Sometimes you view an item on a menu and a train wreck of ingredients and influences rolls in your mind as your stomach turns in empathetic reflex. I had a much milder reaction when I read “Maine Sea Urchin and Toasted Nori Risotto, Bonito Yuzu Emulsion” on the Victory beer pairing menu devised by Nectar’s (Berwyn, PA) Executive Chef, Patrick Feury. But like a wreck, my fascination drew me in to want to experience this dish that our award winning Moonglow Weizenbock had inspired.
Let me define these ingredients for you so you understand the complexity of what Chef is attempting here.
Sea urchin, well, after the spines are removed, the soft body is mostly prized for the part you see as ‘uni’ on many sushi menus. Often window dressed as the roe, this part is actually the creature’s sex glands. I am not certain what parts of the East Coast urchin that Chef Feury put into action, sorry to say, but he did so to sublime effect as the fats and proteins of this addition negated the use of any cheese to make the cooked rise (‘risotto’) amazingly creamy.
Nori is the onionskin thin sheets of deep green seaweed that rolled sushi is often contained in. For me it has a flavor between leafy green vegetables and toasted almonds and the sea is just a salty whisper. It was subdued in the dish but surely played a supporting role like trombones in a symphony orchestra.
Bonito is crispy-thin flakes of smoked bonito tuna. This element was key, as I’ll explain later, but the smoke character was evident and the fish oils were luxurious as they opened up in your mouth.
Yuzu. Well, this is a citrus fruit. A rather sharp and tart fruit full of lively flavor most reminiscent of fresh lemon.
Wow, all of the above flavors floating in a frothy emulsion of tart citrus fruit? Ding, ding. Ding… train wreck comin’!
Not so. Without even a sip of Moonglow, the disparate flavors all hummed in tempered control and then blossomed in sublime harmony as they combined in the mouth. Dried tuna became earthy in the presence of bright citrus and urchin simply played the low, rich bass notes supporting it all. Moonglow accentuated the yuzu tang initially, until the caramel aspect of the ale began to resonate with the deeper urchin/smoke flavors. Of course, all of these impressions came after the fantastic visual display as the dried bonito curled and uncurled like live tentacles above the steaming rice that rehydrated the long slivers into writhing dancers.
So, the adage of not judging a book by its cover certainly rings true when the creation comes from an infinitely talented and well versed chef like Patrick, who was inspired by Victory beers. We are entering the final week (ends October 9) of his Victory beer paired menu so if you are near Victory you owe it to yourself to experience Maine Sea Urchin and Toasted Nori Risotto, Bonito Yuzu Emulsion or any of the equally grand (I have had them all) items below.
Also on the menu:
- Smoked then Grilled Herbed Shrimp and Scallop Sausage
- Black Truffle Celery Root Salad
- Roasted Organic Oyler’s Eden Farm Apples with Victory Lager
- Seared Viking Village Day Boat Scallops
- Braised Pork
- Baked Fingerling Potatoes with Victory Festbier
- Pan Roasted Striped Bass
- Caramelized Fennel with Saffron
- PEI Mussels with Victory Moonglow Weizenbock
- Sea Salt Crusted Lobster Sushi Roll
- Toasted Corn and Chile Puree with Victory Braumeister Pils Cinderella Pumpkin Soup
- Warm Goat Cheese Gougère with Victory Prima Pils