Ten years ago, hardly anyone was talking about sustainable seafood. Now, thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its Seafood Watch (www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch) program, the concept is a bona fide trend in culinary circles. But not everyone knows what “sustainable seafood” means. The idea behind the Aquarium’s programs, including pocket guides that list which kinds of seafood are OK to eat and which should be avoided, is to maintain the ocean’s ecosystem and supply of seafood through smart consumer choices.
But figuring out which is which isn’t easy. For example, farmed oysters are OK because they can be grown on strings or pier-pilings, which doesn’t necessitate digging anything up or decimating other seafood populations. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, requires catching other fish to feed them – not to mention that farming practices often lead to diseased fish. Which is why Seafood Watch employs a team of scientists to look into every aspect of every kind of fish – and distribute the information nationwide (now on iPhones too) twice a year.
Even better? The Bay Area is doing more than just jumping on the bandwagon. On April 15, three organizations – the California Academy of Sciences, the San Francisco Zoo, and Aquarium of the Bay – announced the formation of the first Seafood Watch regional alliance, taking their existing involvement with the sustainable seafood movement to another level. Which means the promise of an ever-increasing number of restaurants and culinary schools adhering to Seafood Watch principles.
For now, though, the alliance is just getting started in SF. We checked in with Ken Peterson of Monterey Bay Aquarium and Carrie Chen of the Aquarium of the Bay to find out which Bay Area hot spots are already sustainability superstars.
Perhaps first on Seafood Watch’s list of Bay Area favorites is this Pacific Heights sushi bar – the only sustainable sushi restaurant in the country. “It’s one of the few truly sustainable restaurants, top to bottom,” said Ken Peterson, spokesman for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “It’s unbelievably good as well as environmentally pristine.” Chen agreed. “You go to that restaurant and you don’t have to whip out your Seafood Watch card, because everything there is OK to eat,” she said. In fact, chefs go out of their way to find sustainable alternatives to red list items in order to maintain an interesting and varied menu. Friendly staff, a good atmosphere, an extensive sake selection (including sake sangria), and the incendiary Extinguisher roll (spicy amberjack, avocado, habanero masago, and hot sauce on a flaming plate) make it one of our favorites too.
2815 California, SF. (415) 931-1182, www.tatakisushibar.com
Another Monterey Bay Aquarium recommendation is this Union Square gem – and not just because the aquatic-themed décor is reminiscent of the aquarium’s underwater worlds itself. Chefs have an eye on sustainability when they choose their constantly changing menu, as well as when stocking the raw seafood and oyster bars. Plus, Seafood Watch pocket guides are available at the check-in area, and the food is delicious and beautifully presented.
450 Post, SF. (415) 956-6969, www.farallonrestaurant.com
HOG ISLAND OYSTER COMPANY
Visitors love Hog Island’s view, happy hour specials, Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese sandwiches, and fresh oysters with Hog Wash sauce (vinegar, shallots, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime). We love that Hog Island chefs have participated in the Aquarium’s annual Cooking for Solutions event, which brings Monterey and Bay Area restaurant representatives together to celebrate culinary sustainability. (For information on this year’s event, to be held May 15-16, visit the aquarium’s Web site.) Plus, Hog Island is known for farming oysters sustainably. “We love to promote organizations like that,” said Chen.
1 Ferry Bldg, SF. (415) 391-7117, www.hogislandoysters.com
This cozy Marina eatery is an official Seafood Watch partner. That means you can rest – or eat – assured knowing that your Cajun crab pasta, lobster thermidor with cheesy sauce, and New England Seafood Chowder are all responsibly farmed or caught. Reasonable prices and a full menu, including fantastic martinis, should also help you sleep easy.
2417 Lombard, SF. (415) 885-2530, www.cafemaritimesf.com
LARK CREEK STEAK
When thinking green, it’s rare to think of the mall – that beacon of companies who use sweatshops and Styrofoam. But Westfield has more to offer than most, thanks to this Seafood Watch partner. Come because of your politics, stay for the Dungeness crab gumbo.
845 Market, SF. (415) 593-4100, www.larkcreeksteak.com