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 feral 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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