Eat This: Hawaiian Ahi Crudo at Death by Tequila
Jean-George protégé and Top Chef vet creates a summer version of a Thai classic
Summer is coming. This used to be a promise, not a threat. San Diego summers used to have good manners. Our air felt like we were among the cosmos’ favorite possessions, and the gods had fine-tuned the thermostat in admiration. But recent summers have been brutal, with New Yorkish humidity and air so still it seems to be playing dead. Say what you want about climate change, but last August my clammy skin was all the scientific research I needed.
When it gets like that, soup becomes food non grata. We want the cold food, the salads, the agua frescas, the crudos and ceviches and cold beers and all the damn ice cream. Problem is, none of those things (save maybe the beer and the ice cream) taste as nourishing and fulfilling as a soup. A thimble of chicken noodle salves more souls than a wheelbarrow of arugula.
The Hawaiian ahi crudo at Death by Tequila solves this problem with what is essentially a Thai curry with a chill, or a coconut gazpacho. Chef Angelo Sosa—a runner-up on Top Chef and former protégé of famed French chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Alain Ducasse—starts with a turmeric broth infused with ginger, lemongrass, and lime leaf. This all sounds like the beginnings of a stripped down panang curry—one of Thailand’s greatest gifts, which gets a lot of its most pronounced flavors from lime leaf and lemongrass. Yet since Death by Tequila is Baja-inspired, next come the serrano chiles and agave for sweetness (with a Thai curry, it would have been palm sugar).
Then he adds coconut milk, brings to a boil, back to a simmer, steeps with more lemongrass and lime leaf for 20 minutes—then strains and chills the results. Raw slivers of sushi-grade ahi are rubbed with smoked chile oil, and rested in a thin pool of this kinda Thai, kinda Baja broth—garnished with dill, cilantro, jicama, and fresh hibiscus flowers.
It’s served in a ceramic pot. The server pulls the lid, reveals it as if presenting an engagement ring or minor Lotto winnings. You pull each piece of ahi out, lightly dripping with the broth—which is lighter than a curry, almost a panang curry consommé. It doesn’t overwhelm the good fish.
When the ahi is gone (and there isn’t much of it—I’ve heard many complaints about Death by Tequila’s portion sizes that aren’t completely off base), you lift the entire clay pot to your lips and drink the broth. Imagine that remarkable panang curry flavor, turned it into a drinkable, refreshing horchata of sorts.
Summer, successfully foiled.
569 S. Coast Hwy, Encinitas