When it comes to food, it is hard to surprise me. I have eaten many different types of food at many different establishments. I cook. I read about food. I live and breathe it. You may impress me, but you will very rarely totally shock me.
Dinner at Chef Michael Mina’s SeaBlue was one of those rare occasions.
The restaurant, located on the casino floor of the Borgata, is this celebrated West Coast chef’s only East Coast establishment. Known for his decadent lobster pot pie, this restaurant draws inspiration from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors, using the fresh fish and produce from the Garden State. The restaurant is large and casual, but upscale enough for a nice dinner with wine. Be prepared that the restaurant is rather loud, but the noise comes off as a fun atmosphere, not too raucous for a couple of people enjoying their food.
Delicately poached lobster, tender and buttery, sitting atop a lightly acidic gelee. The avocado mouse is creamy and slightly peppery, accentuating the lobster’s sweetness. Best of all, the Mascarpone is rich and surprisingly spicy. The piment d’espelette has a slow, bright burn that works well with the delightfully sticky caviar, bursting with brine and salt. These ingredients all seem too rich, too flavorful, and not congruent, but they work. The result is a dish that is complex but harmonious.
When asked how difficult it was to make the octopus, Chef Mina said in an offhanded way “Oh it’s a cinch. Just boil it for 4 hours before you pop it in the tagine.” This matter of fact approach he takes to even the most arduous tasks results in intensely flavorful and well thought out food, like this octopus. Except for Periyali, I have never had such succulent, sweet octopus. The tagine renders it tender enough to cut with a fork. The chickpeas, onions, and other vegetables in the mix have the signature spicy-sweet warmth of Moroccan food from harissa, cinnamon, and a touch of smoke (perhaps cumin?). The chickpeas are hearty and al dente, and the preserved lemon are tart, adding brightness to the long cooked dish. The falafel is otherworldly wonderful. Grassy and fresh with fava beans ,they have a rather intense heat that builds as you swipe it through the harissa flecked aioli. Eventually, the burn prickles through to the front of your mouth, not too hot, but more than just a little spicy. This won over several ocotphobes at the table, and was a huge winner of the night.
Similar to branzino, loup de mer can be dry and rather fishy if not cooked very gently and carefully. Luckily, this was cooked very gently. The flesh is extremely moist, flaking off easily with the fork. Unfortunately, the skin is not crispy, which means that one of the best textural contrasts on a piece of fish is missed here. However, the zucchini pistou is earthy and fresh, the fritters are crisp outside and moist within, and the heirloom tomatoes add sweetness and acidity. New Jersey vegetables are showcased ideally here, accented with herbs and spices but mostly left alone to shine in their natural states.
Wagyu beef is some of the most tender, most marbled, most delicate and luxurious beef in the world. Here, it is served 2 ways to showcase its versatility. The seared loin is cooked to medium rare, with a salty charred crust and a dark rosy interior. Soft but not mushy, with a light minerally taste that is in between beef and veal. There is nothing robust or abrasive about this taste, it is all about the depth and complexity – earthy and at the same time almost bright in its beefiness. Served over jammy oxtail ragout and a side of bok choy-like romaine, it somehow manages to avoid being a total gut bomb. The Wagyu belly makes short ribs look like chicken breast – thick cut and tender, interspersed with globes of opalescent fat. The aligot it is served with is the world’s cheeseiest mashed potato – stretchy and thick enough to eat with a fork. The marrow is the piece de resistance – buttery, beefy, soft, goodness. All it needs is a piece of bread to make it complete.
I used the term “surprising” several times in this review. That is because this meal was, more than delicious, more than excellently served, more than fairly priced, was surprising. I have never had octopus cooked in a tagine. Mascarpone flavored with Southern French chiles and topped with caviar. Wagyu beef belly. Where does Mina get these ideas? Who does he experiment with? Though I don’t know the answers to these questions, I do know the not-to-miss restaurant in Atlantic City. Without a doubt, it is SeaBlue. The restaurant is a treasure chest of culinary surprises.
*Disclaimer: The restaurants PR firm piad for my meal and stay. I was not required to write a review, and my thoughts and opinions are my own.*