Thursday, September 29, 2011

Late Night Date Night at Sea Change

The term Sea Change comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest, and signifies a radical transformation. in Minneapolis, Sea Change also means top-rate seafood. It's one of Tim McKee's restaurants, and seeing as how Mr. McKee is high on the list of heroes in the Buck-and-her-Boyfriend household, it's the obvious choice when people ask me to recommend a seafood place in the city.

The restaurant is located on the northwest side of the ground floor of the beautiful blue Guthrie Theater. When the theater moved to its new location for the 2006-2007 season, the restaurant in this space was called Cue, but it was lame and closed, leaving room for Sea Change to open in 2009 (the restaurant was considered a lock for the best new restaurant in the Twin Cities until Bar La Grassa opened a mile up the road). It is a sustainable seafood restaurant: something that is trendy, but also important. It's something I really respect and admire in restaurateurs like Rick Moonen, who was one of the first major chefs to embrace responsible fishing practices.

Since Sea Change is housed in the Guthrie, many (if not most) of its patrons are theatergoers, meaning that reservations are early and the place clears out around 7:15 so that diners can be in their seats for a 7:30 curtain. In order to offset this frontloaded business schedule, Sea Change has started something called Late Night Date Night. On Friday and Saturday evenings after 7:30 pm, you can get a four course meal for two plus a bottle of wine, for just $99! This past Saturday evening, my regular date and I decided to give it a try.

We arrived early, so we sat at the bar to grab a drink. True to ourselves, I ordered a pear martini and he ordered a Hennepin Ale. The bartender brought over an appetizer and oyster menu, and we ordered two oysters apiece. Now, here's where I'm going to get cheesy (you knew it was coming) but my attitude toward oysters has undergone a sea change since I started dating my seafood-loving sweetheart. In my experience, oysters are pretty polarizing. People either think they are nasty, loogie-esque wastes of money, or people think they are a great fancy treat. Until the last year or so, I have had the attitude toward oysters that it's best to close your eyes and swallow without thinking too hard about what's in your mouth (yeah, I know). Recently, though, I've begun to enthusiastically agree to order them, and have even started savoring them and being able to discern the difference between different varieties! I guess it's an acquired taste. I attribute the turning point to my fateful night at Tom Colicchio's CraftSteak in Las Vegas--also known as The Night of One Hundred Oysters and One Thousand Drinks.

After slurping down our mollusks and our drinks, we were seated at our table. The Late Night Date Night menu consists of two choices for each course. The first course choice was either two oysters (go figure) or Albacore Tuna with lime, seasame, and coconut. Seeing as how we had just enjoyed oysters at the bar, we both opted for the Tuna. Boy did we opt right! It was two 1.5" cubes (raw) set on a bed of seaweed and leek salad, covered in a creamy sriracha sauce and topped off with delicious red roe. This is a compliment that I do not dole out lightly, but it was some of the best raw fish I've had, anywhere, ever. Well done, Jamie Malone.

Oh--we'd had our choice of about six different bottles of wine, and chose the Primaterra Pinot Grigio. When our server brought the bottle to the table, I was suspicious because the bottle broke one of my primary wine drinking rules: do not drink a wine with an animal on the label, especially not if the animal is illustrated. The wine was OK-not-great. Not a bottle I'd buy, but it was fine for the meal. I was already two drinks in at this point (a glass of wine at The Public House before leaving home, and then my pear martini at the bar) and not feeling picky.

Our choices for the second course made us laugh out loud. Here they are, exactly as printed on the menu:

Gnocchi :: pork cheek/brown butter/cauliflower/hazelnut
Romaine Salad

Some People! Who in their right mind would opt for the romaine salad, given these choices! Unless you are a vegetarian or are allergic to everything, you have no excuse, and you should not even be dining in an establishment like Sea Change! Go back to Red Lobster if you want your seafood restaurants to serve you food you could make yourself at home! As you can probably guess, we both opted for the gnocchi and it. was. phenom-bomb. You can see in the picture, it came with lightly steamed greens on top. Not really steamed, but more like warm-because-they-got-put-on-a-hot-plate. I just ate mine quickly before they got too awkward. The pork cheek was simply excellent. It had the kind of savory flavor that I dream of creating at home, and had clearly been slow-cooked for hours. My handsome date thought his gnocchi was a little burnt, but mine was perfect. I would have happily eaten this as my entree.

Obviously, though, the main course was fish. Once again, we chose the same option for our third course (usually when we have a tasting menu we try to choose different things and then share so we can taste everything)--because the other option was chicken! At a seafood restaurant! At any rate, the way the fish was described was pretty solid: Steelhead :: jidori egg/horseradish/asparagus. I love eggs, horseradish, and asparagus, so I was sure it couldn't go wrong--and it didn't! The most exciting thing was: it came out with scrambled eggs with what appeared to be a poached egg on top of them. But when I went to crack the poached egg open, it was filled with creamy horseradish sauce! I love little surprises like that! Also, along the edges of the plate was this black powder. It tasted like charred... something, and when I asked the waiter, he told us that they char leeks, and then grind them to a powder. So cool! I did think the trout was just a slight bit underdone for my taste, but I also completely understand that this is a personal preference. I love raw fish as an appetizer or in sushi, but when I'm eating a filet, I prefer it to be slightly more cooked through. There also were a few large pieces of roe on the plate, which tasted a bit too salty at times (although I could have gotten an unbalanced bite in my mouth).

There was no choice for dessert; it was a plate of four chocolates. There was a brownie, cake crumbs, chocolate cremeaux (fancy talk for mousse), and cocoa jelly. Dotted on the plate was blackberry puree which was delicious. It was classic molecular gastronomy, and I will never complain about chocolate for dessert!

I would happily recommend that anyone with a modestly adventurous palate check out the Late Night Date Night at Sea Change. If nothing else, I tried some things off the menu that I may not have ordered if given other choices (helloooooo, Octopus!). The hostess said that they are planning to continue this indefinitely, and I'm looking forward to visiting again throughout the fall and winter. After all, I need to keep cultivating my taste for oysters!

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