Colachi Vegetarian Tacos: Grandma’s Tacos with a Vegan Twist

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Colachi Vegetarian Tacos: Grandma’s Tacos with a Vegan Twist

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I am sitting with Chef Antonio in front of an intriguing sight. Colachi tacos, a new addition to the dinner menu. At first it would seem I’m about to dig into veggie tacos topped with queso fresco. And that would be just fine with me! But this is, in fact, a cheese made of tofu, flavored with the Chef’s secret spice mix. If you are on the fence about tofu, this will sway you. It brings the mild, soft, crumbly texture of queso fresco, with a little extra sabor. I have walked a fair mile in this town to try veggie tacos. And with a few exceptions, the standard offerings really are an afterthought to the menu, something tacked on as an accession to anyone silly enough to walk into a taqueria and ask for vegetarian. You know, big lumps of boiled carrots, onion, and a few pasilla peppers. Nothing that a taste-minded person would voluntarily consume. But this, this my friends is a carefully considered offering straight from Chef Antonio’s heart. “I was thinking back to my childhood of the best vegetarian tacos I had, and I thought of what my Grandmother made me. These have my style, of course, but when I eat them, I remember my grandmother’s food. So when you taste these it’s important that you get that same feeling, of eating comfort food at home.” Roasted corn, squash, and tomatoes are sautéed in olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. That’s it. But the tofu cheese brings plenty of flavor, and the dish is so well balanced and interesting, you will wonder how it can be so delicious. “I’m very proud of these,” Chef says,  “Because it’s delicious, simple flavors. I always tell my team, if you don’t enjoy the food, have a real feeling for the food, your cooking will be bad and it’s as simple as that.” He challenged himself to avoid the usual melty cheese or cauliflower, and the result is heart-warming and delicious.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Mushroom Ceviche: You are in the Ring with Serious Flavor

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Mushroom Ceviche: You are in the Ring with Serious Flavor

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I have rarely been this excited for a dish. Mushroom ceviche. One of the new dishes on the dinner menu at Kanaloa Seafood. Chef Antonio brings it to the table, and I am just short of jiggling with glee. It’s a beautiful presentation of soft, silky mushrooms that equal any fish in their richness. Poached briefly, they are then cooled and floated in chilled ginger vegan broth and lime juice. The effect is a mouth feel that might be ahi tuna but is entirely vegetarian. What else is in the ring with these knockout mushrooms? Sweet kernels of corn, buttery avocado, light and crisp cucumber, wisps of red onion, and a tiny kick of heat. Beautiful yellow heirloom tomatoes speak of summer, and micro greens and cilantro dot a generous mountain of exquisitely prepared, precisely diced vegetables. Scoop a spoonful of this chilled concoction on a thick, salty warm tortilla chip, and you have a dish worth visiting and revisiting Kanaloa for. The aim of this dish was fresh flavor, and given its popularity on the dinner menu, I will bet on Chef Antonio’s mushroom ceviche against any ceviche in this town, fish or otherwise.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood

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Tataki Seared Ahi Tuna: The Food Writer Learns Her Lesson: Never Question the Chef!

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Tataki Seared Ahi Tuna: The Food Writer Learns Her Lesson: Never Question the Chef!

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So, I have eaten a lot of exquisite things at Kanaloa, some of them bringing very unusual flavor combinations together, a trademark of Chef Antonio’s cooking. But at last, here is something that makes me doubt, just for a second, that this dish will come through with flying colors. I do not doubt the beautifully seared, sushi-grade Ahi tuna that has been caramelized on the outside and is silky smooth sashimi on the inside. No, that looks like something I want to devour quickly, especially as it has been marinated in ginger, lime, and soy, with a hint of brown sugar. Even more so because it comes dabbed with mango aioli hiding a little bit of curry in its sweetness. The peppery arugula and red Fresno peppers too, I am eager to try. What gives me pause are the little quarters of strawberries dotting the plate. I give Chef Antonio the look. “Trust me,” he says, with the confidence of a chef who is good-humored but quite serious about his flavor combinations.

So I dive in. And the fish is everything I hoped it would be. Intensely seared on the outside, with a smoky resonance of the grill, and then sliding straight into a blanket of rose-colored soft flesh inside. A little pepper of the arugula, a modest heat from the peppers, and this is the kind of cooking that has converted me from being a foodie who once ordered everything medium-well done.

Chef Antonio wryly waits for me to do it. I pop in a piece of strawberry and my mouth bursts with all the  sweet beauty of summer berries. Then I get it. This is the brilliant little bite that clears your palate, resets your taste buds, so that the next piece of ahi tuna will be just as impacting as the first. “This is a very different plate,” Antonio accedes, “But I get a really positive response to it.” And it is, make no mistake, more than enough fish to make a satisfying entrée. I’m thinking of all my friends who avoid gluten or shun carbohydrates altogether, and this would be the dish for them. Utterly satisfying, yet sticking quite purely to superbly seared ahi tuna.  

Never again will I doubt! The beauty of Kanaloa is that you can explore the new dinner menu and find gems like this, well-constructed and artfully made, that will take you on a little adventure.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Grilled Swordfish: The Food Writer Loses Her Cool

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Grilled Swordfish: The Food Writer Loses Her Cool

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I’m starting to know Chef Antonio’s expressions by now, and when he brings this plate out from the kitchen, he has that look like it’s Christmas morning and we’re about to open a present. As always, he tells me to inhale and look before I taste. And I have to say, this plate of swordfish is one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve seen. I may or may not have lost my cool contemplating grilled swordfish slanted on a pillow of risotto and sautéed veggies, swimming in a citrus ginger beurre blanc sauce. Yes, I said it. Citrus ginger beurre blanc sauce. I am already well known for uncontainable excitement when my brother makes his beurre blanc sauce at the holidays. But this is beurre blanc as you’ve never had it before. Fresh ginger, hints of pineapple, orange juice, and lemon juice are perfectly balanced with butter and cream. This is Chef Antonio’s way of pleasing those who can only think of fish served with lemon, but in a new way. Now, I know, I’m talking about the sauce first. That is because I can’t stop myself from diving my fork into it right away and letting my mouth dance a happy dance at all that flavor and exuberant creaminess. Chef Antonio shakes his head at me, and takes a bite of fish, risotto, vegetables, and a little bit of sauce all in one bite. And from the smile on this perfectionist’s face, he knows this is a dish that will stand up to anything served in a five-star restaurant.

So, what is the deal with swordfish? If you’re like me, you’ve had the misfortune of eating thick, chewy swordfish “steaks” that are so tough they need a chainsaw to cut. But when sustainable swordfish is impeccably fresh, from Hawaii, cut at about an inch of thickness, grilled at a high heat so that beautiful grill marks crisscross it, you will bite into a tender, beautiful fish that is only a delight to eat. And that is what you will find at Kanaloa. “Swordfish is more of a smoky creamy fish,” Antonio muses. In this case, it’s resting against another dish that is really hard to pull off: risotto. You know the downside of mass-produced risotto. You’ve ordered it from that fancy restaurant and had a brick of starch delivered to your table. But Antonio’s risotto is made in small batches, to order. He uses a vegetarian broth rather than water, then adds mushroom, white wine, a little heavy cream, and a bit of parmesan. The result is creamy. Really creamy. But not heavy. And I don’t know how he works that kind of magic, but my fork is moving at fast speed to enjoy it. A few spears of purple, yellow, and orange baby carrots, steamed in butter (yes, I said steamed in butter) add sweetness, the sautéed squash and corn give lightness as well.

The food disappears quickly, and I am beautifully full. This is better than Christmas. This is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in Santa Barbara, and I’m already plotting to bring my brother into the restaurant to try the ginger citrus beurre blanc sauce, in hopes he can recreate it at home!

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Going Veggie at Kanaloa Seafood: Roasted Beet Hummus and Ethiopian Spiced Crispy Tofu

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I have my friend Kim in town, a discerning foodie and vegetarian. And she looks a little surprised when we pull up to the summery patio of Kanaloa. They are, after all, a seafood market, with many tasty fish dishes. But I assure Kim she’s in for a treat as we take a seat on the patio, palm trees waving in the breeze, the summer obliging us with blue skies. What I know, and Kim is about to find out, is that Chef Antonio has been hard at work to bring some fantastic vegetarian options to the menu. Dishes that have a little twist to them, with unexpected flavor combinations.

We start with the roasted beet hummus, a glorious ruby red hummus made with roasted beets, chickpeas, and a smoky bite of chipotle. This smooth dish of spicy sweetness is topped with crunchy pistachios and whole chickpeas roasted with lemon and smoked paprika. Add in a few bitter microgreens and there is more than enough to keep both Kim and I in nosh mode, scooping up the hummus on cool cucumber slices, baby carrots, and grilled pita. 

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I can see I’m winning Kim over to my idea as we dig into the main course. Although Kanaloa’s poke bowls of spicy tuna and sweet & sour salmon are amazing, we are going for the most unusual “poke” I’ve every tried: Ethiopian Spiced Crispy Tofu. Now, don’t be alarmed; the tofu is, of course, cooked. But the cleverness of the dish comes in the fact that the soft tofu cubes, flash fried with a coating of spices, delivers a mouth texture that is very similar to biting into silky fish poke. Kim looks at me after her first bite and quickly snaps back to the bowl, diving in with gusto. Crunchy jicama and cucumber are mixed with a berbere aioli (think roasted chilis, cumin, cloves, fenugreek…better yet, come into the store and pick up a bottle of this custom spice mix). I literally have to stop myself from chair dancing in foodie happiness as I bite into the peppery heat of pickled ginger and then the soft chewy bed of rice it sits atop. Garnished with a fried wonton, I dip into the creamy vegetable mix and crunch with abandon. I ask Kim what she thinks, but her mouth is full and she can only give an enthusiastic thumbs-up. There is not a drop left in our bowls by the time we’re done.

I walk out of there with one happy, well-fed vegetarian. As for me, the tofu “poke” has changed the way I think about tofu, and I will be back for this dish many times.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Octopus Tacos: The Star of Kanaloa’s New Dinner Menu

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Octopus Tacos: The Star of Kanaloa’s New Dinner Menu

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I’m finally face to face with the tacos I’ve heard so much  about. They are a lunch special that is one of the most sought after dishes at Kanaloa. Lucky for all those fans of the dish, it will be featured on the new dinner menu, as two open-faced works of art laid on a wood plank. I am about to slowly take a little dab of each component of it, but Chef Antonio laughs, “Eat it like a taco, the whole experience. Don’t be afraid!” I’m beginning to learn that it’s always a good idea to listen to the chef. Because the combination of the ingredients together is what carries me away. If you feel at all tentative about octopus, I’m here to reassure you that Chef Antonio’s preparation will be instantly delight you. Rather than sauté or boil the octopus (which always results in a rubbery consistency), the octopus is marinated in a secret smoky, spicy sauce, and then grilled. The mushrooms that accompany it are marinated in white wine and then grilled as well. Together, they are so soft and impossibly rich that I wonder for a moment if I’m eating steak.

Thinly sliced radishes and red onions pickled in lemon and oil top this grilled perfection. But the aioli has me guessing, and Chef Antonio is waiting for me to figure it out. “I give up! What’s in this?” Turns out it’s sambal, a tasty Thai chile that leaves a faint warmth in the throat. Chef Antonio says, “I love Thai food, because I’ve worked with a lot of chefs and combined my passion for flavor with what those chefs taught me. I wake up thinking about what I’m going to cook today.” Owner Randee Disraeli is sitting with us, enjoying the octopus tacos, and says, “I really appreciate the creativeness and imagination that Chef Antonio has.”

Between us, there is not a crumb of homemade tortilla left on the plate. I understand now why this is something customers return for and request it with a wild look in their eye. It is a truly unique offering of that I don’t think you will find elsewhere in SB and certainly not with this much flavor.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Jamaican “Jerk” Ceviche: New Dinner Menu at Kanaloa Seafoods

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Jamaican “Jerk” Ceviche: New Dinner Menu at Kanaloa Seafoods

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There is something about eating with a good chef that makes you stop and experience the dish more fully. Much like a sommelier will advise you to test the scent of wine before you drink, Chef Antonio motions for me to inhale the scent of the dish he has put before me, a bowl of Jamaican “jerk” ahi tuna ceviche. I immediately detect peppery summer radish and the sweet bloom of tamarind. “I really want people to see the food first, then enjoy eating it,” he says, and there are so many flavors to enjoy in this ceviche. I have a bite and then pause, because there is a delightful amount of complexity here. Sweet mango and a “jerk” spice of cinnamon and cumin richly enrobes ahi tuna that is sustainably caught in the South Pacific. A generous portion of  fish is lightly ceviched in lemon and served on warm tortilla chips. Dancing on top of this savory ceviche is toasted coconut and micro greens. You will also catch hints of jalapeno and red onion, and micro-rectangles of cucumbers. Chef Antonio is taking you on a tour of the world through ceviche, and I feel that I might be sitting on a tropical beach in Jamaica, relaxing.

Of his new dinner menu, Chef says, “When people come for dinner I want them to have a special, different experience than lunch here.” He invites you  to enjoy a glass of wine and good company, and explore his new menu.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Salmon with Mole Rosa: Kanaloa’s New Dinner Menu Debuts on August 8!

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Salmon with Mole Rosa: Kanaloa’s New Dinner Menu Debuts on August 8!

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Having reviewed a lot of restaurants, I know that not every chef inquires broadly into the food traditions of the world. But I find food to be most interesting when a chef, having mastered a particular kind of cuisine, begins to inquire what would happen if it takes a little journey, picking up unexpected flavors. And that is why I respect Chef Antonio’s cooking so much. When I sit down to eat with him, I know that the dish will be beautiful to look at, with unexpected flavor surprises inside.  

So I am more than a little excited to be one of the first to taste-test the new dinner menu at Kanaloa. Chef Antonio places the new salmon with mole rosa in front of me and there is a distinct twinkle in his eye. This means it’s going to be something really special, and I am not disappointed.  

The color is what I notice first. Bright pops of roasted corn kernels and pomegranate crown a filet of salmon that is sporting bold grill marks. And beneath it, a joyous explosion on the plate, is a rubied sauce that draws my attention. Chef Antonio smiles at my gleaming curiosity. “This is a mole rosa! It’s a popular Mexican sauce I had on the coast in Veracruz. I always wondered why mole isn’t paired with fish. So I investigated what was best for the fish and made many different kinds, and finally this was the one.”

And am I glad he did. Peanuts, almonds, and roasted beets blend into a distinctive, smooth sauce that has the strength and salt of nuts but a gentle sweetness that lifts it. Every mole (pronounced mo-lay) has a secret ingredient, of course. In Mexico, many moles have a little cocoa in them. The mole rosa has a secret too, something that gives it a smooth, creamy base. But I’m not going to give it away. You will have to try it for yourself.

The salmon itself is faroe island salmon, and as always at Kanaloa, it is sustainable and impeccably fresh, requiring no marination. It has a higher fat content than regular salmon, so between striations of buttery flesh are juicy layers of flavor, and Chef Antonio places it on the plate “like an art display.” The char on the salmon is a really intense, smoky grill flavor, and inside is the exquisitely soft fish, supported by the creamy mole rose, soaring with the high note of pomegranate. And Chef Antonio surprises me again when I realize that the meticulously minced green vegetable that tastes a little like asparagus, is in fact nopales. The cleanness of the sautéed cactus is a great flavor component but also clears the palate.

Chef Antonio has taken quintessential California coastal cuisine and artfully brought Veracruz to the plate. I think you will really enjoy this new dish, and it may just become your go-to salmon.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Tacos Gobernador and Tropical Shrimp Ceviche: Delicious Additions to the Kanaloa Lunch Menu

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Tacos Gobernador and Tropical Shrimp Ceviche: Delicious Additions to the Kanaloa Lunch Menu

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Under Chef Antonio’s careful eye, some additions have been made to the lunch menu. Back by customer demand is the tuna melt, a fresh ahi tuna salad with melted Swiss, garlic dill pickles, and caramelized onion on rye bread. For those who fancy a change from fish, the new chicken club sizzles with jerk seasoning, bacon, avocado, and chipotle aioli on sourdough.

I start with the tropical shrimp ceviche, a light, summery salsa that starts with ceviche shrimp folded into well-minced jicama, cucumber, and tangy pineapple. A little red onion and cilantro put this into familiar territory, but Chef Antonio throws in the twist of a little sweet passion fruit and pineapple juice. The shrimp is ethically and sustainably farmed in Asia and the flavor is sweet and clean. I scoop up a generous bite onto one of their thick, homemade corn chips, and my mouth starts to dance with the myriad flavors and textures.  It’s beautiful to look at and even better to eat.

But my true objective on this visit is the new shrimp gobernador taco. A specialty of Chef Antonio’s hometown, the gobernador may well be the richest, most luxurious taco I have ever tasted. And they do it right at Kanaloa, starting with a homemade tortilla made with corn and…wait for it…butter. Yes, a buttery corn tortilla with deep grill marks holds shrimp sautéed with peppers and onions with a hint of chili and lime. Add in generous amounts of cream avocado, a smoky chipotle aioli, and melty jack cheese. This sumptuous taco left me dazzled. And that is hard to accomplish in a town known for fish tacos. I recommend this as one of the best in Santa Barbara.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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Introducing Kanaloa Seafood’s New Executive Chef, Antonio Almeida

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Introducing Kanaloa Seafood’s New Executive Chef, Antonio Almeida

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Please meet Kanaloa’s new executive chef, Antonio Almeida. Before I sat down to talk with him, I had already seen YouTube footage of Antonio instructing younger chefs at the exclusive Puerto Clandestino, where he worked after attending five years of culinary school in Mexico. Perhaps that is where he gained his food aesthetic.

As he says, “With food, you first have to enjoy with your eyes and then enjoy it a second time when you eat it. Food should be a form of art.”

He also studied with the famous French Chef Antoine while in Mexico. So there is no doubt that Chef Antonio could be cooking in any number of exclusive restaurants. Lucky for us, he has chosen Santa Barbara as his home and Kanaloa as his kitchen. The fit is symbiotic, as Kanaloa is known for its superbly fresh, sustainably farmed seafood, and Chef Antonio’s first love is seafood. He grew up in Los Mochis, a Mexican beach town where the eating culture showcases fish caught, prepared, and eaten right on the beach.

When I ask him what he most likes about cooking at Kanaloa, he says without hesitation, “The fish. It’s so different from other restaurants. They really respect the fish, and I can make superior dishes because of that.” His favorite item on the menu may be the swordfish tacos, with jerk spice, peppers, and mango, although the Korean tacos with marinated salmon are a close second.

It’s really clear talking with Antonio that everything in this kitchen is made from scratch and with great pride and devotion. Even the spices used on the fish are custom blends designed especially to compliment the fish (I especially recommend the Charmoula, which takes chili, garlic, and ginger as its base and is available for sale at the counter). Antonio is in the kitchen every morning at 7:30 a.m. to receive the two truckloads of fish from Kanaloa’s wholesale processing facility in Oxnard. Based on the fish and the particular produce he receives on a given day, he creates on-the-spot daily specials, such as the extremely popular octopus tacos. On the day I am there, he has a special “Bloody Mary” ceviche. He is particularly insistent that most restaurants over-marinate their ceviche, because the seafood is not fresh. Because the fish and shrimp at Kanaloa are of such high quality, a quick margination in lime juice “cooks” them without losing their flavor.

Antonio started off life with the first love of soccer. But during a hiatus for a leg injury, he stayed with his grandmother, who introduced him to the food that would form his own style. “Every day she made me something different. I’m a chef now, but when I go home, my grandma still cooks for me.” This heart, as well as his passion for food, are what really shine through in Antonio, and that makes for amazing dishes at Kanaloa.

You can see some of Chef Antonio’s tempting creations on his Instagram: jorgetortoledoo.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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