Dish 35: No-Rice Sushi at Nectar, 1091 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, http://www.tastenectar.com/
“You wouldn’t believe how this area has changed in the past couple of years,” la Professora said to me as we sat down at Nectar, “This place used to be a Pizza Hut.” Pizza Hut? We were sitting in a cavernous low-lit dining room with black lacquered tabletops and warm rust walls, sipping mango-ginger –the Prof—and hibiscus nectar and champagne cocktails. This was no Pizza Hut. We were on Mount Olympus living the dream.
La Prof is on the Villanova faculty, and has a colorful history that includes a stretch as a caterer and cakemaker, Ace of Cakes style, as well as a stint in Silicon Valley at the height of the tech boom. She has some great stories (champagne and oysters at Harrod’s with Dame Judi Dench, cooking dinner for Jimmy Carter), and told me about fennel pollen, a rare and earthy spice known in Italian as Polline di finocchio selvatico, spice of the angels. And she gave me a recipe. (You know what that means—Kitchen adventure time! Stay tuned!)
As we discussed the importance of diversity in one’s spice cabinet, the no-rice sushi roll arrived. The rice and seaweed is replaced with a hollowed out cucumber, and the presentation is a knockout—the dish is served on slices of lemon on a block of ice in a bowl.
I limbered up, describing to Professora exactly how awesome I am with chopsticks, selected a particularly juicy looking piece of raw fish encased in cucumber, pinched, and slipped. The chopsticks wouldn’t hold the sushi—“There’s no friction between the cucumber and the chopstick!” la Prof exclaimed. We tried forks, to similar luck, and I reverted to using my fingers. More embarrassing still, each piece was too large to take in one bite. This dish wins the prize for worst date food ever, hands down. This is coming from a woman who shared French onion soup with a near-stranger on an interview, and was okay with it.
The next course was easier to eat—calamari and fried edamame with sea salt, with two sauces, a spicy papaya and a hoisin-tamarind. I had never had fried edamame, and it was rich and new, and the fried shallots were pungent and addictive. The hoisin-tamarind sauce was also very good, dark, smoky, and complemented the calamari well.
Professora and I have laid out our plans for future escapades; to the general public, all I can reveal is that we will continue our search for Mt. Olympus and the spice of the angels.
Tags: addictive, ambrosia, calamari, caterer, challenge, cocktails, edamame, fingers, food and drink, fork, hibiscus, hoisin, impossible feat, Jersey Girl, mango-ginger, mission, mount olympus, nectar of the gods, no-rice sushi, philly mag, professor, sea salt, spice of the angels, tamarind