October 30, 2006
Corvina Lands on Local Plates

At lunch at one restuarant, then dinner at another on the same day this weekend, I had dishes featuring a fish with which I was largely unfamiliar, corvina.

This sort of coincidence warranted some exploration.

The lunch menu at Mason’s in midtown Sacramento described the contents of its tacos as “spiced fresh fish” on corn tortillas with mango pico de gallo and crispy plaintain chips ($13). The waiter said the fish was corvina.

The daily fresh sheet at La Provence Restaurant & Terrace in Roseville that night listed “La Corvina Mexicain,” described as “pan seared Gulf of Mexico seabass” ($28).

Naturally, I had to try both in hopes of getting a handle on what the fish had to offer.

In short, the flesh of both servings of corvina was white and moist, breaking apart in fairly thick slices. It was firm, with a somewhat sweet flavor.

In both instances, the corvina has been treated nobly.

At Mason’s, the strips of grilled fish were sandwiched in the tacos with shredded cabbage and an aioli spiced with the Thai hot sauce sriracha. The mango pico de gallo was fitting and refreshing, the plaintain chips pretty, crisp and sweet.

At La Provence, the corvina provided the foundation for one of the more revolutionary and rewarding entrees I’ve had all year. The thick-cut pan-seared corvina rode atop assorted roasted root vegetables – turnips, carrots, cipollini onions – and was topped with ribbons of finely shaved fennel and Fuji apple. The sweetness of the vegetables, of the fennel and the apple, and of a cluster of roasted garlic cloves off to the side all echoed the sweetness of the fish, also punctuated with a cider sauce possibly accented with the sweet tang of verjus. It was one of those rare dishes you really can’t stop eating until every last element is gone.

As the La Provence fresh sheet noted, corvina is caught in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also caught off the coast of southern California and about the Baja peninsula.

While the flavor and texture of its flesh suggests bass, corvina actually is a member of the croaker family, which also includes the California white seabass, whiting, redfish and drum. Other names bandied about for corvina are corbina, sea trout and weakfish, the latter virtually abandoned because of its lack of marketing appeal.

Corvina is starting to show up on more restaurant menus because of sharply rising prices and a drop in availability for true members of the bass family, says Tim Ports of Ports Seafood in San Francisco. Not many grocery stores stock it, however.

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