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.