Fish Tails and Tall Tales

photo Paul Lamarre

I had an exquisite lunch the other day at Savoy. Good company, charming host, beautiful service and of course their consistently satisfying and luscious food. Savoy is well known for it’s thoughtful, seasonal, local menu. The quietly elegant space was the perfect spot for an hour spent relaxing and savoring a few moments together over tasty bites. It made me remember why I loved it so much way back when it opened in 1990. A quietly self assured place in the midst of the noisy and ostentatious restaurants in NYC, not afraid to take an ethical stand and gently remind diners where their food came from. Many more places have since followed Savoy’s Peter Hoffman, into the territory of intelligent dining, but for me it remains the favorite. 
Why then, did I leave there feeling uneasy? Was it the Butter Basted Monkfish on the dinner menu? After reading Taras Grescoe’s Bottomfeeder, I was sufficiently convinced that Monkfish was dangerously overfished and that the bottom-destroying trawling used to catch them was reason enough to keep them off all restaurant menus. But, after thinking about it, what really bothered me was that I didn’t ask about it. 
At Fish Tails and Tall Tales, our most recent Communal Table dinner, I entreated everyone to talk to their fishmongers, grocers, waiters and chefs about what fish they’re buying and selling and letting them know that we’re interested in supporting sustainable fishing practices and don’t want overfished and harmfully fished or farmed species. Emphatic entreaty! In my reverence for Savoy, I shied away from asking a simple question, “How is it, when I have heard so much about Monkfish being overfished and it’s capture so environmentally destructive, that you are serving it tonight for dinner?” I really should have asked. Had I asked, I would have been moderately relieved to find out that there are two somewhat less harmful gill-net fisheries in New Jersey and in Canada  supplying Monkfish to the market. I’m still not happy to see it on their menu, and I wouldn’t order it. But dialog is important. Get the facts and let vendors know what you care about. I promise to be more assertive in the future.
photo Paul Lamarre
Today’s post from Mark Bittman addresses the issue of consumer confusion at the fish counter.  
photo Paul Lamarre
Communal Table is really all about storytelling and we thank everyone who brought a story or poem along to share. Thanks to Mark Federman from Russ and Daughters for sharing his expertise and love for herring and it's lore, Rob Hauck for his enthusiasm, joy and stories of fishing and Kacie Loparto for demystifying the world of sea vegetables. 
Vince Bruns was an amazing host and his shad boning demonstration was absolutely spectacular and edifiying. Thanks to Vince also for procuring the finest, freshest seafood for us to serve on that balmy March evening. 
additional photos Mary-Anne O'Sullivan
For more information:
The End Of The Line   also available from Netflix
Bottomfeeder  by Taras Grescoe
Swimming in Circles  by Paul Molyneaux

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