A special twist

on food you want to eat every day

Mahi mahi fish tacos from Catablu Grill. Photography by Neal Bruns

Mahi mahi fish tacos from Catablu Grill. Photography by Neal Bruns

The new Catablu Grille in Covington Plaza is a dramatically different space than the glamorous but muted-in-palette original on Broadway. Its color and texture contrasts are more extreme, but the whole room welcomes diners with wit and a sense of fun.

The interior design and Executive Chef Tony Valenza’s re-visioning (not reinventing) what the Catablu Grille menu should be dovetail beautifully. You might choose to sit at the half-circle bar under your favorite movie one-liner stenciled overhead or near the tempting Wall of Wines (though a table near the length of gorgeously aged wrought iron fence or outside along the front windows might suit your fancy, too). But everything about the new Catablu Grille communicates, as Valenza puts it, “We’re trying to stay with the customer who wants to go out and eat more often with the cuisine that will accommodate them.”

He calls it “everyday gourmet cuisine,” and the mahi mahi fish tacos (whose recipe he shares in this issue with Fort Wayne Monthly readers) are a great example of the concept.

“It’s nothing extravagant,” he said, “but all the flavors there are great, and you could go out and eat them once a week.”

That’s the point of the re-visioning of the restaurant and the menu. In the 10 years since the original Catablu opened on Broadway, dining in Fort Wayne became much more sophisticated and niches opened up for special occasion restaurants, which is how many people saw Catablu. That’s not the cuisine that keeps Valenza at work in the kitchen year after year, though, and it’s not the business model Catablu wants to carry it through the current economic downturn.

“I stay within today’s trends,” he said. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I’m also looking to stay alive in this economy. The new menu is our great quality cuisine we’ve always offered toned down. It’s our great taste and great quality of product but easier-going.

“It’s our first inspiration from 10 years ago — basic gourmet quality.”

As a working chef, Valenza said he stays current on periodicals and has even researched and eaten trends as trendy as molecular cuisine. He is a graduate of the Florida Culinary Institute in Palm Beach and met Blu Restaurants owners Mike and Maureen Catalogna there.

“My inspiration is to create something just great tasting with eye appeal,” he said. “I’ve tried to get into the molecular cuisine, but it’s for an ‘occasion’-type place.

“I would rather feed the masses than appeal to the ‘occasion’ diner.”

So the Catablu Grille menu is filled with foods people might well cook at home “but with a twist to it,” he said, like the ancho-honey glaze for the fish tacos.

A native of south Florida, Valenza spent some time back home (he still has family there) this summer to recharge and refresh his inspirations, an important consideration when facing opening a fourth new restaurant in 10 years. After the original Catablu, Valenza also worked with the Catalognas to open Blu Tomato (an Italian restaurant now a mainstay on Fort Wayne’s northeast side), then Blu Harbor Grille on Lake Wawasee and now the new Catablu Grille.

He returned from Florida this year with a new twist on a classic favorite in mind — and his own sense of the proper boundaries firmly in place.

“I’m not reinventing the wheel or messing with a great Key lime pie,” he said. But he found his twist.

“I took a great key lime pie and made a crushed macadamia nut, coconut, cookie dough crust, which is still in that tropical feel of Florida.”

He sees a boundary on his role as a chef. His goal is to create food “the customer wants, instead of something I want to try to do.”

And with that philosophy guiding the new Catablu Grille menu, he said, “now we’re right back to where we wanted to be.

 

Mahi mahi fish tacos

Serves 4

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons ancho chili powder (or other medium-heat chili powder)

2 teaspoons tomato paste

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups cooked black beans

1 cup cooked corn kernels

1/2 cup red pepper, chopped small

1/2 cup red onion, chopped fine

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of two limes 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons salt

Pinch of black pepper

4 6-ounce fresh mahi mahi filets

8 white corn tortillas

4 cups shredded white cabbage

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons salt

2 limes cut into wedges

 

1. To make ancho-honey glaze: Mix the honey, vinegar and ancho chili powder. Bring to a boil. Add the tomato paste and simmer for five minutes. Cool completely, and then slowly whisk in 4 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons salt. Can be made a day ahead.

2. To make the black bean corn relish: Mix the black beans, corn, red pepper, red onion, two tablespoons chopped cilantro, juice of two limes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons salt and pinch of black pepper well. Can be made a day ahead.

3. Mix half of the half-bunch of chopped cilantro into the shredded cabbage.

4. Rub the mahi mahi filets with a combination of 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons salt, pepper to taste and the rest of the half-bunch of chopped cilantro. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

5. Heat the grill and rub or spray the grates with oil to prevent the fish from sticking. Place the filets on the hot grill and cook for 5-8 minutes on each side or until just done. Brush ancho honey glaze on both sides of the filets during the last minutes of cooking.

6. Remove the fish to a platter to rest. Brush the tortillas with olive oil and warm them on the grill, turning to avoid burning them, about 20 seconds on each side.

7. Chop the fish filets into large pieces. Brush ancho-honey glaze on one side of each tortilla, and arrange fish pieces evenly on the tortillas. Top each taco with cabbage slaw and serve with black bean corn relish and lime wedges

 

First appeared in the September 2009 Fort Wayne Monthly

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