When one thinks of seafood, the usual suspects would normally include lobster, crab, oysters, prawns, mussels and especially on the Westcoast, Salmon. Seafood tower anyone? Mmm... seafood tower... But c'mon, what is the fun in eating such boring things? Um... actually... Wait, I gotta stick to the story. Okay, much like how Jan played second (or even third) fiddle to Marsha in the Brady Bunch (if you even know what that is), certain sea-dwellers are often ignored as delicacies. Akin to offal, these under-utilized species in the culinary world are highlighted by Executive Chef Frank Pabst of Blue Water Cafe during their Unsung Heroes seafood festival. Along with a few others, I was invited to try the entire menu for the event in February.
To start things off, we were served a trio of items including the Herring Roe prepared as a taramosalata served with grilled flat bread. As expected, the mixture was aromatic in a fishy and salty manner. This was offset by the slight tang of lemon juice and the drizzle of olive oil. Not to be outdone, the pillowy soft flat bread was a nice compliment as it didn't detract from the smooth texture of the taramosalata. Hidden beneath crunchy fingerling potato chips, the fried Smelt was coated in a light tempura which was delicately crisp. The smelt itself was soft and moist. What really brought this dish together was the fantastic oyster remoulade. Creamy and briny with a slight tang from the diced pickles, this added another essence of the sea to the dish. Since the Sturgeon Liver was unavailable for our meal, White Sturgeon Caviar was substituted in its place. I wasn't upset at this development as these were buttery with the usual saltiness.
Our next three dishes included the fantastic Sea Urchin mousse atop calamari crackers with ponzu jelly. It didn't disappoint as it was smooth, sweet, briny and purposefully salty. The ponzu jelly added some acidity while the squid ink crackers were thinly crispy. Despite all of the other ingredients, the uni was still able to shine. Next, we had the steamed Gooseneck Barnacles served with saffron aioli and kaiso salad tossed in a soy mirin dressing. After the obligatory giggles and Instagram pictures, we finally settled in to eat some of these suckers. After removing the outer "skin" (which elicited even more nervous laughter), the barnacles were chewy with a rebound texture. They were sweet, briny and juicy. As pretty as the little drops of aioli appeared, we would've liked more of it as it was aromatically tasty. With a nicely crisped skin, the Herring was dressed in a sweet and sour marinade atop Napa cabbage. The flavours were bright and acidic which was accented by a fresh crunch from the cabbage.
Continuing on, we tried the Sea Cucumber innards with shiitake mushrooms, green daikon, edamame, wakame, tofu, turnip puree and ginger dashi. These were buttery and sweet where the cooking process was flawless. The flavours were clean with mild hints of tartness from the turnip puree and sharpness from the ginger dashi. Prepared in an "escargot style", the Whelk sat in a beautiful and silky garlic parsley nori butter. Texturally similar to conch, the little sea snails were appealing chewy. With an abundance of butter and herbs, the salty creaminess enveloped each nugget. The acidic tomatoes were strategically added to break up some of the heaviness. At first, we were concerned with the Jellyfish congee with beef tongue, snow peas, bean sprouts, garlic chips and hoisin dressing. Why? Well, sometimes Chinese-inspired dishes fall flat. Not this one though as the congee was thick and well-seasoned. On top, the mixture of all of the ingredients was dressed in enough sesame oil that it gave the entire dish a wonderful aroma. Furthermore, the textures were on point as the jellyfish was crunchy as well as the peas.
We had 2 more dishes before dessert including the grilled Octopus accompanied by chickpea panisse with smoked olives, marinated eggplant and tomato sauce with Kurobuta pork. Sadly, the octopus was squishy and overly soft rather than having a snappy chewy texture. With the tentacles being the beneficiary of the smokiness from the grill, the other pieces were underseasoned. However, the tart and acidic sauce made up for that. Of course, the pork cracklings didn't hurt things either. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of Mackerel, but I enjoyed their version with beluga lentils, spicy red onion marmalade and sesame seeds. The fish was expertly prepared where the buttery fish oils created a sensation for taste and smell. Sweet and acidic, the marmalade didn't mask the natural fish essence.
Of course we couldn't end the meal without dessert (and since Mijune was there, she'd have a fit otherwise). First off, we had a plate consisting of Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Mousse. Creamy and airy light, the dulce de leche was purposefully sweet where it was nicely contrasted by crunchy bits underneath. That was the same with the airy mousse as the chocolate almond slivers added a light crunch. This was also not overly sweet where the flavours really popped with the addition of the tart raspberries. When I spotted the Chestnut Cheesecake, it brought back memories of Chinese chestnut cake. However, this was not remotely close as it was light and was influenced only slightly by the chestnut puree. Again, the essence of the chestnut came through due to the restraint with the sugar content. Lastly, I sampled the Vanilla Ice Cream with quince. This was a simple, yet refreshing offering with the smoothness of the ice cream combined with the sweet bits of quince. And there you have it, an almost complete rundown of the Unsung Heroes menu. With prices ranging from $9.50 to $15.50, instead of heading to an Izakaya, head down to Blue Water with some friends and share some expertly-prepared little bites.
*All food, beverages and gratuities were complimentary*