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Is it time to put seared ahi and tuna tartare on hiatus?

Chowpatty Sep 13, 2006 10:14 PM

These dishes are becoming the cliches of the restaurant world, and I'm afraid I'm probably as guilty of ordering them a lot as anyone else. But a poster on the L.A. board who recently ate at Spago and proclaimed the seared ahi lackluster made me think, isn't it time for restaurants, especially high-end ones with pretensions to creativity, to retire these dishes for a while, give our mercury-poisoned bodies a rest and find something else to serve?
Of course, in L.A. there would probably be large-scale riots, but I'm willing to risk it, especially if I could see a different kind of fish on a menu once in a while. Are you tired of seeing these safety fall-backs on menus? What kind of appetizers or main course seafood would you like to see instead?

  1. Morton the Mousse Sep 13, 2006 10:24 PM

    The Bay Area is seeing a lot of fish crudo and carpaccio that is not ahi. It's a refreshing change. In the past few months I've had delicious preparations of hamachi crudo, halibut crudo with avocado and fennel and wild salmon carpaccio with arugula.

    1. Robert Lauriston Sep 13, 2006 10:36 PM

      This trend was already past its expiration date when Frank Bruni made fun of it two years ago:

      "... restaurants with admittedly eclectic leanings end up in an even more homogenous, redundant place. Before I step through their doors, I can usually predict what I will find.

      "My appetizer choices will include tuna tartare, tuna sashimi or tuna tataki. If by some astonishing quirk of providence there is not any raw or extremely rare tuna on the menu, there will be some other uncooked fish — sea bass, yellowtail or Arctic char — and the odds are 50-50 that it will wear the voguish tag of crudo. ..."


      1. m
        MuppetGrrl Sep 13, 2006 10:51 PM

        I'm not crazy about tartare, as I can't do raw onions, but good seared ahi is one of my favorites, and I'm personally pleased as punch that I can find it readily. :) I'm all for a "trend" as long as it's good.

        That said, putting it on the menu when it's mediocre or doesn't fit with the other dishes is always a no-no, whether it's ahi or hamburger.

        1. amkirkland Sep 13, 2006 11:12 PM

          I think anytime something becomes a trend it's time to cut it... or at least stop proliferating it. There's little creativity left. How about some real carpaccio for a change?... not that that would be any more creative.

          1. m
            MuppetGrrl Sep 13, 2006 11:25 PM

            See, I've always been more in favor of good food than trends. If the trend turns out to be good, then keep it on the list, whether or not it's considered trendy or too scene-y. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of chefs who are focusing more on creating the New Hot Thing then getting really good at tried-and-true items (and innovating, as well).

            Creativity is important, but so is skill. And taste, for that matter. If it tastes good, keep it. As Morton said, salmon carpaccio is fantastic; so is beef carpaccio. But should a restaurant not serve beef carpaccio because it's been around a long time? Of course not. Loads of restaurants have mashed potatoes as a side--should they stop serving it because it's too "common"?

            Serve it because you do it well, whether or not it's trendy. Good dishes stand the test of time.

            1. Greg B Sep 13, 2006 11:42 PM

              I wouldn't mind seeing it go the way of the dodo bird, especially tuna tartare, since I don't like sushi and don't like raw onions either. I was forced to eat a bit of it at a catered dinner a couple of years ago and found it vile. Seared tuna is only slightly better in my mind, in that the center is still raw and hence is essentially sushi, which as I said I do not like one little bit. I find the entire sushi craze mystifying to be honest. Having tasted it several times I equate it to the eating equivalent of rice cakes but with a more unpleasant aftertaste. I find it hard to believe that many people like it -- at least enough to justify it being everywhere -- and can only conclude its popularity is due to trendiness rather than good flavor.

              As for substitutions, here in Eastern Canada we have a similar "ubiquity problem" with salmon. It's every restaurant's seafood pick. Unfortunately more often than not it's farmed salmon rather than wild. But regardless, I love seafood but can only eat so much salmon before I don't want to see it again.

              1. m
                MuppetGrrl Sep 13, 2006 11:47 PM

                I love rare ahi, for the plain and simple reason that I find it delicious. Everyone has different tastes. Sea urchin is supposed to be the best thing ever for "real" sushi lovers, but I find it repulsive. As I said in my previous posts, I'm not crazy about folks who follow trends and then discard them because they're no longer the new thing.

                For example, I've seen watermelon-plus-tomato-plus-something-else salads cropping up everywhere (maybe they're an annual favorite; I don't know) and I love it. Trendy, maybe, but I'm A-OK with it, because it tastes damn good. And I certainly hope I'll be able to find them three years from now, whether or not it's passe.

                1. Chowpatty Sep 13, 2006 11:47 PM

                  I love sushi, but at this point I'd just as soon wait for a great piece of toro next time I have sushi as have it for an appetizer at every Californian/Italian/French/pan-Asian restaurant. We do have a few L.A. restaurants serving crudo of different fishes, but it remains pretty rare. And even in L.A., farmed salmon is the usual alternative to tuna. But an amazing piece of fish I had in Hawaii recently (mahi mahi, I think), made me think that we all need to branch out.

                  1. c
                    Chowsmurf Sep 13, 2006 11:51 PM

                    On that note, I really wish burger joints would get off this whole "french fry, "onion ring" nonsense and start serving something with tamarind instead.

                    1. chica Sep 14, 2006 12:34 AM

                      I believe seared ahi and tuna tartare, ahi poke and ahi steak, probably started at higher-end restaurants, but most places are now churning them out as appetizers and entrees, in happy hour and late night dining. It's easy to buy and prepare for the appeal of asian fusion foods. That said, I also believe that the majority of the population do not touch it, either because they do not eat raw fish, cannot afford it, or were just never brought up to eat such 'fancier' foods.

                      I admit it is getting 'old' for me, too, but it's only because I see it so often. I love it, nevertheless. As long it tastes good, I'm willing to eat it. Of course, neither does this preclude my desire to see other sorts of crudo, tartare, carpaccio, and fish entrees on menus. I'm always delighted when I see a variation.

                      Yet even fish like mahi mahi, swordfish, shark, branzino, striped or sea bass, etc. have been available in many restaurants and chains for a while, like McCormick's and McGrath's.

                      1. moto Sep 14, 2006 12:54 AM

                        Hello, the reason yellowfin (ahi) and bluefin tuna have a potentially harmful concentration of mercury is their position on the food chain as dominant predators. They're growing scarcer for the same reason, compounded of course by our fishing practices and methods; it takes a lot of smaller fish to sustain a much smaller population of them. If enough people eat less of them and less frequently both they as beautiful predators and their place on our tables might be sustainable. The savvy consumers who post here are obviously aware of other types of tasty prey. salud

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: moto
                          Robert Lauriston Sep 14, 2006 01:21 AM

                          Yellowfin is not scarce. The scarcity of bluefin tuna is due entirely to overfishing.


                          1. re: moto
                            mielimato Sep 14, 2006 11:15 AM

                            I agree. Eating large predatory fish like tuna comes at some cost to the environment as well has being potentially harmful to one's health.

                            A recent thread discussed the environmental concerns related to fishing practices and the consumption of fish: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                            I love tuna, especially raw tuna, but I am glad to see its popularity fall in light of environmental concerns.

                          2. r
                            rtmonty Sep 14, 2006 01:06 AM

                            I gave up on both several years ago. In SF the "metal" of a restaurant was how their tuna tartar compared to that at Michael Mina's Aqua. The one at Aqua was perfect, outstanding. But, after having it several times, it was time to move on. And, when going to another restaurant, I did the comparison. No more. Now, I will still order fois gras seared if it's on a menu but if there is quail or squab or an interesting sounding scallop dish, I opt for it. And, this time of the year, a very tasty heirloom tomato salad may very well be plenty for a first course.

                            As far as seared, again, I move on to the more "inventive" dishes on the menu. Seared tuna has become the "chicken" dish that's on every menu. Salmon has almost fallen into the same catagory. Many of the small, neighborhood places in SF offer neither, preferring to have a local fish, sand dabs, petrale sole, halibut all of which are just wonderful if prepared by a caring chef.

                            1. d
                              dreamcast18 Sep 14, 2006 01:09 AM

                              Tuna TT rocks @ Roys..with a topping of swordfish roe. To each his/her own...raw fish is great for some..nastee to others...don't judge just because you don't like it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dreamcast18
                                Chowpatty Sep 14, 2006 02:09 AM

                                I didn't say I don't like it -- I eat it all the time. I just wish L.A. had more of those "small, neighborhood places in SF offer neither, preferring to have a local fish, sand dabs, petrale sole, halibut" -- it's just not as common down here.

                              2. Robert Lauriston Sep 14, 2006 01:23 AM

                                The Japanese have spent centuries figuring out the best ways to eat raw fish.

                                Joe CIA Graduate, the chef down at Trendino's Fusion 'n' Things, ate at Esca once or twice.

                                1. n
                                  newJJD Sep 14, 2006 06:41 AM

                                  IMHO, discussing whether or not a food is or isn't trendy / outdated, is a classic sign of a "foodie" not a true chowhound.

                                  What's the problem with seared Ahi? Does it not taste good anymore? No, it tastes as good as it has for those who like it, and it's still awful for those that hate it.

                                  A true chowhound, again IMHO, never gets tired of /stops appreciating a well prepared dish, be it ahi, lamb chops, beef Wellington, tiramisu, etc...

                                  If I had a nickel for every person I know that used to down Napa and Sonoma Chardonnay by the quart in the early 90's, but now refuse it because "Anything But Chardonnay" is voguish, I'd be rich.

                                  Copy that for everyone who used to refuse Pinot Noir because it wasn't "Big Enough" for them, but ever since 'Sideways'....

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: newJJD
                                    Robert Lauriston Sep 14, 2006 03:23 PM

                                    Seared ahi, ceviche, miso-glazed black cod, Niman ribeye, short ribs, panna cotta, and fourless chocolate cake are all just as good as they ever were.

                                    That doesn't mean that it's a good thing for every new restaurant to serve all of them.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                      newJJD Sep 20, 2006 09:58 PM

                                      If every restaurant in my native Canada had a dish that involved either short ribs, or a combination of roasted beets and chevre, I would be a very haapy man.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                        newJJD Sep 20, 2006 10:02 PM

                                        The original post implied that it was time for all restaurants to get rid of this dish because the OP was tired of seeing it and felt it's trendy time was over

                                    2. TexasToast Sep 14, 2006 09:24 AM

                                      Retire them is what I say, and while we're at it, let's get rid of Foie Gras as well! There was a restaurant in Dallas that did raw tuna AND seared foie gras together! Thankfully, the chef's seen sense and taken that combo off the menu, but both items still remain individually.


                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: TexasToast
                                        Debbie M Sep 15, 2006 09:30 PM

                                        Well, the way things are going, you'll probably get your wish with foie gras.

                                        Speaking of which, lo, these many years ago, Aqua used to have a seared foie gras/scallop dish that was fantastic.

                                      2. LT from LF Sep 15, 2006 12:55 AM

                                        More mackerel, I say!

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: LT from LF
                                          mielimato Sep 15, 2006 06:51 AM

                                          Absolutely! And sardines too!

                                          1. re: mielimato
                                            MuppetGrrl Sep 17, 2006 03:34 AM

                                            Sardines. Mmmm.

                                        2. b
                                          BabyLitigator Sep 15, 2006 01:24 AM

                                          Most restaurants are not that innovative. Every so often a trendy dish comes along, and sometimes it sticks (I think we are destined to see some version of molten chocolate cake at 'nice' restaurants for a long time), and some don't.

                                          If tuna tartare can be done consistently decently, no reason it shouldn't join lambchops in the regular neo-american restaurant menu.

                                          1. jfood Sep 16, 2006 04:24 PM

                                            I love seared tuna, tuna tartare, et. al. If you do not like it do not order it. If it does not sell then the resto will remove it from the menu.

                                            1. limster Sep 16, 2006 06:51 PM

                                              Rouget would be nice. Unfortunately a bit hard to get in the US, especially in pristine form.

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