Charting new waters with today's surf and turf

Some wild combos find their way to menus

August 23, 2006|By BETTY HALLOCK | BETTY HALLOCK,Los Angeles Times

Halibut cheeks and short ribs. Scallops and foie gras. Squid and pig's ears. Lobster and squab. Recognize the theme? It's surf and turf.

For the guy shuffling chips at a Vegas craps table, surf and turf means a thick steak and a fat lobster tail. But chefs are navigating uncharted waters and ranging beyond the plains to create new takes on the steakhouse standby.

Their sometimes wild iterations continue to evolve and proliferate. Whether inspired by the land-sea combinations of international cuisines or maybe just the American dream of having it all, today's surf-and-turf combinations are more varied than the possible rolls on a pair of six-sided dice.

"So many meats go really well with seafood because they'll add richness or fat that a lot of seafood doesn't have," says David Lefevre, executive chef of Water Grill in Los Angeles.

What's nostalgia for some may be culinary cliche for others. "People have got to get past the whole steak-and-lobster thing," says Michael Bryant, chef at Norman's in West Hollywood. He's dishing out chocolate-glazed short ribs with parsnip puree paired with halibut cheeks over bacon-braised cabbage.

Sound like a bit much? But then, surf and turf was born of excess. Steakhouses of the '60s and '70s may have given rise to the term surf and turf but the American steak-and-lobster tradition extends back further. In 1940s New York, the Palm, an Italian-restaurant-turned-steakhouse, added 2-pound lobsters to its menu. The bigger the lobsters, the more popular the dish.

But there are other reasons surf-and-turf combinations are showing up on contemporary menus. The influence of cuisines that have a long tradition of combining seafood and meat, such as Spanish or Cantonese, and an expanding repertoire of specialty ingredients are spurring exuberant experiments.

"It's very Asian to mix meat and fish together," David Burke of davidburke & donatella in New York, says of his roasted California duck with seared prawns, inspired by such traditional combinations as the Cantonese dishes that bring together crab and pork or prawns and chicken liver.

Burke's also a fan of mixing up other kinds of meat and seafood. He cites the East Coast classic shad roe and bacon.

For some, its bedrock popularity in casino centers makes classic surf and turf a sure bet. Says chef Bobby Flay, whose Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa in Atlantic City opened this month, "We decided to make a steakhouse but to do lobster in a big way. ... I wanted to see steak and lobster at every table at some level."

Betty Hallock writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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