One of the most interesting dishes at Bresca is a buttery, fragrant plate of linguine topped with rich, briny sea urchin tongues. It has become one of the most popular orders at the innovative 14th street restaurant.
It fits right in with Executive Chef Ryan Ratino’s philosophy of imaginative and modern bistro food. Surprisingly, though, the inspiration behind the hit dish doesn’t have anything do with the spiny ocean creatures. It started, of all places, with a loaf of bread. Ratino and his chef de cuisine, Jose Arguelles, tore into a loaf of fresh bread and were smacked by the robust taste and aroma. That set off a spark.
“This flavor would be awesome not just in a loaf of bread, but in food,” Ratino says, recalling days spent taste testing bread with his staff.
After some trial and error in the kitchen, Ratino arrived on a pasta and sauce recipe that delivered on the sensation he was seeking. He never expected it would get such a positive reaction. Some Bresca guests are ordering two or three orders over the course of dinner, he says.
“It’s been absolutely crazy how that thing has taken off,” he says. “We were focused on making a really nice pasta. We really didn’t start with urchin—we ended with sea urchin.”
Ratino uses a yolk-heavy pasta dough that includes yeast that’s been leaved two days, essentially fermenting. It’s then cooked for a couple hours to get rid of any alcohol, readying it to be folded into the sauce. That sauce centers around a compound butter with around 17 ingredients of aromatics and herbs sourced from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Everything is tossed together and topped with brined sea urchin tongues, which come from Maine and California.
Ratino admits he wasn’t sure how guests would embrace a dish with sea urchin. But by pairing it with something familiar—pasta, in this case—it becomes more accessible. And urchin is not as uncommon as it used to be on restaurant menus.
“I feel like now, more than ever, sea urchin is having a moment,” Ratino says. “People are willing to try it, because they’re reading about it. They’re seeing people experiment with it everywhere.”
In cases where quality sea urchins aren’t available, Bresca has substituted other rich ingredients like white truffles or matsutake mushrooms.
And although Bresca plans to change its menu frequently based on seasonality and availability of ingredients, the sea urchin linguine seems to be locked in for a lengthy stay.
“We might never be able to take it off the menu, honestly,” Ratino says.