The most recent edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary includes a few new food-related words, including “pescatarian,” a term that's been blogged and bandied about for a while to describe people whose diet falls somewhere between vegetarian and carnivore—it refers to a primarily veggie-based lifestyle that allows for a nice seafood dish now and again. “Pescatarian” certainly has a nicer ring to it than semi-vegetarian or flexi-vegetarian, two alternate names for this kind of diet.
As the movement toward more conscientious eating grows, so too does our vocabulary do describe what we choose to eat. Here's another word for you: “locavore,” named 2007's Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. Locavores eat food raised or produced within a short distance of where they live, with the logical reason being that the greater the distance food has to travel, the less fresh it'll be when it reaches your plate. If you can get it, local food, by and large, tastes better. And Sea Rocket Bistro gets it.
Sea Rocket inhabits the cozy rooms where The Linkery once thrived before moving into bigger digs a few blocks north up 30th Street. The casual, friendly space seems the right place to grow a fledgling restaurant that shares many similar convictions with its predecessor—namely, connecting you with the people and places responsible for the cultivation of your food. In the case of Sea Rocket Bistro's sustainable local seafood menu, it's important to know who's fishing for and harvesting your meal.
I first discovered Dennis Stein, who opened Sea Rocket in early June with his partner Elena Rivellino, a few years ago through his food blog (now rolled into Sea Rocket's blog), which documented his cooking experiments and adventures in local fooding.
The difference in dining experience between Sea Rocket's first day and its official grand opening in late July was pretty noticeable, but the passion and commitment— both in the kitchen and in the front of the house—was there from the start. Everything, from food execution to service, went a lot more smoothly on my most recent visit, when a friend and I stopped in on the first of Rocket's weekly nights that feature local breweries. We met the brewer from Lightning Brewery in Poway and a local sea urchin diver who was also in the house. Sea urchin, harvested right off the coast of Point Loma and Mission Beach, is usually only found in sushi restaurants, served raw, but here it's made into a richness sea urchin bisque, presented in its inky-purple spiky shell.
Occasionally, local fishermen will drop by to deliver what they've freshly caught by hook and line, or Elena or Dennis will sometimes hoof it down to the docks to bring back the day's catch, which Chef Gerry Rita and his crew turn into fish cakes, crunchy bites that are all fish and no filler and very well matched to the accompanying cool cucumber yogurt sauce. Filets of fish, including sea bass, halibut, shark or rock cod—depending on availability—are prepared identically but served two ways. The fish is pan-seared until crispy on top and bottom but still moist within and placed atop a ratatouille or on grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes. Some friends sitting at an adjacent table came by just for the sardines, the result of the owners' long quest, by foot and boat, to track down a source for these fresh fish. The sardines are skewered whole and then grilled until their skin blisters and crackles. Getting the meat off the tiny bones requires a little manual dexterity and patience.
Our two tables shared bites off each other's plates, especially enjoying the scallops on a bed of smoked mashed potatoes. The smoky flavor was subtle but present enough to make the potatoes more interesting. A lot of the dishes get finished with a vanilla-bean-infused oil, which looks fancy and tastes good but is probably a little superfluous.
Even the bread here is as local as can be, baked at Cardamom Café & Bakery that just opened around the corner. The slices of ciabatta are served with lima bean hummus, a nice change from the traditional chickpea.
No matter what you call yourself—locavore, pescatarian, whatever—you'll appreciate the effort this restaurant is making to get you a just few steps closer to your food.
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