Never put cheese with fish, they say. Never put dairy of any kind with fish, they also say.
“They” are dead wrong when it comes to San Diego’s dish of the summer (and fall—it’s on menu at Catania through October). I’d forgotten about this awesome bit of rule-breaking until a recent meal with Claire. The dish is seasonal; it comes and goes like my credit score. I’d tried it years ago and was blown away. It blew me away again.
There’s nothing new about ahi crudo, especially here. But the innovative riff from chef Ryan Johnston is twofold. First, the basics: Sushi-grade raw tuna is seasoned with lime, olive oil, and salt. Then, the twist: It’s placed in a light pool of labneh (yogurt that’s had all the whey strained out until it’s basically a cream cheese) mixed with the juice of whichever melon tastes the best that day, usually honeydew or cantaloupe. The final twist: Atop the ahi is a cucumber-lime granita—flavored ice—with a mild but flavorful drizzle of jalapeño oil and fresh tarragon. Raw fish with flavored ice in melon-flavored yogurt? On paper it sounds like a train wreck, but it tastes incredible.
The yogurt is an ode to Sicily.
“The old chef idea is that you never put cheese with fish,” explains Johnston. “But we were in Sicily having dinner with this old chef and he said, ‘You guys have to open your minds.’ In Sicily, they have cheese with fish all the time because the mountains and sea are so close together. It was mind blowing. So we came back and started fiddling with a peach gazpacho, but the melon was the winner.”
The granita was an idea they borrowed from Paris and renowned chef Iñaki Aizpitarte.
“We went to his little bistro, Le Dauphin, and had a crudo with granita on top,” Johnston says. “This is an ode to him. With ice cream, the more sugar you put in, the smoother it gets. So the granita is a lot less sugar. It’s basically cucumber juice, lime zest, lime juice, and simple syrup.”
The result is a cool, refreshing, salty-sweet dish that defies a few old rules on its way to blowing people away every summer (and part of fall) at Catania.
“There are some people who don’t like that sweeter side,” Johnston admits. “But my favorite Italian flavors are the salty-sweet balsamic tones from the Parma region.”
Catania, 7863 Girard Avenue, La Jolla