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Bay CrossingsCuisine

Telling Tiburon’s Tempting Secrets.

Carrera’s Sea Bass in Acqua Pazza

By Mary Swift-Swan

Aqua Pazza means Crazy Water. If not on the menu, just ask for this great seafood dish at Carrera’s Vecchia Cucina in Tiburon. One could say Fresh Fish in Crazy Water but, ‘Acqua Pazza’ sounds so Italian, you know it is going to be good. The sauce has many flavors in it to make most any fresh fish, of firm texture, taste simply wonderful. Lake Superior White Fish, Stripped Bass, Halibut are all examples of fish that could also work. Acqua Pazza is a favorite dish in summer in Partner/Chefs Ricardo Carrera and Antonio Mora’s home city of Naples, Italy, when there is a lot of fresh fish to choose from. In San Francisco there is fresh fish to choose from most all year. This light but exceedingly flavorful dish is perfect for October’s Indian Summer nights.

Ricardo serving customers at Fridays on Main St.

Ricardo Carrera came to Tiburon, last spring (see Bay Crossings May 2004) to open Carr era Vecchia Cucina at the end of Ark Row on the lower level. It may not be easy to find, but this new ‘Tempting Secret of Tiburon’ is fast becoming very popular for the dinner hour. Since they opened, the clients who come have become like family. The atmosphere when visited on a Friday night was warmly welcoming, romantic and friendly. The restaurant seats 54 people. It was full but no one had to wait for long. Any who waited for a table for were treated to a delicious glass of wine from Carr era’s impressive wine list of good Italian wines and often seen in conversation with one of the warm and friendly partners. (It reminded me of Pasta Mia’s, voted the most popular restaurant in Pacific Grove for more than 10 years when the original owners and family ran it.)

A couple who dined near by were above 70 years of age. They were an inspiration being so romantic in the candlelight. They were holding hands, laughing at times, heads together whispering and giggling at other moments. Asked as they left, “Are you married?” because of their courting ways. He beamed as he said, “She has been the love of my life for 27 years. This is our second marriage and we are both blessed by it.” She had stood in the door way while we briefly spoke, looking with love at her beau, swaying while leaning against the door jam looking like a lady in youthful bloom. Families and friends as well as couples of all ages fill the tables from 7:30 to 9:30 with a constant flow for any spare chair.

As one group of 3 ladies were leaving one noticed my husband’s dinner choice. “Oh the pink sauce they use on fish here is to die for, isn’t it?” she enthused. Antonio joined our table for a brief while and he explained, “When you make a sauce for fish it is best to only use a sauce that is light. A sauce that does not mask the fresh flavors of the fish and herbs used.” My husband said the food he had that night starting with the fresh hot Panini, (Antonio’s family recipe) and then the Sea Bass topped with mussels and green beans was the most authentic Italian food he had, since touring with Patti Pravo in Italy in 1979. Nothing here (in the Bay Area), including fine Italian restaurants, come close. Culinary Fusion has ‘Americanized’ or at least effected all but, …” Then he would take another bite and say, “Ummmm, that is truly Italian.”

Acqua Pazza
Preparation – 10-15 minutes, cook time 10 minutes

2 Filets of fresh Sea Bass
3-4 cloves Garlic
1/4 c Onions Chopped
3 Tomatoes, fresh, sliced into   wedges
5-6 Basil leaves rolled and sliced
3-4 Pinch Parsley
3-4 Pinch Oregano
2 Tbls Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 oz Dry White Wine
6-12 oz Fish or Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 T Unsalted Butter
6 Hands Fresh Spinach, 3 for each plate.

(Optional additions, grated carrot, roasted peppers for garnish and color.)

When making Acqua Pazza, everything is cooked together. It is not sautéed or fried, so there is nothing fattening about it. In a new study it is reported on AOL that an Adriatic-Mediterranean diet of fresh fish, poached like this one, can help towards a longer and healthy lifetime. The cooked fish and sauce is placed over a bed of fresh spinach which wilts on the plate, by the heat of the sauce, retaining all the good vitamins for the dinner. The dish is both quick and easy to prepare.

To begin, place the cold fresh fish on a plate. Using 1 tablespoon of oil for each fish, lightly oil each fillet on one side then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn it and repeat on the other side allowing it warm to room temperature, while starting the sauce. Next divide the spinach in half, placing a mound of fresh spinach in the middle of each plate and garnish edges.

To create Acqua Pazza sauce, add one tablespoon of butter to a midsize pan. Melt the butter over medium heat, then add wedge sliced tomatoes. Heating the tomatoes alone, gently begins the sauce. As they become soft, next add garlic and onion to the juices of the tomato and melted butter until they begin to become translucent. Then add the fish and all remaining ingredients.

Cover and bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer. Cooking time depends on the fish type. Bass and other thicker fish take longer than a thinner filet. It may mean adding more fish stock to keep sufficient liquid in the pan while poaching the fish. The liquid is best when at least deep enough to half cover the fish.

When the fish is done remove it to a plate. If the oven has a pilot light it will be warm otherwise, turn the oven on warm for a few minutes then turn it off. Place the cooked fish in this warm place to till the sauce is ready.

Reduce the sauce by half by continuing to simmer. Return the fish to the pan, once the sauce is reduced, to fully heat through. When again hot place the fish on the bed of spinach. Pour the Acqua Pazza over the fish and spinach, garnish the plate and serve. You will be delighted by the smiles of those who are served this quick and fun dish.

Partner/Chef Antonio (Tonino) Morra
Chef Antonio joined Ricardo Carrera as a working chef and partner mid summer of 2004. Chef Antonio has enjoyed cooking since he was a little boy. He first began helping by standing on boxes to help his mother and grandparents in Italy in the kitchen. He graduated from college in Italy as an Electrical Engineer. He took a job in Germany as an Electrical Engineer but soon he found his real passion was cooking. Cooking has been his life ever since. For Antonio, “If you love life, you love to cook. Anything I can come up with to do with cooking, I love to do it.” Antonio has consulted in opening several restaurants in the US. He has also been a frequent guest on all the major cooking shows in television in Los Angeles. One of his restaurants was voted as the best Italian Pizza restaurant in all of Los Angeles. Another was a hangout of the stars. He was brought to Japan to consult in opening a chain that now has grown to 5 Pizza restaurants based on his success in Los Angeles.

Tonino’s grandfather was a baker who felt there were three things important in becoming a good chef. “Pane, Amore and Fantasia (Bread, Love and Fantasy).” In addition to his grandfather, his grandmother and mother were all great cooks. His father stayed out of the kitchen but enjoyed the results of the other’s efforts.

Antonio’s brothers married women who learned from his mother and grandmother how to cook. In the late 1980’s his mother came to America and opened a restaurant with the help of her family including Antonio. “My brothers if they had two eggs, they would kill them. They cannot cook but they are very good at helping to run the business and front end of a restaurant.” As a family they have several restaurants in the Los Angeles area including Beverly Hills with a new one opening, “Bunino’s” in a nearby suburb.

To join Ricardo was a break away from the family but Antonio and Ricardo met in the Restaurant business in Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago and have been friend since. They truly respect each other’s style and ability as chefs and business men. Ricardo invited his talented friend to join him to try the lifestyle of Tiburon. “I love it here!” was Tonino’s response when asked what he thought after 2 months. This is one restaurant to watch. With such good food, warmth and character, who knows what is next for these two fine chefs and restaurateurs.

Carrera’s Vecchia Cucina is located toward the end of Tiburon’s ‘Ark Row’ on the lower level,
114 Main St. (415) 435-5572