One of the things I miss about living on the coast is the casual access to fresh fish. Don't get me wrong, Omaha chefs clearly have some great connections on day boats -- and they have a graceful touch with the haul -- but it still takes a little planning to enjoy wicked fresh seafood. At the very least, it means booking a table.
So when I heard that Nick Hunt, chef at Over Easy and fellow erstwhile New Englander, was doing fresh snapper and pancetta rangoon as a side for his Dandelion pop-up, that alone got me pretty excited. As I write this, there is a snapper swimming in Hawaii that still thinks it has a chance. Alas, tomorrow Nick's guy will ship it out to him, and Friday, I'll be able to just walk right up to the Dandelion counter and order it -- no reservation needed.
Nick's got some other amazing things planned for Friday, including smoked duck tacos with jicama-shishito slaw and yum yum sauce, short rib ramen with watermelon radishes and pickled carrots and, the veg option, Asian pear and cucumber salad with almonds and roasted shiitakes in a ponzu vinaigrette.
At Over Easy, Nick's always coming up with creative takes on breakfast (his recent Irish canoe, a hollowed out potato with eggs, corned beef and cabbage topped with smoked Swiss and sriracha aioli feels like required eating for both St. Patty's and Patriot's/Marathon Day), but what he's doing for Dandelion might seem like a bit of a departure for those who are used to eating his hyper-local gourmet breakfasts.
"It's kind of nice to be able to do something that's a little out of my element," he says. "People in Omaha are really good about riding the wave with chefs."
Nick definitely has the bona fides. A 20-year veteran of Omaha kitchens, he's also done his share of pop-ups in the Midwest and Boston. Through both, he's learned to expect the unexpected. "One time, we were doing an event in Kansas City, and we had all the china in a trailer that was hitched to our car," he says. "We were about an hour out, when we ran the car into a ditch. I still can't believe nothing broke that day."
More recently, Nick did a private dinner for 42 Berkshire Hathaway guests, and brought everything but the steak knives. Fortunately, Nick Bartholomew, owner of Over Easy and Dandelion co-founder, saved the day by borrowing some from another local restaurant.
"Boston's more cut-throat. I can't see something like that happening there," Nick Hunt says. "In Omaha, we all want to see each other succeed."
That doesn't mean he's not competitive. "I always go out and see what everyone else is doing. I'm always striving to be ahead of the trends, so I need to think two steps ahead of everyone else."
Yeah, you do that, Nick. We'll just be down at Dandelion eating our snapper rangoon and patiently waiting for whatever you've got cooked up next.