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.