Octopus has been on restaurant menus for years, yet it’s only been in the past few that the eight-limbed cephalopods have slid into the spotlight. Whether poached, braised or fried, octopus lends itself to an array of cuisines: Italian, Japanese, Mexican and more. Octopus is within arm’s reach at these local restaurants.
Miga Modern Cuisine
Although James Kim has only been sushi chef at Miga Modern Cuisine in Champaign, Illinois, since September, his playful and vibrant plates are already gaining buzz. In November, Miga was named one of the top 10 Diner’s Choice winners for Best Sushi Restaurant in Illinois by OpenTable users – the only restaurant outside of the Chicago area to make the list. In addition to an array of fresh nigiri, sashimi, and sushi and specialty rolls, Kim offers a menu of Chef’s Creations that allow him to flex his creativity. One of his favorites is the octopus carpaccio, which he makes by first boiling whole octopus and then very thinly slicing the meat. He serves the carpaccio with cucumber and red onion with garlic-yuzu sauce topped with salmon roe and microgreens. “Octopus lovers really enjoy it; it’s something different and the dish has great flavors," Kim says. He artfully plates the octopus, layering it on a sleek white oblong platter and topping it with the other, more colorful, ingredients, as well as edible flowers. “It’s beautiful, served in one long line, with lots of color,” he says.
Miga Modern Cuisine, 301 N. Neil St., Champaign, Illinois, 217.398.1020, miga-restaurant.com
The pulpo, or octopus, is one of the most popular items on the menu at Nixta in St. Louis, according to proprietor Ben Poremba. The dish has earned national praise, as well; Bon Appétit senior editor Julia Kramer even dubbed the pulpo the best octopus she’d eaten all year. It's poached in olive oil with lots of aromatics – coriander, mustard seeds, cloves, thyme, garlic, citrus peel, star anise – and then flash fried before it’s tossed in a spice mixture of coriander, sea salt, black pepper, pink peppercorn and sal de gusano, a salt blended with ground worms. “The worms shouldn’t scare anybody. They’re kind of tangy; they add almost a citrusy note,” Poremba says. “People think of octopus as rubbery, and this is anything but; it’s fork-tender.” The dish is completed with fried potatoes, roasted peppers and mole almendrado, which is made with a base of almonds.
Nixta, 1621 Tower Grove Ave., Botanical Heights, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.899.9000, nixtastl.com
Carl Thorne-Thomsen, chef-owner of Story in Prairie Village, Kansas, almost always has an octopus dish on his menu. “We use young octopus – small octopus – and poach them for about 10 minutes at a really low temperature in some olive oil with seasoning, and then we very quickly sauté them,” Thorne-Thomsen says of his typical preparation. This fall, he paired seared octopus with hazelnuts, radish, celery root and a sunchoke purée. “In the past we’ve done an artichoke purée, and I got into the Midwestern spirit of sunchokes,” he says. “We boil the sunchokes with garlic and just purée them with cream. It’s just a light swipe of flavor on the plate. The rest of the dish is almost like a relish or a salsa, with a brunoise of celery root and watermelon radish.” Keep an eye out for what Thorne-Thomsen pairs with octopus this spring.
Story, 3931 W. 69th Terrace, Prairie Village, Kansas, 913.236.9955, storykc.com