Encore! Encore! Blue Water Cafe serenades ocean's Unsung Heroes
Pity the poor periwinkle. Although it can evoke the charm of an oceanside picnic on a summer’s day, it has none of the allure of its much bigger cousin, escargot. And mackerel? Peasant food compared to sablefish, the media darling. Few foodies even deign to consider the lowly sardine, normally seen packed onto grocery store shelves. So bourgeois.
But Frank Pabst knows better. Born in Germany and trained in some of the best restaurants in France, the executive chef of Yaletown’s Blue Water Café is giving periwinkles, mackerel and sardines — not to mention jellyfish, sea urchins, anchovies and herring — an opportunity to show their true gastronomic colours. His Unsung Heroes menu, which runs until the end of the month, gives these plentiful denizens of the ocean the gourmet treatment.
Under his amazingly deft touch, the herring is harmoniously matched with a celery salad with preserved watermelon, walnuts, Fuji apples and watercress; the sea urchin is the salt-water infused delicacy on top of a luxuriously light yet creamy trifle with avocado, nori seaweed, Peruvian gooseberries and ponzu jelly; and the sardine does a humorous rift on pigs-in-a-blanket when its wrapped inside its own duvet with pine nut gremolata, broccolini and harissa sauce.
“We don’t want to take away from the essence of the flavour [of the fish] but we want complementary flavours so your tastebuds aren’t just concentrated on the sea urchin, for instance,” Pabst says.
It was a lot of fun coming up with the pairings of tastes and textures. His goal was to get people to try various types of seafood they might normally have an aversion to. Maybe they think that herring is too fishy, and jellyfish is too squishy. He didn’t want to disguise the flavours but he did need to make those flavours more accessible to patrons whose only experience with anchovies, for instance, is asking for them to be left out of a Caesar’s salad. “I wanted something everyone can relate to.”
When he did his first celebration of the ocean’s Unsung Heroes, it was presented as a tasting menu. Few patrons, however, wanted a full dinner of foods they weren’t accustomed to. Now the Unsung Heroes dishes are presented as appetizers, the most popular of which will stay on the menu.
A portion of each sale off the Unsung Heroes menu will be donated to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. The menu is offered until Feb. 29. BlueWaterCafe.net