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Eel banh mi at Sea Salt

I tried a new sandwich on the menu at Sea Salt in Berkeley today, a banh mi sandwich made with fried eel. It was great! It was big fatty oily pieces of eel next to standard pickled banh mi condiments inside the same buttery roll they use for the lobster sandwich. It's easily my favorite sandwich there now, even better than the trout BLT, and maybe the best thing I've had there.

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  1. I'm curious as to how the eel was fried? Is it battered like fish & chips? Does it have a light crust (from flour perhaps)?

    1. it was sliced into big pieces about a half-inch thick and then straight pan-fried, like trout, no breading or flour.

      1. Thanks ... loved it ... I have now officially paid $12 for a banh mi.

        But to Sea Salt's credit there are quotes around the 'banh mi'.

        This is the best eel I have ever had ... ever. The only tolerable eel I've had in my life. It had the most wonderful silky texture ... the whole sandwich had great texture.

        It is on a soft excellent sub roll ... such pillowy seafood sandwich satisfaction.

        The cilantro, carrot, pickled onion and jalapeño did a nice job of balancing the eel muskiness. Paired with Deschutes Black Butte Porter … so good … so good.

        If I get this again though, I’m going to ask for extra condiments.

        The standard sides just go so well with the eel too … the minty, colorful slaw and they have perfected those potato chips. The two pieces of perfect … really perfect bread and butter pickle were great too.

        Thanks again for the heads-up. They haven’t even added it to the online menu yet (wasn’t sure what that orange spread was on the roll. They also have gumbo on the menu that isn’t on the website … and something with sea cucumber.

        Love the Bay Area when the next table complains that they have had sea cucumber every week and are getting tired of it and looking for something different.

        My favorite lazy, sunny Sunday thing to do … sit on the patio enjoying a meal at Sea Salt.

        http://www.seasaltrestaurant.com/

        1. What type of eel is it? E.g., unagi. Do they have fresh sea cucumber? (hope, hope)

          8 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I hope you weren't asking me about eel ... cuz until you just asked I didn't even know there were different types. I hope Hungry Hippo will be able to help you.

            As far as the sea cucumber, it was part of a dish, not on its own. I was focusing on eel and didn't even notice that until the next table started talking about it and then I just glanced at menu breifly as in ... yep, there it is ... how 'bout that ... something else was the main event in that dish and I don't remember what ... then my beer came ... so, my attention shifted to the brew.

            Usually learning there are different types of something sets me off on a crawl to compare the different varieties ... but an eel crawl ... slither ... yeah ... not prepared for something like that yet. I haven't evovled food-wise that far. Maybe that was the problem with past eel experiences ... wrong variety ... cheap eel.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Like rworange, I'm hardly expert in eel. The texture and size of the pieces were very similar to the way unagi is grilled for donburi, so I'm guessing it's unagi, but only because I have no idea what the alternative would be.

              1. re: Hungry Hippo

                Thanks, I asked because fresh eel (swimming, about an inch in diameter) is available around here part of the year and I thought Sea Salt might have tapped into some.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Had a birthday lunch there yesterday and the eel in the banh mi is Unagi. Very spicy when you hit the unseeded jalapenos (they coulda been sliced a bit thinner) but i must agree with the others, it was mighty fine.

                  Our party also shared the Oyster Po'Boy, the Grilled Calamari with Gigante Beans and Pesto, the Clam Chowder, and the Haricot Vert with Chantrelles and Maitake. Unbelievably, we also fit in a Brownie Sundae with Salty Caramel Ice Cream.
                  All the dishes were rock solid good, the Calamari was a nice generous sized portion and the squid perfectly cooked, but the standouts were the Clam Chowder (with uniformly diced potato, onion and bacon that held up in the finished soup, and the clams were a nice size) and the Haricot Vert (SO DELICIOUS IT HURTS). My sister remarked that the Chowder was so good, you don't notice that they kinda give you half a bowl.
                  Don't get me started: the Brownie Sundae was pretty perfect. Proportion of warm brownie to ice cream to whipped cream and nuts was....perfect. Pictured below in half devoured form:
                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jsquared...

                  Thanks for all the great suggestions Hounds...our visit was the first of many. Good seafood restaurants are in a class all their own.

                  1. re: crispypork

                    I absolutely love that you kept us in mind and remembered to check out what type of eel that was. Thanks so much. That picture of the brownie sundae looks so good it hurts. They seem to have a good pastry chef there right now. I loved the rhubarb tart with strawberry ice cream.

                    Yeah, that chowder is so good. I think the big bowl might make it look like less than it is. Also, though it is light, it is rich and more might kill you.

                    Don't forget they are now serving brunch.
                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/396622

                    Thanks again.

                    1. re: crispypork

                      Mmmm, thanks for the confirmation and a most delicious report! If I weren't so leery of traffic in the east bay these days...

                      1. re: crispypork

                        I'm genuinely addicted to this banh mi - I've easily had 6 in the past two months.

                        The chowder is good, but it doesn't hold a candle to the seafood chowder at Bar Crudo.

                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                          Thanks for reminding me and keeping the Bar Crudo clam chowder in my radar.

                2. I love Sea Salt! Everything I've had there is amazing! Next time you are there try their seared ahi, it is some of the best I've had anywhere. Also, they have an oyster happy hour that is to a great deal (I believe it is M-F 4-6 but I'm not positive). Word is they will be putting a full bar in soon, I think this will be a great addition to their phenomenal food!
                  thank you for the suggestion!

                  1. We had the eel banh mi this weekend as well -- excellent, different and creative. It pains us not to order the trout BLT, but it is so good. Wonderful meal altogether -- a bunch of oysters, the monkfish liver torchon (huge serving this time, but great as always), and some very good fried sweet maine shrimp (little guys served in their shells, but no heads, tossed with some sort of peppery spice mix -- fantastic to just pop in your mouth whole).

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: The Dive

                      Yeah, that monkfish liver is still on my must try list. Almost ordered it but I thought eel and monkfish liver at the same time would be pushing things too much for me.

                      Has anyone had dessert at Sea Salt lately? I was considering the sorbets (satsuma & grapefruit) but I was even too stuffed for something light like sorbet.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Monkfish liver was pretty good, but didn't make our hearts sing last time we had it (due to our taste not a bad dish). My favorite pre-main choice is their fabulous cucumber salad. It's totally simple but amazing.

                        RWO, I've had several of their desserts and they were all really good. I can't, however, remember what they were and am too lazy to look up the menu. This was at least 4 months ago.

                    2. I liked it, I really liked it! Far and away, the best dish I've had at a Krikorian establishment. Generous junks of oily eel, the whole sandwich came together very well. I felt that the jalapeno was slice a bit too thick and overwhelmed the flavor of the eel, but that was easily remedied. I would return to Sea Salt for this sandwich.

                      I appreciate that they have sanwiches on the dinner menu. Sometimes, all I want for dinner is a sandwich and half a salad. This made for a nice, light dinner after a heavy lunch of braised oxtails and polenta.

                      For pure eel enjoyment, I still prefer the eel with endive at O Chame. A coworker who spent many years living in Tokyo declared it on par with the eel she had in Japan. But, the eel at Sea Salt is more of a meal.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                        Kinda off-topic, but I'm always on the lookout for a good oxtail dish...where and how were yours?

                        1. re: Sarah

                          Sorry to tease..the oxtails were from home. I bought them from Baron's Meats on Claremont and they were excellent - Creekstone beef, very fresh.

                          I've had great oxtails at A Cote and Oliveto in the East Bay, though they're not always on the menu. Best I've ever had were the fried oxtails at Pizzaiolo; just incredible!

                      2. We went to Sea Salt on Saturday night. I forgot they expanded. We got there around 6:30 and didn't have to wait for a seat but sadly we were too late for the $1 oysters. I was eager to try the Ell banh mi. We ordered some oysters, chowder, caesar salad, and crab cakes to round out the sandwich. Oh yes, we had a cocktail to go with the tasty fresh oysters. I thought the chowder and salad were OK but not great, I don't care for the anchovy that is on the Caesar. It's marinated rather than salty. The chowder was thinner than I like and just so so. My partner liked it more that I did so she gobbled that up while I finished her salad. It's always divine to have eel but I didn't care for the bahn mi. The bread wasn't crusty on the outside and the rest of the fixings weren't as flavorful as usually found in these sandwiches. The crabcakes were fine but seemed somewhat the same as the eel in that they are both squishy. We asked about the thickness of the fries and our waitress said that weren't real thin but they weren't as thick as steak fries so we tried them. I had had them before with the fish and chips but couldn't remember. They were too thick for both of our liking.

                        I had also read about the brownie and the salted carmel ice cream and I got that for dessert. It was delicious. The brownie was warm and soft on the inside and the salty ice ceam was great--I love the salty sweet combination.

                        Next time I'll be sure and get there by 6 for the oysters and stick to the fish and chips.

                        1. The eel banh mi is now $14.

                          We were there on Thursday night. My SO and I shared the monkfish liver torchon. He thought it was disgusting and tasted of innards. (no kidding...) I finished it myself, but probably wouldn't order it again. The cucumber, or something, tasted bitter. My SO was grumpy because he'd wanted to share the tuna tartar or the smoked salmon. He even blamed Chowhound for encouraging me to choose the new over the familar!

                          I also had the mussels with lemongrass, ginger, and cilantro. The mussels were small, but the broth was great and I liked sopping it up with the grilled bread. The charred bits added something to the flavor.

                          My SO had the trout BLT and liked it too much to share. Our companions had the deep fried smelt (fine) and the sardines (too rich, she said, and took most home). Neither dish is on the online menu. They also had the caesar salad. (Great, but she didn't like the marinated anchovies) and the french fries. I pinched a french fry and tried the Thai curry catsup. I'd love to try to recreate it at home.

                          The service I thought was wonderful. Our companions were two older woman, and the waiter suggested that they might like the quieter side room. It was a warm evening and I would have chosen to sit outside, but they liked the room. They asked a lot of questions and were quite slow, but he was patient and friendly, though also quick when he needed to be. All the other servers were great, too. They seemed happy to be there and that goes a long was toward a nice evening.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Glencora

                            Thanks for another view on the monkfish liver torchon. I've never been a fan of the sardines. For me they are too sardine-y. Others love them. Sea Salt does squid well, but it is usually a small portion. They also do a good job on basic fish fillet preps. The simplest stuff is wonderful. They do a good job with salads, better for some reason than T-Rex or Fonda. If you like beets ... good beets.

                          2. For what it's worth, Good Luck Market & Deli at 621 Kearny has an eel (unagi) sandwich for, I think, $3.25. (Last time I checked, all their sandwiches were $3.25, with a surcharge for avocado slices).

                            1. Went last night with a large group and was able to taste a couple of new things. I'd have to say it wasn't as good as the other times I've been, and I do wonder if it's partly because of the difficulty of timing so many dishes.

                              Excellent:
                              Lobster roll - chunks of lobster drenched in butter. No mayo, no celery. Only thing that would make it better would be a Pepperidge Farm top-split bun (I like the bread they use too, but there are fewer toastable surfaces)
                              Gigante beans with tuna
                              Grilled walu and fried softshell crab - the tastes that I had were really, really good.
                              Brownie sundae with salty caramel ice cream - I was too full for dessert, but then scraped up the dregs after everyone raved about this... the dregs tasted pretty great.

                              Good:
                              Eel banh mi - it was tasty, but I may still be suffering from banh mi fatigue (ate a lot of banh mi last year) - I can't say there was anything about the taste or texture that was revelatory. I think I would also have preferred a crispier crusted bread - there wasn't enough contrast in texture between the chewiness of the bread and the softness of the eel. Note - they seem to have changed the cooking method - mine had a sweetish Japanese-tasting glaze, and I think it was broiled. Definitely not panfried.
                              Oyster po boy - only ate an oyster out of it - well fried, good oyster, good remoulade.
                              Pan fried Salmon - very, very buttery, as their pan-fried fishes tend to be.
                              Grilled Asparagus with gribiche

                              Disappointing:
                              Sardines - the last time I had them they were amazing - clean flavor, super crisp skin from the grill - last night, they were fishier, and not as expertly grilled. I will continue to order them, though, in hopes of replicating my first experience.
                              Fried smelt - crust was a little soft.
                              Monkfish torchon - I remember liking this the last time I got it, but it was a while ago, and I can't remember why I liked it the first time, but not so much last night.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: daveena

                                I really liked the beans w/ tuna confit when I was there recently. The side of peas, mushrooms, etc. was very nice as well. Also really enjoyed my sand dabs, though I do prefer the old school experience of having the waiter remove the bones for me. Not that it's difficult, but I'm lazy...

                              2. Sea Salt is an odd place for us. The first couple of times we went, we were unhappy -- there were items that we loved (any time the have a whole shrimp preparation, get it, maybe two orders), but we felt the prices were out of whack for what you got (especially the entree items).

                                Then we discovered the sandwiches, or more specifically, the trout BLT. with the addition of the eel banh mi, Sea Salt has become a regular weekend afternoon place. But we still order very carefully. We get two sandwiches, sometimes the monkfish tourchin (which we like, but the last time we got a huge order, that was really too much of a good thing. Plus, we tend to eat it with bread--like pate--which cuts down on the rich fishiness a bit), oysters, shrimp if they have a whole fried version, sardines if they are particularly great (we ask) and a vegetable side (the peas and maitake mushrooms are superb). No entrees--too much money for what you are getting. the wine is better, but not perfect.