(Published by South Bay Accent magazine in June, 2018.)
Imagine a restaurateur planning the menu for a new seafood place who scribbles down every beloved from-the-sea dish around, regardless of type (finger food, starter, voluminous entree) and cuisine (European, Asian, Latin, regional American). But rather than selecting a few, he includes them all. This is the improbable but wildly successful premise of Santana Row’s new hit, EMC Seafood. Rumored to stand for “eat more clams,” this busy, contemporary spot serves sashimi, sushi rolls, fish tacos, Parisian-style towering platters of seafood, New England clam chowder and lobster rolls, shucked oysters, inspired seafood pasta preparations, grilled fish, elegant entrees and even that old standby, shrimp cocktail.
The first Northern California outpost in a thriving, upscale Southern California chain that’s part of an even bigger L.A.-area restaurant group, EMC Seafood might well be the concept that ends the history of failed seafood purveyors in the Row. In addition to all the classics like fried calamari, Maine lobster, king crab legs, Oysters Rockefeller, Manila clams in broth and cooked whole fish, EMC has a slew of modern, addictive dishes like its signature uni pasta that are getting big love from guests. It doesn’t hurt that with 77 different seafood items on the menu, visitors would need multiple trips to try them all.
Thus by necessity, our tour today must be brief. Out of abundant, excellent raw starter items, a few particularly stand out. “Hamachi Onion” involves olive oil-tossed, pristine pieces of yellowtail with a jolt of scallion and serrano chile. Then there are the red chunks of tuna in spicy eel sauce that are piled on crispy wontons with microgreens — a textural and taste delight. Super-fresh salmon delivers smoky flavors in Truffle Salmon Carpaccio, which has crunchy fish roe for added interest. Among many sashimi and sushi roll choices, gravitate to the indulgent Santana Roll, which wraps up crab, avocado, juicy baked lobster meat, langostino and chives in a creamy, spicy sauce.
A light-tasting textural treasure is crunchy blue crab with tomato, bacon and avocado in an airy louie sauce scooped onto tender lettuce leaves. Even better are soft-shell sliders in which the delicate crab in soy glaze is piled into fluffy, toasted brioche buns. The tasty fennel slaw in this dish also shows up in delectable fish tacos made with grilled white fish or shrimp that are dressed with tartar sauce and ride atop teensy soft tortillas. The financial downside is that the starter servings are often so miniscule that guests often re-order.
We must talk about the renowned uni pasta, which should have its own Facebook page given how many EMC fans discuss it rapturously online. Tender, thin noodles are generously plied with a buttery, creamy sauce dusted with tiny fish roe and proudly wear two little blobs of uni (sea urchin) on top. The almost overwhelming decadence has some devotees begging for more and a few vanquished after three bites.
Also rich and popular are the truffle crab garlic noodles. Swoon-worthy for garlic fans and generously endowed with crab, this tasty mélange of carb and shellfish is usually garnished with a crab shell. Cajun shrimp is another hit, a peel-it-yourself iteration of the diminutive boiled crayfish so popular in New Orleans. Hungrier diners will like the larger portions found in the whole, herb-stuffed branzino or the celestially cooked sea bass with lovely basil cilantro lime sauce.
The massive menu has a few meat dishes, a lavish assortment of sides and a few desserts, the best being key lime pie. Service is usually attentive and friendly, even when grumbling guests have long waits due to the no-reservations policy. But the quality of the seafood and the virtual impossibility of not finding something appealing on this gargantuan menu reduces the complaints.
The actual restaurant isn’t particularly large, alas, but there’s a tented outdoor section along one side that cuts the noise volume and provides some privacy. But given how focused diners will be over the deliciousness in their mouth, conversation might be limited.
EMC Seafood, 378 Santana Row, San Jose; (408) 296-6048. http://www.emcseafood.com/santana-row
HOURS: 11-11, Sunday-Thursday; Friday-Saturday until midnight. No reservations.
PRICES: Starters/small plates: $8-26; mains: $18-69; desserts: $7.