Demystifying Blowfish at Cliff's Edge
We all remember that episode of The Simpsons from our childhood. You know the one. Homer has an encounter with a poisonous blowfish at Springfield's hip, new sushi spot and is told he has less than a day to get his affairs in order. Although he ultimately survives, of course, the animated ordeal was traumatic enough to sear itself into the collective unconscious. As a result, most young adults balk at the idea of experimenting with what the Japanese refer to as fugu. That's a shame. Because it's actually a pretty tasty fish, and not nearly as hazardous as Homer has led you to believe. If you're ready to throw caution to the wind, Cliff's Edge in Silver Lake is taking a stab at blowfish in a unique new dish. As a bonus, it's practically guaranteed not to kill you.
When chef Michael Bryant assumed control of the kitchen at Cliff's Edge earlier this autumn, he overhauled the menu to reflect his eclectic sensibilities. Many of the dishes he introduced defy comfortable categorization, beyond a general notion of wine-friendly flavors. It's an easy enough box to check — and obligatory — when you are cooking parallel to one of the most versatile wine programs in the country. But one obvious outlier is his grilled blowfish. After all, who knows what to pair with that?
"I first came across blowfish as a menu option about a month ago," Bryant explains. "Ren, my fishmonger from Sea to Table [a local seafood purveyor], had introduced them to me. At first I was hesitant; growing up in the East Coast, catching these fish, we would always throw them back. After persistence from Ren, I finally gave in. I trust her, as all of their product is line-caught and super fresh."
Fresh fish is a given, but how about that whole lethal thing? Many species of blowfish, particularly those found in the waters of the Pacific, produce a neurotoxin more than 1,000 times deadlier than cyanide — enough to kill up to 30 people. The northern puffer served at Cliff's Edge, however, is native to the Chesapeake Bay: It's one of the few species of the fish with nontoxic flesh. That might make it somewhat less adventurous to try, but it certainly doesn't make chef Bryant's preparation any less delicious.
Inspired by Peruvian anticucho — grilled and skewered, off-cuts of meat marinated in garlic — the dish incorporates the charred tail of the puffer, for a savory crunch to offset the juicier filet. "The flesh is similar to halibut cheeks and sweet like scallops or frog legs. Sauteed with a little butter and lemon juice, the flavor is delicate and sweet. Grilled, the fats and oils are released a bit more, giving it the halibut texture I like," Bryant explains. Smokiness from the grill is mitigated by vinegar, soy, and ginger added during a lengthy marination. Local, late-season heirloom tomatoes fashioned into a pico de gallo–like vinaigrette introduce acidity.
Yet the fish itself remains the star of the show. "The tails have enough oil and fat to withstand some serious flavor," he says. These flavors shine bright alongside a light yet peppery 2015 French white wine from Cheverny. Who knew? Besides, ya know, the sommelier.
The northern puffer occasionally makes its way onto menus across L.A. — chef Bruce Kalman recently served his take at Union Pasadena. Cliff's Edge, however, is currently the most notable place in town serving blowfish regularly. Is it as lethal as the infamous fugu that once threatened to write off Homer Jay Simpson? Not exactly. But your Instagram followers definitely won't know the difference.
3626 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 666-6116, cliffsedgecafe.com.
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