Miami Restaurant Offers Spectacular Ocean View and Sustainable Choices

Once you exit the elevator and enter Area 31 Restaurant you are immediately struck by Miami’s gorgeous ocean views. Located in Miami’s EPIC Hotel, the restaurant caters to foodies with a conscience.

The menu boosts “chef-driven, ocean-inspired” cuisine and it delivers just that.

Areas 31 Executive Chef E. Michael Reidt sources only wild-caught fish from the United Nations designated fishing area that shares its name. The area is a fishing zone (not an alien abduction site) that includes a large swath of the Western Central Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina southward to the northern part of South America, off French Guinea.

Although fish swim freely without regard for these “zones” we delineate for them, the fishing zone is widely considered to contain healthy and well-managed fish populations.

While at Area 31 I choose the Mahi Mahi fish tacos. The fish was fresh, spicy and just perfect topped with a fresh cabbage slaw and nestled inside a lightly grilled soft tortilla. It was perfectly delicious.

The sustainable fish choices, friendly and knowledgeable wait staff, and the spectacular view of Miami from above makes this an excellent choice for sustainable seafoodies.

Bottom line: Relax and enjoy your sustainable seafood dining experience.

– Annie Reisewitz

Follow Annie on Twitter @annelore

Celebrity Top Chefs Give Mixed Signals About Seafood

Located in San Diego’s upscale seaside La Jolla district, Herringbone is being promoted as serving fresh, sustainable seafood. From the wooden lobster traps and puffer-fish art to the 100-year-old olive trees growing out of the floor, the place is definitely inspired by nature.

But are celebrity Top Chef alumni Brian Malarkey and Amanda Baumgarten giving mixed messages about the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability?

According to their website “Line-caught seafood…are paired with alluring libations.” It sounds like a good opening of a sustainable seafood credo; however, no line-caught or local seafood was on the menu the day I was there.

They did have three red-listed seafood entrees – Monkfish, Skate and Tai Snapper – on the menu that are to be avoided due to the method by which these fish are harvested from the ocean.

Monkfish, also called anglerfish – for the three long filaments sprouting from the middle of the head – is on the Seafood Watch “avoid” list because of past overfishing practices that brought the population to critically low levels and for the damage trawlers, the main fishing gear used to catch the fish, do when raking them from the seafloor. The other fishing method used, is gillnets, which is set across the water to catch the fish — and all other marine life – that tries to swim through.

Skate, a cousin of the shark, was once considered a trash fish but has recently become a trendy seafood entrée. According to the Seafood Watch, “Skates have been severely overfished and most are caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch and substantial damage to the seafloor.”

Tai Snapper, which comes from New Zealand, should be avoided if it’s caught by Seine or trawl and is ranked as a “good alternative” if it’s caught by longline. The folks at Herringbone were not aware of how this fish was harvested.

I avoided the skate wings and went with the Maine diver scallops, which were delicious and cooked to perfection.

Perplexed by the mixed signals, I asked my waiter if the restaurant had a commitment to serving sustainable seafood, he replied, “We are sustainable, for the most part.”

That doesn’t sound like a strong commitment to me.

Bottonline: Top Chef Amanda Baumgarten kitchen definitely knows how to cook but they clearly doesn’t know much about sustainable seafood.

– Annie Reisewitz

Shark Fin Soup: NYC’s Chinatown Edition

Recently TeamSeafoodie ventured into NYC’s Chinatown in search of restaurants and stores selling shark fins.

We uncovered a few restaurants serving a variety of shark-fin soups, including at Ping’s Seafood Restaurant. Although this high-priced soup – $32.95 a bowl and up – certainly isn’t on every menu, it’s definitely available for those interested in tasting this cruel Chinese delicacy.

 

Shark fins are widely available for sale as a dried product in nearly every herbal pharmacy in the lower Manhattan district catering to Chinese immigrants. They are tightly packed fin-to-fin into glass medicine jars and sold by size and shark variety. At Chung Chow City at 39 Mott Street they range in price from $400 – $1000 per pound.

Shark fins are considered by the Chinese as one of the eight treasured foods from the sea and are served as a food of celebration at wedding and banquets.

Sharks are highly threatened worldwide due to overfishing, a trend that is largely driven to fuel the shark fin trade. A practice where sharks are caught solely to remove their fins and their finless bodies are dumped back in the sea.

Back in February the shark fin soup controversy hit the campaign trail with President Obama, who in Jan 2011 signed the Shark Conservation Act, which strengthens existing federal laws banning fishing for sharks’ fins.

In hopes of saving sharks from the high demand for shark fins — several U.S. states aided these ocean giants with much needed protection.

Well, Mayor Bloomberg, maybe it’s the Big Apple’s turn to outlaw these brutal and ecologically expensive shark products alongside the Big Gulp.

UPDATE: Read about more dried up ocean life in Chinatown at the Healthy Ocean blog.

– Annie Reisewitz

Follow Annie on Twitter @annelore

Along Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf – locally caught fish and bad Italian music

While attending the BLUE Ocean Film Festival I slipped out for lunch to a restaurant along Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf that is promoted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for serving sustainable seafood.

If you enjoy the smell of musty carpet and listening to bad Italian music than Domenico’s on the Wharf is your place!

Once you get past the less-than-desirable ambiance, the restaurant does have a few high points — including stunning ocean views of the wharf, a few resident pelicans attentively staring back at you as you eat and sea lions barking at tourists passing by.

Domenico’s did not display their commitment to sustainable seafood choices but with the help of the friendly wait staff I choose the locally caught Pacific Sanddab with fresh – and garlicky – sautéed vegetables on the side.

Sometimes called sole, wild-caught Pacific Sanddab is a “good alternative” according to the Seafood Watch guide despite most being caught using trawls that rakes the seafloor of everything along its path. These flounder-like fish live on sandy sea bottoms so this fishing method is less destructive than in rocky bottom areas.

When looking for Sanddab be careful to steer clear of their Atlantic cousins. Known as the Common Sanddab, they are found mainly in Iceland where the populations of these fish have been in serious decline since the 1990s.

Consumers should “avoid” the common dab from Iceland according to the Seafood Watch guide.
While a new sustainable choice and clearly freshly caught, Domenico’s served me a greasy, uninspiring piece of fish. The vegetables along side were fresh and crunchy, just the way I like them.

Bottomline: If you’re on Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, stick to the salt-water taffy or other touristy treats.

By: Annie Reisewitz

Roughing it: New England Lobster

On a recent trip to the New England shoreline I stopped by Abbott’s in the Rough near New London, Connecticut. The quaint picnic-style restaurant is best known for its fresh and tasty New England lobster and shellfish.

Abbott’s keeps a variety of lobsters in tanks, including a 15-pounder that was just for show, not for eats. American lobsters caught off New England are considered “good alternatives” according to the Seafood Watch guide.

They serve several types of farmed oysters, including Abbott’s own from waters of Rhode Island, Blue Points from beds the CT coast and two from Maine — the shiny seas and the “Damn Big” jumbo oysters. They also serve farmed little neck clams.

95 percent of oysters are farmed, and the good news is, as filter feeders they are allies in keeping the ocean clean.

Aquatic oyster and clam farms in New England are well managed and produce sustainable (and delicious) products. With their low habitat impacts, farmed oysters and clams are a “Best Choice” by Seafood Watch.

Bottomline: A solid New England shellfish experience.

 

By: Annie Reisewitz

Follow Annie on Twitter @annelore

Miami’s Favorite Garcia Seafood Brother

Nestled between La Caridad Joyeria and AB Farmacia in Miami’s Little Havana district is the most delicious snapper sandwich I’ve ever had. La Camaronera, part of the Garcia Brothers Seafood group, is clearly the brother who gets fish.

As you walk through the door, you notice the U-shaped  counters packed with locals and tourists who don’t mind standing up for their lunch.  Seafoodie Jim Harper and I elbowed our way into a spot overlooking the cooks frying up the (mostly) locally caught seafood.

I almost ordered the fried corvina sandwich, which according to the guy taking orders is made with Atlantic corvina. Since I couldn’t readily determine its sustainability rating in the split second I had to place my order, I passed it over for a more sustainable choice.

Shortly after my first bite of the snapper sandwich I realized that this Garcia brother has a perfect recipe. A delicately fried yellowtail, with its tail hanging on, onions and the Garcia special sauces. The fish was fresh and its dignity was intact. I didn’t regret my decision.

Corvina is a catch-all term for atlantic croaker, which is a SeafoodWatch best choice if non-trawl caught and a good alternative if caught using a trawl. My new twitter helpers at Pete’s Seafood Club avoids the fish altogether since little is known about it.

In addition to the fresh and sustainable choice of yellowfin snapper, La Camaronera serves up two kinds of shrimp – one from the Florida Keys and another from Honduras. Trying to determine the sustainability of shrimp can be a tough one. I’d definitely steer clear of the Honduras imports.  In addition, King Mackerel, a sustainable choice, were filleted and neatly packed on ice in the seafood case in the back of the restaurant.

They also serve up ventrecha frita, or fried grouper cheeks, which after the Great Publix Grouper Chase on Earth Day, I’d suggest to avoid these fish jowls until this vulnerable fish population shows marked improvement, along with the huevas fritas, or fried fish roe for obvious reasons.

Although the staff was very knowledgeable about where their seafood was from, there was no visible commitment to offering sustainable seafood choices.

Bottom line – Head down to this Miami jewel for the tastiest fish sandwich in town but turn the other cheek on those grouper bites.

So Close, Garcia’s Seafood, Yet So Far

What’s the deal with Cubans and seafood? I’ll attempt an answer in a minute. I ask the question because of Team Seafoodie’s visit to one of Miami’s best-known seafood joints that is run by a Cuban-American family. An icon of the city, Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Fish Market has some real strengths, but it misses its own boat to lead the community in sustainability. And in my humble opinion, the food was “ehh.”

This dolphin is hanging on by a thread, but other fish are in much worse trouble.

Located on the Miami River, Garcia’s catches fish from its own boats and sells snappers and stone crabs downstairs in its small fish market. This aspect is huge, because locally caught seafood that excludes overfished species is the most sustainable (and freshest!) choice (besides catching your own). Local seafood benefits from local oversight, as opposed to many foreign imports with minimal regulation, and you can trace exactly where it comes from. Plus, it does not burn resources for freezing, processing, and shipping. Local seafood should be a first choice. Ask for it.

But there is that caveat about avoiding overfished species…the menu at Garcia’s includes grouper, but the type of grouper was unknown by the waiter. Was it Gag grouper or Nassau or Goliath? A few Gulf of Mexico grouper populations are in recovery, but all Atlantic groupers fall into the red-light “Avoid” category from Seafood Watch. Personally I gave up grouper years ago, and I don’t like to see it printed on a permanent menu. Until all groupers are considered equal and sustainable—just say no.

Same thing with conch—also on the menu—no thank you. Swordfish falls into the questionable category, so again, avoid it unless you know for certain that it comes from a sustainable source. Garcia’s did not inspire such confidence—in the fish market, for example, the shrimp’s identity was mysterious. Once again, shrimp are a “no go” without a clear green light for sustainability.

With its 40-plus years of history and great views of the river, Garcia’s will continue to be a draw for the masses. But those masses will leave without a clue that the ocean is in trouble, just as if they got a fish sandwich at McDonalds. Garcia’s should be proud to be one of the area’s truly local sources of seafood, but that aspect is not communicated. What’s the deal, Garcia’s?

The deal with Cubans and seafood is that they don’t give it much attention, which seems odd for people from such a large island, and this apathy helps to explain why fresh seafood is lacking in greater Miami and perhaps why Garcia’s does not tweet about sustainability. As a general rule, if you want sushi, go Japanese, but if you want pork, go Cuban. Go figure.

The dolphin (mahi-mahi) sandwich I had was decent and fairly priced, but Annie’s dolphin platter was just average. The service was poor, and real slams of the restaurant can be read on Urban Spoon. On that website, Garcia’s earns 88% “like it” from citizen reviewers.

I want to like you, Garcia’s, but you’re letting me down. Do you know where your boats are going to? Do you like the things those boats are showing you?  Is it just me, or was the restaurant better years ago? I don’t want such questions; I want my local seafood with clarity and confidence.

 

The Raw Story

I love raw bars, mainly because I love raw oysters. Horseradish and a squirt of lemon mix perfectly with the salty meat. So, yesterday I decided to dine at the Tarpon Bend Raw Bar & Grill in Miami’s Miracle Mile in Coral Gables.

They serve three kinds of oysters – NW Olympia, Gulf from Texas and NW Totten. I was impressed by the readily identifiable types, which apparently all receive high marks for sustainability.

Next, I perused the specials of the day. Swordfish and Wahoo sandwiches and white Gulf shrimp all seem to be good choices on the most popular consumer guides. The Chilean salmon in the herb-crusted salmon salad and catch of the day entrees seems to be a sustainable suspect to be avoided.

Concerned with the restaurant’s lack of a publicized commitment to seafood sustainability, and my mercury levels following the weekend’s seafood festival, I decided to go seafood-less and ordered the Gables Chop salad. Holy vinegar Batman. The highly acidic vinaigrette dressing coupled with the sugary “unsweetened” iced tea rendered my taste buds highly fatigued. I left with the same feeling that I get when I eat too many sour patch kids.

Bottom line: Some good choices but no commitment to sustainability. Proceed with caution, if the sustainability of the seafood doesn’t bite you, the vinaigrette will.

Seafoodie™ Score:

– Annie Reisewitz

Follow Annie on Twitter @annelore