There’s an extra dose of bizarre in the local food-o-sphere this week. Word has it that the host and crew of The Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern are exploring Seattle and all its shellfishy, salmon-collary glory.
Diners curious about the world’s exotic cuisines take delight in Bizarre Foods as Zimmern gamely samples bites from brain tacos to maggot cheese. One of the most personally horrifying yet wildly compelling television segments I’ve ever seen involves Zimmern and young acquaintances munching on deep-fried tarantulas in Cambodia.
I’ll be shocked if Zimmern encounters any fried tarantulas while visiting the Greater Puget Sound region. He should have no trouble, however, finding unique delights representative of the many cultures and traditions of our area.
Among the culinary delights rumored to be on Zimmern’s local menu is geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”). Though I grew up in Oregon near the ocean, geoduck wasn’t a bivalve found on our dinner tables. The behemoth mollusk’s stomping (siphoning?) grounds lie farther up the Pacific coastline in the waters of Washington and British Columbia. A super-sized clam, geoduck shells can range 6-8 inches in length with the impressive elephant-trunk siphons extending to reaches of over 3 feet.
My first taste of geoduck was at the Seattle restaurant Anchovies & Olives, one of the fine establishments created by visionary chef Ethan Stowell. While Stowell’s cuisine is most deserving of its accolades, my dining companion and I just didn’t click with the plate of gnocchi featuring pancetta, peas, and geoduck we sampled at A&O. Chalking it up to a presumed distaste for geoduck, I quickly made peace with the experience.
Some years later, I would revisit geoduck. Precisely, my round two with the critter occurred this past week at the Lynnwood sushi restaurant Taka. As has been my experience with a number of Highway 99 eateries, Taka was located in a non-descript strip mall, its façade barely discernible from the road. I’ve learned not to let this presentation deter me.
As fate would have it, I was joined at Taka by the same dining companion with whom I’d scouted out Anchovies & Olives years earlier. Neither of us had tasted geoduck since. But, there on Taka’s menu was an appetizer of geoduck & shiitake ($8.50), and buoyed by the spirit of Andrew Zimmern, I chose the dish to start our meal.
Good geoduck gracious. That plate of mollusk and mushrooms was one of the best dishes I’ve enjoyed in my Snohomish County eating expeditions. The geoduck was remarkably tender, generous meaty pieces with the distinct taste of clam. It was an uncommon surf-and-turf, with the oceanic notes of the shellfish punctuated by decidedly earthy strips of shiitake. (So there were a few cremini mushrooms mixed in as well…it’s all good.)
Truly bringing the dish into glory, however, was the sublime blend of butter and soy sauce in which the components were sauteed. Shamelessly, I asked Taka’s lovely server to bring us a small side bowl of rice ($2.00) with which to soak up the leftover sauce. She cheerfully obliged. I’ve not experimented with blending butter and soy sauce at home, but based on tonight’s experience I intend on finding for the mixture as many culinary applications as possible.
Whereas geoduck & shiitake stole the show, Taka is certainly no slouch at sushi. Our selection of rolls included cucumber-eel ($5.50), negihama ($6.00) and spider ($8.00). Just so that there’s no confusion, a sushi spider roll involves soft-shell crab. Not actual spiders a la the Cambodian snack. (Though if you’re willing to eat a soft-shell crab…how different is a spider, really? Food for thought…)
In our case, the spider roll included imitation crab-mayo salad and avocado in addition to the crab, the rice exterior coated in bright orange roe. The cucumber-eel roll was true to its name, with avocado also tucked in with the other components. Though both rolls were pleasant in taste with a nice vinegar tang to the sushi rice, they seemed just a touch askew in terms of the wrapping and containment of the fillings. The surprise sushi winner of the night was the petite negihama roll and its blend of chopped fresh yellowtail, green onions, and wasabi.
Yet another surprise would come at the end of the meal, when we were given a complimentary dessert to finish the proceedings. Bowls containing a small scoop of chocolate ice cream nestled with a block of quivering coffee “jello” were a sweetly unique finale for our savory meal.
From start to finish, our dinner at Taka was filled with pleasing flavors and unexpected delights. A serene atmosphere plus very good seafood preparations are Taka’s simple elements of sushi success. The only thing I found in the experience to be bizarre was that I’d waited so long to revisit geoduck.