Sea Change's Raw Bar boasts $12-and-under beauties

To kick off 2012, we're highlighting 12 of the best dishes under $12 in the Twin Cities. Scroll down to view the complete list.

When Tim McKee opened Sea Change in 2009, it came with a pledge of sustainability: to use seafood secured in a manner that wouldn't damage the environment.

We Minnesotans are a conscientious lot, so it wasn't the first time we'd encountered responsible dining--see names like Langton, Lucia, Lenny, or Lex (as in Spoonriver, Lucia's, Heartland, and Restaurant Alma/Brasa, with apologies to Alex Roberts for taking liberties with his name).

But this was an extremely narrow application. Yes, Sea Change also had "not fish," but the lion's share of items hailed from the coast. Would it work?

Several years later, it's proven to be quite a successful formula, due both to the products and their preparation. The benefit of goods that are earth-friendly is that they're often high quality. But no matter how great the ingredient, it doesn't become noteworthy unless it's placed in the right hands. And currently, those hands belong to chef de cuisine Jamie Malone.

Malone met McKee during culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, when she interned at La Belle Vie. A few years later, he called on her to help him open the original Barrio Tequila Bar & Café in downtown Minneapolis, followed by Sea Change in 2009, and then Cocina del Barrio (Edina) in 2010.

Last year, Sea Change's previous chef de cuisine, Erik Anderson, flew the coop for Nashville to open the Catbird Seat alongside Josh Habiger--a fellow Minneapolis alum he'd met while working at Doug Flicker's dearly departed Auriga. To fill the critical vacancy, McKee once again tapped Malone.

Malone wholeheartedly endorses the restaurant's mission, but she believes it must also continue to evolve. "Everyone's catching on to sustainable," she observes. "I think we need to be the leaders for what's next."

Part of what's next is a shift from simply not harming to proactively enhancing our surroundings. It's going beyond "just serving food that won't hurt the environment," she explains. "I want to work with fisheries and farms that are pushing ahead and doing things that are restorative."

Her drive to raise the bar also comes through in her creative yet practical cuisine. "I'm always trying to add interesting twists and ask what's new, what can we do?" she says. "But also be pragmatic and skillful about it."

It's a philosophy that emanates from one of her latest creations: Clams and Potato Chip Pasta--a provocative possibility for our $12-and-under list. This unorthodox combination begins with lowly potato flakes, which are toasted until they're golden brown and blended with all-purpose flour to make a pasta. "We keep the pasta in bags," says Malone. "And every time you open one, it smells like a bag of potato chips."

The noodles are cooked in a beurre (butter and the liquid released by the clams), and then plated with the shellfish, black pepper crème fraiche, and smoked trout roe--which rests playfully atop a real potato chip. For the finishing touch, she adds chives, dill fronds, and a little dill pollen (which comes from the flower of the same name, but isn't as bitter as the dried version we're accustomed to).

The pasta has an alluring aroma and is very delicate--a surprising but suitable complement to the clams. And combined with the fronds and pollen, we can't help but think of our favorite dill pickle crisps.

For another option below $12, we move from the dining room to the raw bar, where the Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Poke awaits. The poke (which is pronounced like "okay"--rather than "poke" like "joke," or "pokey" like "hokey"), has been on the menu since day one. "Traditionally the tuna was tenderized by rubbing it between the fingers," Malone says. But no need for that at Sea Change--their ahi is already soft and beautiful.

The cubes of tuna are covered in a sauce of Kewpie Mayonnaise (Japanese mayo), sriracha (hot sauce), yellow miso powder (typically made with soybeans), nori powder (seaweed), and lemon juice. It's served with red tobiko (roe), scallions, and wakame (seaweed salad). The tuna is spectacular, and its supporting cast makes it creamy and cool, providing just a touch of heat that lingers gleefully in the back of your throat.

But for our ultimate underwater $12-and-under pick, we're selecting the Arctic Char with Green Apple, Yogurt, and Walnut. Malone says, "I want people to be wowed by the flavors, craftsmanship, and care we put in. It should be more than fork-to-mouth eating. There should be a few surprises--all your senses should be engaged." And no dish does it better than this.

For starters, it's absolutely gorgeous: deep scarlets are accented by tiny flashes of purple, green, and yellow--making it strikingly similar to the red carpet at the Golden Globes. Très chic.

Its taste and texture is a study in contrasts: The succulent char is accompanied by four elements, all of which are presented in two forms. Beets are roasted and made into crunchy chips. Walnuts are finely crumbled and drizzled on in an oil. Yogurt is foamed with lemon and molded into a long strip of gelée. Green apple appears as a sorbet as well as a thinly sliced ribbon. And everything is finally dressed with a little ginger, garlic, and white soy sauce.

"What's the perfect bite?" we ask Malone. "I want each one to be a little different," she replies. And it is. It's bright and fresh. Cold and crunchy. Tart and tangy. A feast for the eyes and a fiesta for the palate. An inventive masterpiece whose composition is in constant flux.

If this is where sustainable seafood is headed, count us in.

Top 12 dishes under $12 112 Eatery: Tagliatelle with Foie Gras Meatballs Bar La Grassa: Gnocchi with Cauliflower and Orange Haute Dish: Biscuits and Gravy Heartland: Cheese Course La Belle Vie: Pappardelle with Rabbit Bolognese Lucia's: Farmers' Salad Meritage: Crispy Roasted Chicken Thighs Piccolo: Scrambled Brown Eggs with Pickled Pig's Feet Restaurant Alma: Chard Soufflé Saffron: Fried Cauliflower and Slow-Cooked Green Beans Sea Change: Arctic Char Tilia: Potted Meat

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Sea Change

806 S. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55415


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