Robert Bush 11:18 p.m., May 25
I haven't been to Sea Rocket in a while, not since before Chad White started working for Brian Malarkey and former sous chef Tommy Fraioli started wearing the Big Hat in the bistro's kitchen. The visit's made more relevant by the fact that Sea Rocket is gearing up to celebrate their 4-year anniversary on Thursday, May 31st with a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres party (tickets for which will cost $25 per person). June 1-3, following the cocktail party, the kitchen is going to resurrect some favorite, old recipes from Sea Rocket's past for a limited run. Expect to see the sea urchin bisque and beet tart, among others.
I expect a lot from the kitchen at North Park's sustainable seafood haunt. In the past, I've been smitten with the food and found the creative preparations to be a successful marriage of simplicity and artful technique. I started to get reacquainted with Sea Rocket's food with an order of the smoky grilled Baja shrimp ($13). The shellfish, served with a jalapeno jam and a spicy, arugula salad, had a deep flavor from the grill. I wouldn't say the shrimp were outright overcooked, but they had seen a bit too much time on the heat and had toughened up as a result.
Uni and oyster shooters ($5 each) followed the shrimp. The raw fish floated in a shot of ginger beer and lemon juice with a few chili flakes tossed in to elevate the mood. The oyster shooter was something of a letdown. Oysters just don't get along with other foods that well; which is why they aren't usually served in sushi restaurants, they taste bogus with rice and sake. There was a lot of tension in the oyster shooter's flavor and the result was less than invigorating.
The uni shooter, on the other hand, deserves highest praise. Despite the fact that it wasn't exactly photogenic, the shooter had one of the most finely constructed flavors I've tasted in recent memory. The creamy, almost sweet urchin roe combined with the zesty soda in an incredible way. I ordered a second and I will go back for more.
I tried a bottle of Karl Strauss' Flanders-style red ale that proved to be a big let down. Not the fault of Sea Rocket at all--the misstep is Karl's and Karl's alone--but I recommend that fans of Flemish reds take a pass on the brew. It just wasn't a good example of the style.
Of course, at Sea Rocket, I had to order a simple plate of fish. Cooking up sculpin takes some stones, it's the opposite of a popular fish, and the $17 plate of sculpin that was on the menu came with a medley of fresh vegetables and a fairly generous portion of the fish. The meat had been pan-seared to a deep, golden brown on one side. It was not overcooked, however, so the filets retained some firmness. Cooking like this is simple, but doing it really well takes a deft touch. The vegetables, a mix of greens, beans, and mushrooms, were rich and buttery, but had been mildly over-salted to my taste.
As I said, I had very high expectations for Sea Rocket. Having the bill exceed $80 for a relatively simple meal demands that things be excellent in preparation. I can say that my past experiences there have been better. However, I was far from disappointed and the sublime perfection of the uni shooter was nearly worth the trip. I hope that Sea Rocket can continue to aim for even greater heights than those achieved by Chad White when the restaurant was his primary focus. He is, after all, still a partner in the Bistro and I expect that a momentary lapse in performance from a consistently good restaurant calls for a swift turnaround.
3382 30th Street
Open daily 5-10PM