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RAW PLEASURE

When it comes to beef or seafood, go raw, and savor the freshness and elegant simplicity of flavor.

By Wendy Lemlin   l  Photography By noushin nourizadeh
Carpaccio, crudo, sashimi, sushi, tartare, tiradito, ceviche, poke—raw seafood and meat dishes are a hot culinary trend these days. The polar opposite of fussy, complicated foods, most raw proteins succeed on their own strengths of absolute freshness and melt-in-your-mouth texture. With relatively simple presentations, they intrinsically connect us to the very essence of their sources.
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Beaumont’s Eatery

Hiramasa, a local yellow fin amberjack, is the star of Chef Tommy Fraioli’s Crudo Special at Beaumont’s Eatery, the popular neighborhood spot in Bird Rock that is attracting fans from all over with the chef’s inventive cuisine. Fraioli beautifully combines the subtly flavored fish with slices of compressed apple, Serrano pepper and radish in a bowl with charred spring onions, white miso, radish florettes and onion ash on top of cilantro puree in a bowl. Onto this, spicy tomato water, made from heirloom tomatoes, ginger and Serrano, is poured tableside. “Everything in this dish is raw, except for the onions,” says Chef Tommy, “and you taste the real flavor of each ingredient. It tastes like spring personified.”

NINE-TEN Restaurant and Bar

Jason Knibb, Executive Chef at NINE-TEN Restaurant and Bar, notes that “serving raw seafood showcases the delicious freshness of our coastal products, caught right here and in Baja. Crudos and ceviches bring out the clean flavors, and a good crudo will have a soft texture with just enough firmness to be pleasing in the mouth.”

Knibb proves this in his Tomato Water-Cured Local Halibut with Citrus and Espelette Chile. The delicate, sweet flavor of the halibut balances extremely well with the clean, bright citrus notes of blood orange, Cara Cara, kumquat and wood sorrel, and is enlivened by the mild heat of Espellette pepper, a staple in French Basque cuisine.

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The Med

At La Valencia Hotel’s The Med, Executive Chef James Montejano explains, “Because of the influence of the ‘sushi movement,’ people today are much more receptive to the idea of eating raw fish. What rocks it, is that the seafood we can get here is so fresh… such great quality.”

Chef James goes raw three ways in an intensely colorful and sexy Crudo Trio. His Honeymoon Oyster would be a fitting offering to any fertility god—a plump, local Bahia Falsa oyster topped with salmon and flying fish roe, golden uni, and a raw quail egg. The Baja Chocolate Clam—so called because of the color of the shell—plays with pickled vegetables, smoked sundried tomato, and a dollop of avocado and edamame mousse. Finally, a Crudo of Salmon Belly and Ahi is arranged in a checkerboard design of ruby and orange. A mixture of edible seaweeds provides an ocean-salad garnish.

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Table 926

Chef and Owner Matt Richman of Table 926 in Pacific Beach is a real fan of raw hamachi, a type of yellow fin amberjack. “Because of its sweet and buttery flavor, it’s my favorite for sushi and crudos,” he explains. His Hamachi Crudo finds slices of the tender white fish arranged with sections of charred blood orange and daubs of pomegranate syrup that lend a complementary acidity. Watercress and pickled Thai chiles add a peppery spiciness, and pepitas provide a nutty contrast in texture. A scoop of house-made mint sorbet cleanses the palate with icy refreshment.

La Jolla and Pacific Beach residents would do well to stop by on Tuesdays and receive a 15 percent discount. Other special deals for everyone are available each day.

The Marine Room

Bernard Guillas, of The Marine Room, is another Executive Chef who finds raw fish very sexy. “It is pure and sensual. You eat it slowly and you savor it.”

Chef Bernard’s seductive Trilogy of Lobster, Tuna and Scallops tantalizes with raw intensity. The delicate pieces of scallop, with their characteristic nutty sweetness, bathe in a chilled Asian ginger-dashi broth with French radish, hon-shimeji mushrooms and pine nuts. The diced ahi, seasoned with mandarin oil, lemon myrtle and orange zest, whimsically nestles in a cone of sesame crisp. A medallion of sous vide Maine lobster tail wrapped in leek perches on a bed of finely diced yellow beets and wears a crown of luxurious Spanish trout roe. Exclaims Guillas, “Caviar is one of the world’s most erotic ingredients!”

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The Fishery

Spring is the ideal time for Wild King Salmon because it’s the start of their season, according to The Fishery’s Executive Chef Paul Arias. “Wild salmon is so sexy to eat raw right now. They are fat and juicy and impart a smooth and almost creamy sensation in your mouth.”  He serves his deeply colored Wild King Salmon Crudo sliced thin, surrounded by fresh English pea puree, pickled rhubarb and ginger, and a scattering of crispy rice noodles tossed with sesame oil and seeds. “You don’t want to hide the super-clean flavor,” he instructs. “Maybe add a little texture, and a bit of salinity or acid. When plating raw fish, I always keep the sauce separate, so as not to smother the star attraction.”

The Bella Vista Club & Caffé

Beef Carpaccio is a traditional Italian appetizer that Amanda Caniglia, co-owner of Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé, jokes is so popular “because it brings out the inner primal carnivore. Because we are located on the cliffs above Black’s Beach, I call it ‘beef in the buff,’” she adds, referencing the nearby unofficial nude beach.

The Torrey Pines restaurant serves the flavorful raw beef sliced paper-thin and icy cold, with capers, shaved parmigiana, artichokes and arugula, providing a harmonizing tang. Amanda points out, “Carpaccio is one of the simplest dishes on our menu, and yet it is full of passion. It’s an ideal dish to share, especially at sunset on our huge patio overlooking the ocean, and is a frequently requested appetizer for corporate and private events that we often hold here.”

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Finch’s Bistro & Wine Bar

Ahi tuna aficionados insist that it should be eaten raw, or at most, lightly seared around the edges. Mario Medina, Executive Chef at Finch’s Bistro & Wine Bar, is in that camp. He says, “Because the meat is so clean-flavored and tender, it’s perfect raw and lends itself to so many different preparations.”

For his Sesame-Crusted Ahi, Chef Mario favors saku tuna from Japan for its deep ruby color and pure ahi flavor. He gives it an Asian accent by fanning the thinly sliced sesame seed-edged slices atop a crunchy cabbage slaw with watermelon radish, green onions, water chestnuts and mango, all drizzled with a passionfruit-teriyaki glaze. The entire dish is a mélange of complex flavors and a textural extravaganza. It is an excellent choice to pair with one of the many wines at this intimate international bistro tucked away on Girard Street in La Jolla Village. Ρ