With South Florida located toward the tip of a peninsula, one would think that options for fine seafood would be abundant.
And you'd be right; seafood shacks, raw bars, and local fish in restaurants about. Yet, when it comes to seafood spots with innovative concepts, not so much.
As is the case with most things, Broward and Palm Beach are a bit late to the game, but we're starting to see some places that are creating groundbreaking dishes right in our counties; PB Catch is leading the way with its unique seacuterie -- the pescatarian's alternative to cured meats -- extensive oyster selection, and sustainable seafood offerings.
For part one of our Q&A with chef Aaron Black, we chatted about sea-cuterie, infused oysters, and what makes a good seafood restaurant.
Clean Plate Charlie: You have one of the largest selections of oysters in Broward and Palm Beach Counties in the restaurant; just this week you had a dozen varieties at one time. Were you well acquainted with them before PB Catch?
Black: Oysters are amazing naturally; it's about learning the flavors and where they come from. Before we opened I thought, what a great opportunity about oysters. They're so diverse. One of my favorites are the little islands from Maine, but I started noticing that some of them had different flavor profiles. They stack them ten boxes high before shipping them, and it turns out that where they sat on the pile affects the flavor. The ones on the bottom taste earthy like west coast oysters and the ones on top have a cleaner east coast flavor. We always want to offer a nice range of flavors from different geographic areas.
That's interesting. Do you use the different flavor profiles to enhance dishes?
Since oysters filter so much water I decided to play with it to see if you could infuse the flavor. I set up a tank with a water, sake, and a filter, and threw some oysters in there. The first time I put a bit too much sake; the oyster were wide open and I though I killed them. Normally, when you touch a live oyster it snaps back; I did and they were really slow to respond. I was like, "Oh. No. They'r drunk." Now I use less sake; it's a pretty low-tech deal. I feature it as a feature from time to time.
You're also one of the first in the area to feature sea-cuterie. How did you come up with that idea?
I always did charcuterie; when I was in D.C. I worked for a chef that was a charcuterie master. My first day of work I walked into the walk-in and there was a suckling pig and a goat; it was great. You use every-bit of the animal. With seafood the techniques are derived from traditional methods, but the protein is different with fish you need a restrained hand. I wanted to do it here for a year and a half before we actually put it on the menu, but was given a week and a half to get some things on the menu. We started off with some dishes that are pretty straightforward, like the cured seabass, but other things took time. To come up with the right technique for properly smoking a mussel, it took us five tries.
What's your favorite selection out of the sea-cuterie dishes?
It's hard to pick, but I'd say the coffee cured pumpkin swordfish.
The concept is coming up on other menus. What does that say to you?
It shows me we're heading on the right direction.
You print your menus everyday. Where do you find inspiration for dishes that are constantly changing?
The fish that is available is inspirational for sure, but really I get inspiration from produce. Pontano Farms in Fort Lauderdale grows seeds for me that I get from my dad in Ohio. I recently had them grow some heirloom tomatoes that are beautiful.
A lot of people think they despise oysters. Are there specific varieties that you would suggest for those who are leery of them?
Definitely; I'd say kusshi oysters from British Columbia, little islands, or anything from Prince Edward Island -- it's so far north and cold, they're just salty and clean.
What about for people who say they don't seafood in general, what would you suggest?
I think it's about fresh seafood; many of those people who don't it have only had fried fish from a seafood shack.
What do you think makes a good seafood restaurant?
I think it's about striving to have a balance on the menu. You want a range of healthy and savory. We're still constantly working on redefining ourselves, figuring it out, and reacting to the mob; the mob can be fickle.
Where do you like to eat when you're not working?
PB Catch is located at 251 Sunrise Ave. in Palm Beach. Call 561-655-5558, or visit pbcatch.com
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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