wafer with cream cheese icing, fresh berries + candied lemon zest, Miniture Carrot Cake with mango salsa, Coffee Macaron, Chocolate Hazelnut Wafer with cream cheese icing, mandarin compote and Valrhona chocolate. These were pretty good, yet the macaron was a bit dense for my liking. But really, this meal was about the various applications of different seafood. The dishes we had range anywhere from $9.50 - $12.50 and are best shared as a table. Other than a few things here and there, this was a very well-thought out and executed meal.
*Note - this was an invited dinner where all food was comped
- Use of sustainable and interesting seafood
- Spot on execution of the proteins
- The natural flavours of the fish stood out
- Some less adventurous diners might be apprehensive (but really, give it a try!)