Category Archives: Seafood

Marinara Pasta with Secret Sauce

Italian marinara pasta with bread crumbs gets a splash of Vietnamese fish sauce for the win.
Italian marinara pasta with bread crumbs gets a splash of Vietnamese fish sauce for the win.

My dad probably was never aware of the concept of umami.

All he knew was that a splash of soy sauce imparted a magical touch to so many dishes — from homemade steak sauce to a marinade for prime rib to Thanksgiving gravy.

He’d reach for that bottle of soy sauce instinctively, knowing it would add depth of flavor and a boost of savoriness to most anything it touched.

In much the same way, Vietnamese fish sauce is as indispensable in the kitchen.

If you know the fermented condiment made from black anchovies and salt only from its use in the ubiquitous nuoc cham dipping sauce served alongside so many dishes at Vietnamese restaurants, you know merely a fraction of its uses.

Explore just how versatile fish sauce can be in the new cookbook, “The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook: Beloved Recipes from the Family Behind the Purest Fish Sauce” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), of which I received a review copy.

It was written by the East Bay’s Cuong Pham, the former Apple engineer who founded Red Boat Fish Sauce, the game-changing brand that’s beloved by legions of top chefs and home-cooks.

After immigrating to the United States, he hunted high and low for the ultra fragrant, deeply amber fish sauce of his youth. When he couldn’t find any brands here that met his standards, he created his own in 2011, sourcing wild black anchovies off the coast of Vietnam and combining them with nothing but salt in wooden barrels to ferment the age-old way. In doing so, he created a fish sauce celebrated for its purity of flavor with no additives, enhancers, or preservatives.

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Crème Fraiche Pasta with Peas and Scallions (and Smoked Salmon)

A perfect weeknight dish that comes together in little more time than it takes to boil the pasta.
A perfect weeknight dish that comes together in little more time than it takes to boil the pasta.

When my good friend Elaine gifted me a slab of moist, flaky hot-smoked salmon from Washington state for the holidays, I knew I wanted to highlight it in a simple yet special way.

I found the perfect vehicle in ” Crème Fraiche Pasta with Peas and Scallions.”

The recipe from the archives of the New York Times is by food writer Hana Asbrink, a former senior editor at Food52 and cook at Jean-Georges’ ABC Kitchen in New York.

This easy pasta dish didn’t originally have smoked salmon in it. But it sure made for a delectable addition. What’s more, I think even canned salmon would work well in this dish.

This fabulous weeknight dish comes together easily in just about the time it takes to boil the pasta.

Three bunches — yes, bunches — of green onions get sliced, then caramelized and charred in a cast-iron pan. That may seem like a lot of green onions, but once wilted, they don’t amount to that much. Plus, once you taste the irresistible sweet onion-y flavor they add to the pasta, you’ll wish you had sauteed even more green onions.

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Dining Outside at King’s Fish House

The albacore tuna roll at King's Fish House.
The albacore tuna roll at King’s Fish House.

King’s Fish House opened in the Westfield Valley Fair shopping center during the height of the pandemic in October 2020.

But you’d never know it.

The place has been hopping since it debuted. So much so that the mall even turned over to the restaurant an additional outdoor dining area a few steps away that had been just extra public space before. The restaurant now opens up that seating area on weekends when it gets extra busy.

Even on weekdays, though, there’s still plenty of outdoor dining, as the 7,400-square-foot restaurant is lined with floor-to-ceiling garage doors that can be opened up entirely. The tables on the perimeter also have woven mechanized blinds that can go up entirely or be let down to shield from the sun.

That’s where I sat when I was invited in as a guest last week, enjoying a nice breeze on a balmy night. After more than a year of cooking at home or getting takeout, I’ve only dined outside at about eight places in the past two months. I will say that King’s is the only one I’ve encountered so far where not everyone on staff was masked. As of today, mask wearing indoors is only recommended, not mandated, but if you’re the very cautious type, that may be a consideration.

The restaurant opened on the mall's new dining terrace.
The restaurant opened on the mall’s new dining terrace.

This is the first Northern California outpost of the Southern California restaurant chain that’s owned by King’s Seafood Company. It operates a dozen restaurant concepts in California, Arizona, and Nevada.

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Dining News Around The Bay

"Fall Off the Bone'' wings from alaMar Kitchen & Bar. (Photo by Dana Plucinski)
“Fall Off the Bone” wings from alaMar Kitchen & Bar. (Photo by Dana Plucinski)

Nelson German of “Top Chef” Reopens Indoor Dining at alaMar Kitchen & Bar In Oakland

After months of doing only takeout and delivery, alaMar Kitchen & Bar in Oakland reopened last week for indoor dining. Come by to say “hello” to Chef Nelson German, whose time on this season’s “Top Chef’‘ was cut short by an injury from which he has thankfully recovered.

The lively restaurant, which blends Latin, Caribbean, and Mediterranean flavors, has undergone an interior refresh. The menu also has been updated with some new offerings, including shrimp tacos “quesa style” with Oaxaca cheese, chow chow and salsa criolla; roasted oysters with salsa verde, pork longaniza, and Parmesan butter; and stuffed masa, a recreation of his “Unidentified Dominican Object” created in an episode 6 challenge of “Top Chef.”

Chef-Owner Nelson German. (Photo by Melati Citrawireja)
Chef-Owner Nelson German. (Photo by Melati Citrawireja)

Perennial favorites, “Fall Off the Bone Wings” and “Peel and Eat Shrimp,” that proved popular during takeout can still be enjoyed on the dining room menu, too.

For more fun, pick up a copy of my cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1) at the restaurant, local bookstores or on Amazon. It features recipes and stories from a roster of top East Bay chefs, including German.

Scott’s Chowder House Opens in San Jose

Scott’s Chowder House, a more casual spin-off from veteran Scott’s Seafood, opened in downtown San Jose last week, with another planned to debut next month in San Francisco at 334 Grant Ave.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Takeout of Late, Part 32

The mixed grill plate of chicken and lamb from Athena Grill.
The mixed grill plate of chicken and lamb from Athena Grill.

Athena Grill, Santa Clara

It would be understandable if you thought you’d gotten lost while trying to get to Athena Grill in Santa Clara. Surrounded by low-slung industrial buildings, it doesn’t look at all like a neighborhood where you’d find a restaurant of any sort.

But this casual, family-owned Greek restaurant has been drawing a loyal following to this spot for the past 19 years.

It’s the type of simple, oregano-fragrant food in ample portions that you picture yourself enjoying at an outdoor cafe overlooking the Aegean Sea. When you get the food to-go, just be prepared to work up an appetite, inhaling the heady garlic the whole way home.

It’s one of the few places you’ll find smelt ($11.95). These tiny fish, lightly breaded and fried, are about the size of the french fries they come with. In fact, you may have trouble distinguishing the two at first glance. Squeeze on some lemon juice and dunk into the container of skordalia, a creamy potato garlic dip. They’re mild tasting, and edible in their entirety.

Fried smelt and fries (back), and grilled sardines with garlic fries (front).
Fried smelt and fries (back), and grilled sardines with garlic fries (front).

If larger fishes are more your speed, go for the grilled sardines mezes ($12.95). They are marinated in olive oil, garlic and lemon before getting crisped on the grill. You have to debone them yourself. But that’s easy enough to do. They are tender, slightly stronger in taste with their rich oil, and just a joy to dig into.

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