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.