Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wicked Tuna Throwdown- Alchemy Restaurant vs Union Bar and Grill

Tuna... you've come so far.  From being that child hood lunch staple in sandwiches (often dreaded throughout cafeterias for their odor), and that dreaded addition to the "noodle casserole" that used to make my stomach flip at the dinner table, you've become one of my very favorite proteins.  Chock full of nutrients and healthy fats, tuna fish is one fish I can enjoy in so many ways- grilled, raw, yes even canned.  So when I was invited last week to head on up to Gloucester to hang with some tuna fishermen and witness a throw down of the tuna variety between current Union Bar and Grill chef Steve Morlino, and former Union Bar and Grill chef
and current chef at Alchemy Restaurant in Gloucester Scott Jensen- I was on the next train out!

Bluefin Tuna have been fished off the coast of Gloucester for decades.  Every year men from the area have risked life and limb to reel in their catch in those waters. The movie "The Perfect Storm" was actually based on these fishermen.  And now, the hit National Geographic show-"Wicked Tuna" will be filmed in these very waters, with rumors
simmering that the show will be focusing on the team from the ship "Hot Tuna", showcasing the trials and triumphs of our local catch.  Incredibly exciting stuff.

The Throw down that I was able to attend was an incredible celebration both of the fish itself and the kick off of the filming for the show.  The dinner was open to the public, and let me say- I love the pride that Massachusetts shows for its fellow residents.  Every person in attendance was there to cheer on their men, and to enjoy some incredible tuna bites.

The competing dishes were a take on the
ever classic "Tuna Melt" twisted with inspiration from the East and West from Alchemy and Grilled Moroccan Spiced Tuna from Union.I started with the Inspired Tuna Melt which layered coriander crusted Tataki Style Ahi Tuna over melted American Cheese on top of a toasted slice of Portuguese Sweet Bread.  Enhanced with Bread and Butter pickled celery, crisp cucumber, Sriracha Garlic Aioli, and a little wasabi this was the best tuna melt I've ever had.  The bright flavors from the pickled vegetables with the spice of the Sriracha and wasabi and then blended with the classic saltiness of melted American Cheese made this a really unique taste on a pretty stereotypical food.  I did find it to be a bit overly salty at times, but overall the concept was fantastic.

I turned my attention to the Grill Moroccan Spiced Tuna next.  This had the Ahi Tuna coated in Moroccan spices and then grilled up.  It was gently layered over a fava bean hummus and served with a summer bean salad, and heirloom tomatoes.  As I devoured each bite of this dish from the hands of chef Morlino, I kept coming back to one word- clean.  The spice surrounding the fish was full of flavor, but not overpowering to the tuna which was allowed to shine on its own.   The fava bean hummus had simple natural flavors to it, but also added a bit of decadence to the dish in its creamy quality.  I loved every bite of this dish it was rich and filling while being light and incredibly clean.  

In the end, Alchemy won the throw down, but the margin was undoubtedly close.  No matter who won the actual contest though, the star of the show here was that fresh local tuna.  This is the same tuna that will be featured again on Wicked Tuna this season and which so many of us enjoy in our homes and restaurants.  I can't end this without an incredible nod of appreciation to our local fisherman.  The life of a commercial fisherman is not an easy one, battling beyond inclement weather, facing known and unknown dangers daily all while following their catch as they follow their prey.  I know that now, after hanging with the guys of Hot Tuna I'll appreciate every bite of our local tuna that much more. 

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