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Burger features Skuna Bay salmon
The first thing Café Habana diners might notice about the restaurant’s salmon burger is that it’s not exactly a burger.
Instead of a compact conglomeration of meat sitting on a grill or in a frying pan, executive chef Jamaal Taherzadeh breaks apart a seared filet of salmon and sets it on a bun among the dish’s other components: a cabbage and carrot slaw, pickled onions, avocado and a red chili aioli.
It’s the kind of dish Taherzadeh said people might be surprised to find light and refreshing among a menu full of heavier Cubano dishes, and one that the chef said he designed as an alternative to dishes akin to fried chicken sandwiches.
“This burger is a lot healthier for you,” he said. “It won’t leave you feeling like you just ate something unhealthy like a fried chicken sandwich might.”
Café Habana’s salmon burger has a great balance of sweet and spicy going on between its buns, due mostly to the presence of the red chili aioli for the spicy and the pickled onions for the sweet.
But the dish’s centerpiece and what it’s built around – namely, the salmon – is what makes the dish most unique.
Flown in directly from Skuna Bay in Vancouver, Canada, Café Habana’s salmon is serious business.
“It’s really, really unique,” Taherzadeh said of the salmon. “It doesn’t go to our seafood provider; it’s fished and then sent to us. It’s incredibly fresh and we’re one of only four or five restaurants using it in Los Angeles.”
The fish is raised on a sustainably run farm, which Taherzadeh said is different from what many people think of when they consider farm-raised fish.
“People automatically assume farm-raised fish is bad, but a sustainably raised farm salmon is truly unique because when you have a fish that big, it’s pretty hard to farm without doing damage to the quality of the salmon or its ecosystem,” he said. “Something’s usually gotta give, but it’s a really incredible product and I’m really proud of it. It’s just as good as wild-caught salmon.”
The farm endeavors to adhere to achieving the quality of the wild-caught salmon to the point where bears are often found on the farm, and have a tangible impact on the facility’s supply.
“At one point, the bears were eating a lot of salmon, so they had to slow down production and a lot of restaurants dropped off after that, but we were pretty persistent because our owners and customers really liked the salmon,” Taherzadeh said.
Café Habana originally obtained the salmon through a business connection in Las Vegas.
Taherzadeh said the restaurant’s owner, Rande Gerber, came in for lunch one day and really liked the fish, so Taherzadeh began preparing it as a special item that evolved into an entrée – still served – that’s served with a chili sauce and sautéed zucchini.
But eventually the restaurant’s ample supply of salmon called for it be turned into another option, and Taherzadeh said he sensed the demand for a healthier, lighter dining option – and thus, the salmon burger was born.
“People seem to really like it,” Taherzade said. “It’s definitely one of out most popular lunch option.”
The $16 salmon burger at Café Habana is served with either a side of fries or a mixed-green salad with greens from One Gun Ranch.
Other dishes not to miss:
• Baby broccoli: This dish features Gloria Farms baby broccoli sautéed in garlic oil.
• Kale and manchego salad: Offered as a lighter alternative to the restaurant’s kale Caesar salad, this dish features kale with a dressing of preserved lemons and is topped with dried currants, manchego cheese and pumpkin seeds.