A Crabby Christmas? Yes, Please!

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A Crabby Christmas? Yes, Please!

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Call me an underinformed foodie, but I didn’t know Dungeness crab has a season. Apparently, for many it’s the event of the holidays. People wait all year for crab season to begin, and it usually comes a week before Thanksgiving. Thus, in early November, many loyal Kanaloa customers call in, anxiously checking, “Are the crab in yet?” They place preorders for it, and everyone waits on pins and needles until the fisherman finally give the thumbs up. You already know that we in Santa Barbara like to have tamales at Christmas because…well, why wouldn’t you! But for many, crab for holiday meals is a tradition. Some have it the night before Thanksgiving as a pre-feast, some for Christmas, some just for the office party. Hundreds of pounds of juicy crabs fly out the door at Kanaloa to make the Santa Barbara party circuit.

If crustaceans worry you, don’t panic! I know I am the last person who would attempt to make crab or lobster at home. But Kanaloa is making this as worry-free as possible. The crab is freshly cooked there, and can be ordered by the whole crab, or you can ask for it cracked and already arranged on a plate, ready to eat. Trust me, if you show up with a platter of these beauties to a party, your name will be spoken in a haloed tones.

“So,” I ask Randee with studied casualness, “What kind of dipping sauces do you pair with this?” She mentioned their many tasty homemade options, from tarragon aioli to cocktail sauce to saffron aioli. But when she says “tartar sauce,” my eyes narrow, my little foodie eyes start to gleam. She has no idea she has stumbled into dangerous territory. Tartar sauce, for me, is something akin to holiness, when it is done well, and it is worthy of banishment if it’s bad. And it’s usually bad. I won’t name names, but there are certain brands of tartar sauce that give me the food equivalent of road rage. But Randee is confident in Martín’s sauce-ology, and she brings me a taste.

I try a tentative nibble. Dear heaven. Tangy mayonnaise, finely minced green onions, flecks of parsley, pickles, vinegary capers, a hit of lemon juice, and then that trifecta of garlic, tarragon, and dill. The lemony juniper flavor of capers flies it over the top. I defy you to not eat this directly from the spoon. This is at once the familiar and recognizable flavors of tartar sauce but prepared in such a way that you will want to eat it with literally everything. It is not heavy the way mayonnaise based sauces often are. It feels almost whipped, light, creamy, without being heavy. This is possibly the most masterful tartar sauce I have ever eaten. Serve this with cracked crab legs and you are winning at the holidays.

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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Redemption of a Foodie: Glorious Kanaloa Salmon and Scallops for Dinner!

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Redemption of a Foodie: Glorious Kanaloa Salmon and Scallops for Dinner!

I have a certain reputation among friends and family. I am known, fondly I’d like to think, for blackened cuisine. Not blackened catfish from Louisiana, but rather blackened grilled cheese, blackened potatoes, blackened rice. There is nothing that I have not burnt to a crisp. And it invariably happens about two hours before Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is about to start. Last year, the vegetarian gravy I spent hours fussing over ended up on the ceiling, as I was not aware of the jet engine power present in a Vitamix blender. The year before that, I accidentally put a package of sweetened goat cheese into a recipe meant for a savory cheese ball.  At this point, my family just asks me to bring a bottle of wine.

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So, all of that is to say that when Martín assures me that even I can cook his grab-and-go dinner entrée, I am a little nervous. But for the sake of readers everywhere, I take the container marked Campbell River Salmon and Scallops. I pepper the patient Martín with questions, but he just smiles and says, “Just put it in the oven! When it’s golden brown, it’s done.” And as the directions on the package already say 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees, it’s not as if I have to guess what to do. But what do I serve with it? He suggests green veggies and mashed potatoes. As I drive home, I realize, I have baking potatoes and a bag of frozen veggies. Maybe I don’t even need to swing by the store. I like this easy gourmet thing!

At home, I roast the potato until it’s soft and warm in its crispy jacket, and I carefully slide the salmon onto the baking tray. Martín has already topped it with everything it will need to be delicious: spinach pesto, scallops, and panko breadcrumbs. I pace anxiously for fifteen minutes, peering through the glass. I must make Martín proud! Well, I needn’t have worried. It is done at exactly fifteen minutes in, bubbling and crisped and just slightly browned on the edges. I put it on a plate with the veggies and potato, my mouth watering. This salmon is a steak, there’s no other word for it, half an inch think, corral, smooth, and substantial. On top a lemony, buttery broiled confection of herbed panko, garlicky rich spinach pesto, and little bursts of scallops. The bottom is just a little crispy and browned at the edges. This is the kind of salmon you get as your entrée when you go out to Christmas Eve at a very nice restaurant. But this is better. Because it came from my stove and the whole house smells glorious. And it isn’t burnt! I would serve this to my family in a heartbeat and they would thank all the Christmas Elves that I made something tasty for dinner! I start thinking to myself, “Maybe Christmas will be at my house this year!”

The taste is wonderful, the feeling of accomplishing a great meal at home is wonderful, but what is even better is that Martín thinks up a new dish each week as his grab-and-go, which are available Wednesday through Saturday. Call on Wednesday and see what he’s making. Or, like me, my mouth still full with scallops and pesto, I call him and ask, “So, Martín, what are you making for this Wednesday?”

“Salmon Wellington,” he says, and my heart starts racing. The salmon Wellington. Kanaloa’s holiday specialty. I’ve been waiting for this. “Save one for me, Martín,” I say gleefully, “I’ll be there bright and early on Wednesday!” Well, Wednesday evening, if you want to be sure it’s ready. I tell you this now, in all honesty, if I can make Salmon Wellington at home, it will be nothing short of magic. But magic is not in short supply at Kanaloa, especially not during the holidays!

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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Odile’s Bouillabaisse and Kanaloa Tradition

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Odile’s Bouillabaisse and Kanaloa Tradition

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The holidays are a time for food traditions to be celebrated. You know tradition when you taste it, although you might not put it in those particular terms. And soup might not be your first thought for the holidays either, but let’s consider it. Few things are more comforting, and yet often soup is plain, needs a great deal of salt, and is just an excuse to carry large hunks of buttered bread or grilled cheese to your mouth. But a really well-done soup should stand alone, and the start of that is the stock. So how do tradition, the holidays, and soup come together here? One of Kanaloa’s holiday traditions is bouillabaisse, a French soup from Provence that takes seafood as the star. Martín Chavez, who is himself a tradition at Kanaloa, having worked there for thirty-five years, is famed for his bouillabaisse stock, which starts with a fish stock rich with celery, onion, thyme, and fish bones. Then it is strained, and sautéed onions, fennel, and tomato are added, along with a special spice blend that is, for lack of a better phrase, the secret ingredient.

Owner Randee Disraeli brings out the mysterious spice mix for me to inspect, a brilliant gold bouquet of saffron and many other flavors that I can’t quite guess. But Randee isn’t going to give the ingredients away. This spice mix is near to her heart and has been part of Kanaloa’s cooking since its inception. Chef Odile Mathieu was one of Kanaloa’s original customers, and befriended Randee and her husband. “About ten years about after we started,” Randee says, “Odile went with us to Europe and we drove the whole coast of France with her, taste-testing seafood. We’d sit down on a park bench, and she’d make vinaigrette right there on her cutting board and we’d have a picnic.” She was the kind of friend who would leave paper cutouts of footprints on the floor for the children to follow, with a giant bowl of chocolate mousse waiting for them at the end of the trail. As part of this culinary friendship, Odile shared the spice mix for the bouillabaisse, and Randee has had it specially blended for Kanaloa since then.

So, you may wonder, what is the big deal about this soup that people order quarts and quarts of bouillabaisse from Kanaloa? Well, the soup is rich, well-balanced, and immensely comforting. I can and do eat it all by itself. But there is something missing here. What could it be? The fish! Luckily, Kanaloa is a fish market as well as a restaurant. Randee says that many families make this their holiday tradition. “They take the bouillabaisse  home and customize it with whatever they want. Shrimp, octopus, mussels, swordfish…” So if you are wanting to make an amazing entrée, order a few quarters of bouillabaisse to pick up from Kanaloa, along with your favorite seafood, and you will be well under way for an amazing meal.

Of course, you can also chose to have your family celebration at Kanaloa. As Randee says, “If people have special events with their families here, they ask us to prepare the bouillabaisse specially in the restaurant, with their choice of ingredients.”

However you decide to have the Kanaloa bouillabaisse, just know that with each spoonful, you are sharing in a Kanaloa tradition that may just become your family’s tradition.

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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New York Cheesecake Brownie: Don’t Forget Dessert!

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New York Cheesecake Brownie: Don’t Forget Dessert!

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I am going to let you in on a secret. Most of the restaurants in this town do not make their own desserts. If you’re lucky, they get a local bakery to supply them with dessert. But most get their desserts delivered by food services that provide that same rubbery cheesecake and uninspired tart to the entire country. If you have every puzzled why a fresh, tasty entrée was followed with an uninspired dessert, that is likely the reason. Luckily, Chef Antonio is a chocolate fan. And he worked really hard to create the dessert at Kanaloa, a gluten free brownie topped with a thin layer of cheesecake and then chocolate ganache. Delightfully rich, soft, and full of flavor. On the side sit sliced strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, on little pillows of house-made raspberry jam. House-made jam. This is the kind of detail that distinguishes an okay restaurant from an amazing one. You may not be sitting there like a food critic, letting the jam play on your taste buds, and declaring to the chef, “This is house made, isn’t it!” But you will notice that what you’re eating tastes delicious, far more so that a normal dessert experience.

Chef Antonio savors and bite and says, “I can’t imagine having dinner and not having dessert. You need to have that sweet ending.” So save room for dessert, and if you’re feeling decadent, ask for a scoop of McConnell’s ice cream to go with it.

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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Surf and Turf: Lobster and Chorizo Tacos at Kanaloa

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Surf and Turf: Lobster and Chorizo Tacos at Kanaloa

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There are a lot of things you might expect when you see a taco on the menu in Santa Barbara. But lobster and chorizo tacos are probably not one. Yet it is a popular special at Kanaloa Seafood, consisting of two open-faced tacos presented on a wood plank. Now, given that sustainable Maine lobster is the star of the show, I’ll tell you right away that the lobster is exactly what it should be: luxurious, dense bites of mouth happiness sautéed with butter and garlic. And dotted among the generous pieces of lobster, small little gems of local, spicy chorizo give a slick of beautiful orange oil to the tortilla.

And I know this may sound funny, but the tortilla itself is significant. Because it starts with chiles that the chef roasts and powders, then adds to the two kinds of masa that go into the tortilla. He makes the tortilla thick and on the spot, as you order the dish. He then grills cheese onto it, so that there are crispy bits of cheese in the mix. So, the base of this princely dish is impeccable fresh tortilla with a little kick of heat to it. As you enjoy the soft, juicy Anaheim chiles and crispy cabbage, it may occur to you that Chef Antonio is playing with the standards of a Mexican Street taco, just making each ingredient the apex of what it can be. Trust me, you will not find plain aioli on these tacos. You will find a palate-cleansing mango aioli that is rich and sweet. The sweet roasted corn is a really beautiful finish to this smoky play on a street taco…a street taco filled with the stuff dreams are made of! You will leave with a pleasant heat lingering in your throat, just the right kind of fire that comes from an artful balance of strong flavors.

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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Loup de Mer and Vogelzang Pinot Noir: Dinner is Served!

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Loup de Mer and Vogelzang Pinot Noir: Dinner is Served!

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I learn something new every time I stop by Kanaloa to peruse the menu. And today, for dinner, I’m looking at something called Loup de Mer. Which sounds French and a little like a loop de loop. But it is actually a delicious Greek fish, that is butterflied and baked. I ask Chef Antonio why the blue tail fin of the fish is attached. “On the beach in Mexico, it is very common that people take the fish right out of the boat and put it onto the grill, so the name of the fish means ‘still flipping’ in Spanish.” Thus the tail is there to remind you of the inspiration of this recipe. Chef Antonio often sees seabass prepared this way, but he has picked Loup de mer, and as he says, “I respect the uniqueness of the fish by baking it, not grilling. And I bake it whole to keep the juice and flavor in.” Flecks of spice cover this white, silky soft fish, and it turns out Antonio has been at play with chermoula seasoning, a specialty spice mix that is available at the counter for purchase. But so too is there the familiar elements of lemon and thyme.

You may think that with such a delicate, soft fish, I will be eating it with a fairy thimble and a single leaf of lettuce on the side. But the delight of this dish is that it is smothered in onions that have been caramelized in clarified butter. And it is topped with beautiful purple and orange carrots that have also been cooked in butter. Look here and there for heirloom cherry tomatoes and some peppery arugula.  

This dish brings the savory flavor of a special occasion home-cooked meal, only elevated above what I could ever hope to cook. A masterful hand can take the ordinary and make something magical, and that’s what you will get in the Loup de Mer. I recommend enjoying it with a glass of one of the wines on offer at Kanaloa? Perhaps the Vogelzang Pinot Noir, which is an expressive, floral wine that compliments the fish beautifully.  

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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Kanaloa Crab cakes: The Crabby Foodie Concedes

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Kanaloa Crab cakes: The Crabby Foodie Concedes

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It is a known fact: I judge a restaurant by its crab cake. Without apology. If your crab cake falls short, the whole restaurant is right out. Call me a crab cake connoisseur with stringent standards. So when Chef Antonio suggests I try the Kanaloa crab cake, my nostrils flicker, my eyes start to glow, and I hand him the challenge: Bring on your best crab cake, chef.

The crab cake arrives with a flourish. Much rests on this moment. Much, indeed. What do I expect? A crisp exterior, possibly a twist of lemon, and then a heavenly sauce that I can dunk in with abandon. The inside of the crab cake should be moist, creamy, and the crab should be real crab, not that fake stuff that lurks in many would-be crab cakes.

But I should know by now that Chef Antonio never brings the expected. He always has some element of flavor that elevates a dish and takes it just a step beyond what you think it will be. This crab cake arrives as a an inch-thick prince swimming in a lake of sweet chili sauce. He says, “I use rock crab and blue crab mixed with peppers, garlic, and Old Bay seasoning. So it’s a stronger crab flavor, and the seasoning matches it.” Panko bread binds the crab cake, and it is fried quickly in butter and then baked, so that the outside is crunchy and the inside is creamy smooth. Yes, I nod, scooping up a big bite, but what about the sauce? “The sauce is Thai sauce,” he says, “so it’s Thai pepper with butter and heavy cream.” The result is a creamy sauce that is crazy good. As Chef points out, most restaurants offer one or two sauces that they reuse for most of their dishes. The Thai sauce for the crab cakes was made particularly for the dish. And you will find that this is true for all of their dishes; each sauce is special. “Before I make a recipe, I imagine the food,” he says, “And I ask you trust me to take you on that flavor journey.”

On top of the crab cake sit a little crown of thin-sliced cucumbers marinated in rice vinegar. Although I consider this the ultimate adult-pleasing dish, Chef Antonio often recommends this for his younger customers. It is a substantial appetizer and makes a great meal for a younger diner. It comes with a side of the house salad, which is far better than anything that a normal restaurant calls a house salad. Golden beets, goat cheese, roasted macadamia nuts, lemon vinaigrette, and thin red onions nestle in romaine.

Chef Antonio is gleefully waiting for the crabby foodie to concede. I finally wave the white flag. “You win,” I say with my mouth still full, “This is good. Really good!”

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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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

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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