The Unsung Heroes menu is back for another year at Blue Water Cafe, and I couldn’t be more excited. Celebrating its 12th year, Executive Chef Frank Pabst worked with the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program to create 10 wonderful sharing plates for seafood enthusiasts to enjoy, placing emphasis on sustainable and under-utilized species from our ocean.
I had the privilege of being invited back to preview their Unsung Heroes 2016 menu. This time last year, I was a bit more cautious with my diet because Jasmine was still in my belly. But this time around, I was able to fully indulge and also enjoy the beverage pairings with each dish. The drinks are not included in the price of each dish, but they are worth trying as the Blue Water sommelier selects drinks that complete the experience.
Fish Roe – taramosalata trio with herring roe, trout roe and lumpfish roe, with grilled flat bread $9.50. This trio is a great way to start dinner, and it struck me that it looked quite familiar. This dish was on last year’s menu — different roe, but same great taste. Sturgeon Liver – sturgeon liver mousse, with pickled vegetables $11.50. This was also on last year’s menu, but just presented a little bit differently. Chef has made a mousse out of the sturgeon liver and caviar together, and served it with toasted bread and pickled vegetables on the side. Note: There are two orders of the sturgeon live mousse and one order of the fish roe in this photo.
Left: Little Fishes in a Quail’s Nest – fried smelt, with choganjang dipping sauce $9.50. This is a nice play on fish and chips. There is only so much you can do with smelt, and deep frying it is always welcome. The dipping sauce that accompanied the fish provided a subtle kick with each bite. The quail’s nest is made out of thinly julienned potatoes, and I can tell Chef had some fun with this dish, as we found some egg-citing surprises in there. Right: Sea Cucumber – “pizzetta bianca” with sea cucumber, garlic, maras chile pepper, pecorino cheese, micro greens $11.50. A bit of crunch from the sea cucumber brought some texture to this nice flatbread. Sea cucumbers don’t really have much flavour, but Chef did a nice job marrying it with the other ingredients (I loved the pecorino cheese) that I’d definitely order this dish again. My mom loves sea cucumbers, so I can’t wait for her to try it this month!
Octopus – octopus carpaccio, with fennel, celery, red onion, nasturtium, harissa aioli $14.50. Octopus is a favourite in my books, as is carpaccio, so I wouldn’t leave a restaurant without ordering it at least once. This dish had nice clean flavours all around.
Left: Herring – matjes herring with sesame, cucumber, daikon, edamame, ponzu sauce $10.50. This is a dish that many of us marveled at. I was completely surprised by how much the junmai sake could enhance the taste of the herring. The herring on its own was creamy and really delicious, but together with the sake it really elevated this dish. Right: Slipper Limpet – poor man’s abalone in tonkotsu ramen broth, water chestnut, green onion, nori, enoki mushrooms $11.50. I’ve had plenty of abalone, but I can’t say I’ve tried slipper limpet. These little gastropods are sweet and delicious, and when paired with the pork bone soup it was a delight to slurp.
Left: Whelk – whelk paella, bomba rice cooked with saffron, garlic, tomato, olive oil, and green chickpeas $12.50. They may not be the prettiest sea creatures, but they sure are tasty. I enjoyed this dish very much, as I love paella. It may be a sharing plate, but I might not share if you’re dining with me! Right: Jellyfish – congee with jellyfish and beef tongue, snow peas, bean sprouts, garlic chips, hoisin sauce $12.50. It was not surprising to see this dish return to this year’s menu. I usually consume jellyfish on its own as an appetizer, so it’s a real treat when I see it delicately prepared in a congee.
Mackerel – smoked mackerel, with golden beet, apple, fingerling potatoes, horseradish ranch dressing $10.50
This was another favourite at the table. The golden beet, apple and fingerling potato salad combination paired well with this perfectly prepared fish. The horseradish dressing added a mild kick, and really satisfied my taste buds.
Having tasted the previous menu, I have to say that Chef Pabst has raised the bar for himself. Like last year, these dishes are only offered for a limited time, from February 2nd to 29th, with 10% of proceeds to be donated to the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program.