Last week, Chuck and I finally made it to the Sea Rocket Bistro, the restaurant in the space formerly occupied by the Linkery. In grand Linkery tradition, the focus is on fresh and local food, by Sea Rocket Bistro has (can you guess?) an emphasis on seafood.
The restaurant was about half full when we arrived, and got steadily busier as the evening wore on. The folks at Sea Rocket have maintained the intimate atmosphere from the Linkery days, and have added a fun twist with great pictures of their food suppliers – farms, fisheries, the South Bay saltworks.
As we were seated, they told us that live Sea Urchin was on the menu that night, having just come in from from the ocean an hour before. I have been curious to try uni since learning about its existence (from vintage Japanese-dubbed Iron Chef episodes, of course!), but I wasn’t quite sure about the “live” part of the equation – maybe just the sea urchin bisque to ease into sea urchin consumption – doesn’t that sound reasonable? But, Chuck and our server colluded to convince me to give the Live Sea Urchin a shot. Chuck made the excellent point that this sea urchin was probably the most fresh sea urchin I would ever have a chance to try (right! because it’s alive!), and so I was on my way to sampling quite possibly the most adventurous thing I’ve ever eaten.
So my sea urchin arrived on a white pedestal; it was about four inches in diameter with 2-3 inch spikes all around. We had slightly more than half the shell remaining – the urchin had been cracked open, and the inedible bits scooped out, leaving us with the golden-orange roe to scrape from the shell with spoons. Did I mention that the tentacles were still moving? I think that’s what they mean by “live”. Creepier – far, far creepier – than boiling your lobster alive (and hearing it scream and clamour against the kettle), is a sea urchin with wavering tentacles, from whose sundered shell you are scooping out organs for gastronmoic pleasure.
Ok, enough about the creepy moving tentacles of my live sea urchin dinner companion, let’s talk about the experience of actually eating it. There wasn’t really much of a scent to the sea urchin (probably a good thing, since typically fishy smell = bad flavor for seafood, so I had to dig in (literally!) and taste it. What I learned? Sea urchin tastes like The Ocean. It tastes like the first time you smell the ocean at the beginning of a seashore vacation, with the promise of a perfect sun-filled week ahead of you. It was salty and fresh, but the saltiness was more the idea of salt than actual saltiness – alomst overwhelming and yet somehow phantom, in the way that drinking strong rose tea is like tasting the scent of roses. The texture wasn’t as firm as some of the pictures that I’ve seen of uni in sushi – it was a little bit closer to the texture of just undercooked scrambled eggs. Eating the sea urchin did remind me a lot of eating caviar, and I felt like the experience could have been enhanced by having a crispy dark (pumpernickel, maybe?) cracker to provide a texture contrast to the uni.
The sea urchin, by the way, was still waving its tentacles at us when we finished. Did I mention the creepiness factor? (Yes! but if it wasn’t so creepy, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to write about.) So how do I feel about Sea Urchin after the experience? I’m not sure I’d eat it live again (although if it were a different species of sea urchin, or something I were actually catching myself fresh from the ocean, i probably would…), but I’ve definitely overcome the sea urchin barrier and am interested in trying it in different preparations. Really – it tastes like The Ocean!
In case you’re still reading, and wondering what else I had for dinner at Sea Rocket Bistro, I bring you fish cakes in cucumber-yogurt sauce:
These were good, with big flakes of fish (no hiding behind breadcrumbs in these fish cakes!); the sauces and parsley added good flavor to complement the fish. The fish cakes themselves could have been a bit more moist, but the sauces made that less of an issue.
This had tender fruit with just a touch of sweetness; like everything else we sampled, it was a simple preparation with fresh ingredients, and really let the ingredients shine through. The pastry was on the soft side (probably an all-butter pastry? I would try to make it a little flakier…but then, I’ve never met a pastry dough I didn’t want to tweak. Perfect pastry dough is my neverending quest).
Oh, also? I recommend the passionfruit wine – I think it was from San Pasqual winery. Sea Rocket Bistro has a solid beer menu featuring local beers (a big selection from Lightning Brewery when we visited), but most of the available beers were a little on the light side for my taste (I will admit that my preferred crazy strong beers probably don’t pair with seafood as well as the selection they have, but I might as well take advantage of the mismatch by sampling new wines instead, right?).
Now that I’ve conquered the Sea Urchin, I need to go back for the grilled sardines!
That sea urchin is probably still twitching somewhere…