Every February of each year, Blue Water Cafe will run a special menu using ingredients that normally wouldn’t be use for a main dish, appropriately named the “Unsung Heroes” menu. This is something only chefs or food nerds like me would enjoy, so one day back in February, we tried them all – because that’s how we roll around here.
Note: I realize this is April, whereas the said event was held in February. Long story short: tax season isn’t fun.
The Unsung Heroes menu is something that has been around Blue Water Cafe for a decade. I caught wind of this several years ago, but never managed to get a chance to go. Executive Chef Frank Pabst created the menu – different every year – to promote Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program to encourage use of sustainable, under-utilized bounty from the ocean. I guess the big question is: will it cure my addiction to the deliciously evil and so-unsustainable blue fin tuna nigiri’s?
Octopus, octopus carpaccio, fennel, celery, red onion, nasturtium, mango nam jim. I never liked octopus because of its rubbery texture and lack of taste and I’m not about to start now. At least it was sliced thinly to mitigate the texture problem and it was light to kick off the menu. Octopus is hard to get right and I applaud the chef’s attempt of its inclusion on the menu.
Herring, matjes herring with sesame, cucumber, daikon, edamame, ponzu sauce. Herring sashimi served Japanese salad style. Light, tasted fresh, and set the tone for the tasting menu.
Fish Roe, taramosalata trio with herring roe, salmon roe and lumpfish roe, served with grilled flat bread. Very good. The taramosalata (the dip/paste) complemented the fish eggs, which served as a garnish, quite well.
Sturgeon Liver, sturgeon liver pate, pickled vegetables and mustard seeds. Surprisingly good and clever dish. Very similar to foie gras pate – this would be the “sea” version (monkfish liver notwithstanding). It had the same texture and similar taste with fresh vegetables and brioche pairing cutting into the richness – although I’m just fine eating the black paste by itself.
Mackerel, smoked mackerel, golden beet, apple, fingerling potatoes, horseradish ranch dressing. We got to the cooked portion of the menu and it did not disappoint. I always liked the taste of mackerel and I’m happy to see the chef did not have to go too overboard on the dish because the ingredient is good enough already. It was cooked (smoked) at the right level so the fish stayed moist and tasted fresh.
Sea Cucumber, “pizzetta bianca” with sea cucumber, garlic, chili flakes, grana padano, micro greens. I really have to give the chef credit for having the balls to thought of something like this. When I think of sea cucumbers, I think of a slimy, black, thing the resembles a gentleman’s sausage. But this was far from it. It was re-stylized into a pizza (flat bread) with white “sauce”. Very clever.
Sea Urchin, squid ink tagliatelle with sea urchin sauce, sea urchin crostini. Undoubtedly, the dish of the night. The sea urchin sauce was buttery heaven and paired with the contrasting pasta so well. If you need to try one dish, make it this one.
Slipper Limpet, limpets in tonkotsu shoyu ramen with water chestnut, green onion, enoki mushrooms, nori. I had to laugh at this, the thought of non-Japanese making ramen (because, c’mon). It’s surprisingly not bad. While it won’t compete with Vancouver’s titans such as Jinya, Marutama, and Santouka, it’s important to remember the purpose of the Unsung Heroes initiative. The broth was rich (a good sign so far!) but on the salty side. I thought the noodles were also a bit on the overcooked side because of the way they were stuck together. But, a very good attempt coming from Blue Water Cafe and team.
Little Fishes in a Quail’s Nest, fried smelt, choganjang dipping sauce. An intricate dish, I was immediately impressed by how careful and lightly fried this was – a step up from the standard tempuras you would get from non-Japanese owned Japanese restaurants – it wasn’t oily and greasy. The batter did just enough to highlight the fish.
Whelk, whelk paella, bomba rice cooked with saffron, garlic, tomato, olive oil and green chickpeas. A Spanish inspired dish, I thought it was slightly on the salty side.
Jellyfish, jellyfish congee with beef tongue, snow peas, bean sprouts, garlic chips, hoisin dressing. A Chinese inspired dish, we all agreed it was over seasoned (too salty, again!). The beef tongue was great but I could barely taste the jellyfish, which was supposedly the star of the dish.
Hamachi Nigiri. This wasn’t part of the Unsung Heroes menu, but every time I see a sushi counter, which Blue Water does by the way, my automatic reflex action is to order some nigiri to assess the skills of whoever is behind that bar. Nice knife work to exemplify the fish, but could use a quick brush of sauce (yes, I know I can dip it myself, but still…) and warmer rice.
Tsunami, torched hamachi thinly sliced with jalapeno, ginger and sesame oil.
I have to say I’m quite impressed about the menu. The menu was limited to the “Unsung Heroes”, but it didn’t feel like it was handicapped by them a single bit. Every dish was a play on classic dishes from around the world. Each ingredient was carefully considered to avoid the pretentiousness and only placed on the dish to highlight the “heroes”. Every dishes were so distinct from one another to show off the chef’s well traveled prowess. All this was done with ingredients with “undesirable” ingredients that normal chefs wouldn’t even consider – I know Chef Pabst was having blast when he created these dishes. Maybe Chef Pabst will consider these dishes a permanent home on Blue Water’s menu?