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

Give a little to protect seafood

This month CharitySub has selected “Sustainable Seafood” as its theme, and their homepage features three relevant charities and some nice graphics and tidy facts about seafood. CharitySub asks subscribers to donate $5 a month to one of their selected charities, but the information is free.

From CharitySub:

The Scary Truth About Overfishing

Since 1950, we have systematically worked our way down the food chain by fishing out all the top predators, one after the other. [5]

The ocean covers 71 percent of the earth’s surface, contains 50 percent of all lif e on earth, yet 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored [6]. The ocean serves as a major food source and global economic source for millions [5].

Overfishing is becoming a serious problem that can’t be ignored for much longer. The UN estimates that 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully, to over-exploited, depleted or in a state of collapse [5]. The overfishing numbers are scary, but what is even more scary is that they are said to be years behind the actual numbers as it is difficult to aggregate the data on a global scale. Overfishing if left unchecked can not only ruin whole ecosystems, but can also leave people without a food source, or an income.

Sharks are not people food

The sustainable seafoodie supports a ban on eating shark.

Livestrong.com offers recipes for several species of shark that are considered threatened or endangered, including the scalloped hammerhead and tiger shark. Livestrong acknowledges this, but still encourages eating the most vulnerable of shark species:

From Tiger Shark recipeDue to over-fishing and finning, a fishing practice in which sharks are killed only for their fins, tiger sharks are classified as near endangered.

From Scalloped Hammerhead recipeIn many areas it is overfished and has “protected” status, so be sure you catch or purchase your shark legally.

As many as one-third of all shark species are threatened or endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Evidence shows that actual global catch of sharks may be three to four times higher than the official statistics reported to FAO.

Furthermore, the WHO and the FDA discourage people from eating sharks, as they have one of the highest levels of mercury of fish in the sea. Mercury has been linked with neurological and heart problems, and is also not recommended for pregnant women or children.

Livestrong.com should not encourage eating ANY type of shark. 

For a website dedicated to, as Lance Armstrong put it, “changing lives and empowering people to make healthy decisions,” the shark recipe content is unconscionable. There’s nothing healthy, empowering or sustainable about grilling endangered species.

Tell Livestrong.com that you want all shark meat recipes removed from their site, and a policy stating that shark will not be featured as an ingredient on any of their web properties in the future.

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

For dinner, less seafood

A review of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, by Paul Greenberg (2010)

If you eat fish, you should read this book. A play in four acts of fishing, this book provides an up-to-date overview of where our seafood dinners come from and where they are headed in terms of survival or extinction. It’s not all bad news, but you will need to think twice before ordering the salmon.

Cod head

Cod head is getting harder to find.

The author, a common fisherman and New York Times writer, injects enough personal drama and tidy anecdotes to keep your interest in the science and sustainability issues while avoiding too many confusing numbers. He travels from Alaska to Greece and beyond, and he asks a vital question: with the demand for seafood growing beyond the sea’s ability to produce it, how are we going to feed everyone without destroying the ocean?

The book comes closer than current personal seafood guides to providing a clear answer. Decide which fish are wildlife instead of food, as we did with the whales, and stop eating them completely. He places tuna in that category. Choose fish suitable for aquaculture, such as tilapia, and provide those to the masses. Allow wild caught fish to become wildly expensive, which may reduce demand to sustainable levels. Drop more bombs on Japan.

I made up that last one, but they are guilty for introducing sushi to the masses and turning tuna into a god. Turns out, in the recent past the Japanese didn’t even eat the rare Bluefin tuna because it was too fatty, so giving it up has more to do with global economics than with cultural traditions. Cah-ching! Fish of such value will likely follow the whales into near or actual oblivion.

As for salmon, sea bass, and cod, and other big three, they are also all in decline in the wild and make poor choices for fish farming. Basically, Greenberg concludes that we should be eating other fish. In fact, part of his case seems to promote freshwater fish over saltwater catches. Less salt, more fresh. Give up cod, but go for barramundi. Take tilapia, but leave the grouper alone.

All about baccalao

Baccalao, Spanish for cod, is saltfiskur in Icelandic. The world is eating it to death.

Sorry 7 billion humans, but you can’t eat everything that moves. I hear that manatee is delicious, and so are sea turtles and their eggs. But at some point civilization kicks in, and we choose to abstain from eating certain things because they are more valuable as wildlife than as food. We have reached that point for most fish in the sea.

 

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.

What is Publix’s “Florida Grouper?”

I had a near-foodie heart attack when Sustainable Seafoodie Jim Harper tipped me off to Publix’s Earth Day promotion encouraging customers to buy Florida grouper. Many Florida grouper populations have been overfished and poorly managed in the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, so I need to get to the bottom of this quickly.

What Publix doesn’t tell you at the seafood counter is that when it comes to grouper, you need to identify the exact species and location it was caught – of the more than 85 types worldwide – to determine its sustainability. Without a clear explanation about the type of grouper species we should be buying for our Earth Day celebration, I immediately sought the help of the sustainable seafood community on Twitter.

I tweeted out is Florida grouper was a sustainable choice, to which I received immediately replies “Florida grouper” was too vague and that more information is necessary to determine its sustainable rating.

The folks at @FishChoice was able to dig up a store flyer that clarifies that Publix sources its grouper from the Gulf of Mexico and currently has fresh Red Grouper fillets on sale for $16.99/lb.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide, “red and black grouper from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico are ‘Good Alternatives’.” Where most other grouper species from the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Atlantic are on the ‘Avoid’ list.”

When I checked for myself, I did indeed find fresh red grouper fillets and steaks at two of my local Publix grocery stores in Coral Gables, Florida. In addition, I found an unknown type in the frozen food section, labeled as simply “Grouper.”

My seafoodie heart rate mostly returned to normal with only a small irregular heartbeat continuing over the frozen variety.

Fish is good for the heart, so Publix please do a better job next time of educating your customer in store about sustainable seafood, so my seafoodie heart can enjoy the next environmental holiday.

Bottomline: Publix’s fresh red grouper is a sustainable choice, but avoid the sustainable seafood freezer burn from the unidentifiable frozen fillets.

Thanks to @Harperfish @PetesSeafood @FishChoice @BlueOceanInst @SeafoodWatch for helping with the sustainable seafood research.

– Annie Reisewitz