Each February, for the last 10 years, Blue Water Cafe chef Frank Pabst expands palates while supporting sustainable seafood.
Dubbed “Unsung Heroes”, Pabst initially created the month-long event to celebrate local and unique seafoods at the same time avoiding over-fished species or species harvested in ways that can damage ocean beds.
I am the Pabst target market: concerned about the environment, slightly hesitant land lubber raised eating the usual ocean suspects: salmon, halibut, crab, and oysters. I must admit when I was invited to a preview event I was a little nervous, I’m an adventurous eater but not entirely familiar with all the weird and wonderful fruits de mer. Luckily Pabst and his friendly and accommodating staff are proud to share their passion for delicious and ocean-friendly seafood at an affordable price (Unsung Heroes dishes range from $9.50 – $12.50).
“Our objective was – and is – to utilize lesser-known ingredients while introducing guests to new experiences and flavours,” says chef Pabst. “The popularity of the event has increased tremendously and these formerly ‘unsung’ species are now heroes in their own right – they have truly entered the ‘mainstream’ of the public’s consciousness.”
This year’s Unsung Heroes menu includes mackerel, herring two ways, sea urchin, octopus, whelk (sea snails) and sardines to name a few. The dishes are compact and colourful, meant to share, tapas style.
If you’re looking to grab a few plates at the festival can I suggest the smoky, velvety Herring Roe taramasalata with flatbread to start and then follow up with the herring tartar with ginger, shiso and ponzu for a dose of umami. For a third course treat yourself to the Sea Urchin mousse delicately perched atop a squid ink dyed shredded phyllo nest sitting in a tiny bed of avocado sauce. To finish, savour the smoked mackerel perfectly placed atop of strings of celeriac and apple with a modest swipe of pickled mustard seed cream sauce.
The loveliness that is Pabst’s menu is twofold: he doesn’t stick to one regional taste, in true Vancouver style there are flavours from Spain, Italy, Japan and China on offer. Secondly Pabst really works with complimentary but dissimilar flavour profiles and textures. For example, smoky dishes are coupled with crunchy, slightly sweet or tangy sides to cut the heavy complexity of the fired taste.
Working with Blue Water’s sommelier Andrea Vescovi, the Unsung Heroes menu recommends optimal wine pairings. One the list are some local favourites such as the Cedar Creek’s Platinum Viognier and vines from across the Atlantic such as Beronia Reserve Tempranillo 2008 Rioja.
The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise sustainable seafood program is Blue Water Cafe’s charitable partner in the event, receiving 10% of all proceeds to continue their important consumer and harvester education program.
Getting a table can be as tricky as navigating rolling seas, so call ahead to reserve a berth and be the hero to your special someone or group of friends.