Sea cucumber spring rolls with squid and sea urchin pasta from Frank Pabst's Unsung Heroes menu at Yaletown's Blue Water Cafe.
The key to sustainable seafood is eating lots of fish. Lots of different fish.
In coastal countries around the world, you’ll find cuisine brimming with all manner of seafood; from the herring festivals in Holland to octopus sashimi in Japan. Go to most restaurants in Vancouver and your seafood choices are largely confined to salmon, halibut and Dungeness crab.
One of the best practices advocated for creating a sustainable seafood diet is to broaden that diet to include a wider range of sea life, especially white fish, like mackerel, and the small fries, like anchovy.
Beginning your seafood journey with Frank Pabst's Unsung Heroes
Admittedly, it can be a bit daunting once you decide to start cooking with herring or sea cucumber. But Blue Water Cafe chef Frank Pabst’s Unsung Heroes menu, available through February 2011, inspired me to try my hand with a few lesser-known fish. Everything I tried at Blue Water Café was delish. The dishes weren’t overly fishy, and I had a ton of “Oh my god, why aren’t we eating more of this?” moments.
We shared the Unsung Heroes dishes beween courses from the regular menu, but you can just as easily order them as sides or make a meal out them.
Here’s a reproduction of Frank’s Unsung Heroes menu for 2011. Click on the menu items to read my observations on a particular dish.
marinated with sesame oil and togarashi, daikon and cucumber salad 9.50
sea snails cooked in a white wine vegetable bouillon
served chilled in their shells with saffron aioli 9.50
pickled in apple schnapps, vegetable relish, smoked potato sponge 9.50
white anchovies marinated with garlic and parsley, parmesan custard
fennel and romaine hearts in organic olive oil and lemon vinegar 9.50
mirugai ubuki sashimi with tama miso sauce 15.50
nori spring roll with sea cucumber, oysters, snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts
pea shoot salad with hoisin dressing 10.50
eggplant baba ghanoush with nasturtium and golden raisins
preserved beech mushrooms, long pepper balsamic reduction 9.50
grilled with chilean merken spice, garlic confit, chickpeas, charred red peppers 11.50
in a blanket with pine nut gremolata, cardoon, black olives, preserved grapefruit
citrus chili gastrique 9.50
Red Sea Urchin + Squid
fresh squid ink pasta, crispy market squid, quail egg, sea urchin cream 12.50
Mackerel, Sardine and Octopus from Frank Pabst's Unsung Heroes Menu at Blue Water Cafe.
Much smaller than their land-dwelling gastropod cousins, and less intimidating to eat, periwinkles are a bountiful seafood snack. The accompanying saffron aioli is a great way of hiding the periwinkles in unctuousness but isn’t essential. It felt a little like putting mayo on bacon. Back to menu
Pickled herring is much less common here than in Europe. The dish didn’t have that overpowering pickled flavour. The taste and solidity of the herring and the relish were well balanced against the light alkalinity of the potato sponge. Back to menu
Seaweed salad is perhaps not as "unsung" as it was when Pabst started his Unsung Heroes menu seven years ago. The seaweed in this salad is much lighter than you’ll find in the ubiquitous wakame seaweed salad at Japanese restaurants. It’s more akin to chicory (a.k.a. curly endive) but softer. Back to menu
This felt like a reinvented caesar salad in term of the flavours. The anchovy pieces are small and, surprisingly, not as salty as I’m used to. I almost felt it could’ve been more anchovy-ful. The Parmesan custard stole the show a little. Back to menu
With geoduck fresh in my mind from the recent Chinese Restaurant Awards, I was delighted to be able to tuck into Pabst's zesty dish. Perhaps one of the more intimidating looking of the unsung dishes (though not as off-putting as the animal is whole), but the flavour is citrus tenderness. Back to menu
The sea cucumber is a good argument for eating in the dark. Fortunately, this dish disguises the ugly bugger inside a spring roll. The spring roll was crispy on the outside and tender and tasty on the inside. Back to menu
This was one of the larger pieces of fish on the menu and brazenly undisguised or adulterated. This is a dish you could more easily replicate at home. Mackerel and baba ganoush seem like an unlikely combo but, as in other dishes, the combination of salty versus sweet and crispy versus unctuous is in perfect balance. Back to menu
Octopus is another dish that is becoming more and more prevalent. I love the texture combination of chickpeas with the octopus, as well as the arrangement of taste with the Chilean spices. Though all the dishes have a quintessential Vancouver quality about them, this dish more so than the others with the amalgamation of Middle Eastern influences (chickpeas), South American spices (Chilean merken) and the octopus (which for some reason I associate with the Mediterranean). Back to menu
Tucked up in its "blanket," the sardine reminded me of a battered hotdog on a stick (do you have those in Canada?). Apart from the tail sticking out one end, the dish is undaunting: a great gateway plate into a wider variety of fish. Back to menu
The squid ink pasta is soft and fresh, in a deliciously creamy sea urchin sauce (I wouldn’t have known that it was sea urchin cream if they hadn’t told me). Amongst the pasta are pieces of sea urchin meat, which remind me of the orange roe sack on a scallop. The dish is topped with breaded, panfried squid. Back to menu
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try either of these dishes. I would love to hear thoughts and opinions from anyone who has had the pleasure. Opine away in the comment section. Back to menu
* 10% of proceeds from the Unsung Hero menu go to the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program