In September, I mentioned the Niçoise-style tuna carpaccio that was on the menu at Bouche (451 W. Alameda St., 982-6297). The menu has since changed, but it stuck a little in the back of my mind: Man, there is some kind of mostly-raw tuna on every high-tone menu in town! And seriously: There is. Take a little tour with me.
For example, Santacafé (231 Washington Ave., 984-1788) offers a simple yellowfin app with miso, wasabi and soy ($14). Many restaurants sail around the Pacific Rim for inspiration. Coyote Café (132 W. Water St., 983-1615) has a sexed-up Hawaiian tuna sashimi starter with sweet chile teriyaki sauce, lemon oil and a sugar snap pea and avocado salad ($22).
At Restaurant Martín (526 Galisteo St., 820-0919) there’s a yellowfin tuna tartare with green apple dashi, toasted seaweed oil, Hass avocado mousse, kabocha squash and frozen wasabi ($16). Martín also does a pan-seared yellowfin with miso spinach, butternut squash, smoked aioli and yuzupon reduction as an entree ($33).
Caviar is big, too. I was out at Blue Heron Restaurant at Sunrise Springs Resort & Spa (242 Los Pinos Road, 780-8145) for New Year’s Eve and chef Rocky Durham served buckwheat blini topped with caviar as a passed hors d’oeuvre. Simple, classic, it was one of the best things we ate all weekend. And it was notably better than the white blini and caviar I served at my house on Christmas Eve.
The Compound’s (653 Canyon Road, 982-4353) tuna tartare ($17) is served with walnut toast, preserved lemon and black caviar.
At Geronimo (724 Canyon Road, 982-1500) you get the whole shopping cart: Hawaiian ahi tuna sashimi and tartare combination with buttermilk scallion pancakes, wasabi creme fraiche, avocado, soy lime syrup, shiso leaves and caviar ($19).
The avocado-tuna combo is popular and it can go in different directions. Even at Eloisa (in the Drury Plaza Hotel, 228 E. Palace Ave., 982-0883), which focuses on a pretty landlocked flavor profile, the popularity of rare fish cannot be avoided: It’s a Hamachi starter with avocado, Seville orange, black limes and a cucumber vinaigreta ($16). Sazón’s atun Azteca comes with avocado, cucumber and spicy tacuba sauce ($17).
Tuna and cucumber do have an affinity; The Old House (in the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, 309 W. San Francisco St., 988-4455) offers a spicy Ahi tartare with avocado mousse, cucumber carpaccio, pickled radishes and crispy rice paper ($16).
Luminaria (in the Inn & Spa at Loretto, 211 Old Santa Fe Trail, 984-7915) mixes it up with avocado, macadamia nuts and a sesame-chipotle drizzle ($14).
You can understand the popularity of raw tuna from the restaurant’s perspective: It’s an attractive appetizer that satisfies people who don’t eat red meat; it can easily be paleo and gluten-free; it’s often low-fat and low-calorie and its enduring popularity makes it simultaneously exotic and familiar.
The New York Times named Hawaiian poke as one of the most trendy foods of 2016. Also fantastically trendy, according to Pinterest: things in bowls. Huh. Well, if you want to feel trendy at home, it’s actually pretty easy to whip up a newfangled tuna salad. Get some high-quality raw tuna. Cube it. Think about what kind of textures and flavors you want in there and add cucumber for crunch, avocado for creaminess, mango for a little sweetness. Whip up a marinade that includes flavors you like. Make it Mexican with lime juice, chipotle and cilantro. Go Asian with something like the recipe below. Just make sure you put it in a bowl if you want to look cool when you post it on Pinterest.
Simple Tuna Poke
Serves 2 as an appetizer
Take this as a starting point and feel free to experiment wildly with your marinade. Rice vinegar is a great addition but make sure you don’t leave it sitting too long before serving, as it will change the texture.
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- Red pepper flakes, sriracha or chipotle, to taste
- 1/2 pound high-quality yellowfin tuna, cubed
- 1/2 avocado, cubed
- 1/2 mango, cubed (optional)
- 1/2 cup cubed seedless cucumber (optional)
- Toasted white and black sesame seeds
In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, green onions and spicy thing of your choice.
Add the tuna and let it sit 5-15 minutes.
Just before serving, add the avocado, mango and/or cucumber.
Adjust the seasonings if necessary. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the top and serve.