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Feb 28, 2009 04:09 PM

Santa Monica Seafood

While I'm not too happy about the quality of fish overall they've had since they re-opened they did start giving out ice packs again, if you ask for them at the front register. Just thought i'd let you all know.

Somehow their seabass, tuna, shrimp, and crabs always looks fresh but allot of their fish is poor to horribly poor quality.........

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  1. I got some farmed salmon there the other day and while it was not cheap the quality was there. I usually cook fish the same day I buy it but I ended up waiting a day and it was great, not a hint of fishy odor. I prefer Fish King but I can't call Santa Monica seafood anything but a high quality fish market.

    22 Replies
    1. re: blackbookali

      Some of their salmon isn't bad but most of their fish is not very fresh i'm really disappointed in the downward spiral their fish has taken since the move..

      1. re: Ben7643

        It's just so weird to me... because their fish is processed in a warehouse in South LA -- Dominguez Hills, I think -- and not on-site. Their Costa Mesa location has the same screamingly high standards I've come to expect (honestly, you'd think there'd be more places to buy great fish in Orange County, population 3 million, but you'd be wrong -- there are maybe 3 or 4).

        If I have a chance I'll check it out next weekend... but in the meantime, remember the Golden Rule of Fish Buying -- only trust your own eyes and nose, and if they won't let you smell the fish they're trying to hide something!!

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          I needed monkfish to try a recipe I saw on Lidia's Italy and Santa Monica Seafood was the only place in South OC I could find it. Luckily my son's business is two blocks away from there so I had an excuse to go there (I live in San Clemente). Is there anywhere else in the Southern reaches of OC that would be good for monkfish or some of the great shellfish at SMS?? I'm thinking maybe 99 Ranch in Irvine??

          1. re: Midlife

            You can go to 99 Ranch but just... caveat emptor, OK?

            Also, Dry Dock Fish sells at the weekly Saturday morning UCI market. They sometimes have monkfish.

            1. re: Midlife

              A friend who is a sushi chef buys her fish from either Marukai Asian market on Harbor in Costa Mesa (near Baker, across from Target) or Bristol Farms in Newport Beach. She will not buy fish from SMS. I have sworn it off as well. The one on 17th in CM smells horrible, and the guys behind the counter know nothing. Also, the fishmonger who sells at the Costa Mesa farmers' market on Thursday mornings (might be Dry Dock, can't remember) has very fresh and reasonably priced fish. Good luck!

              1. re: buffaloha

                I second the recommendation for Marukai. It's a membership store, but only like $10/year and the quality of the fish is outstanding. Also, you might want to try some of the grocery stores in Little Saigon. Very fresh to live in tanks. The mongers will whack it to death for you :-)

                1. re: janetms383

                  Nice rec, though not very useful for those of us on the West side!

                  1. re: Phurstluv

                    There are Marukais all over So Cal, but you'll have to take a field trip if you want to visit Little Saigon....

                    1. re: janetms383

                      Happen to know where they might be around the westside or shall I just google it?

                      1. re: Phurstluv

                        closest marukai is the one in little tokyo. it's in weller court.

                        1. re: wilafur

                          Thanks, maybe I'll hit it next time I have business downtown, which happens to be this Thursday ;)

                    2. re: Phurstluv

                      The Marukai on Artesia in Gardena is about 20-25 minutes on an average weekend drive from the 90 and the 405 as a reference point. It takes me about the same amount of time to get to where Santa Monica Seafood is from the same reference point.

                    3. re: janetms383

                      If only some savvy entrepreneur would bring live fish/proper seafood store to the west side... I'm afraid people here, self-proclaimed foodies included, wouldn't know better though.

                        1. re: epop

                          another issue is whether or not they'd be willing to pay for both
                          1) quality, fresh, fish
                          2) high rents associated with the area.

                          1. re: epop

                            I disagree. It's pretty easy to tell good fish from bad - smell and taste. And anyone can do it. If there was a serious vendor on this side of town, you'd see all the restauranteurs and chefs showing up there in the morning. That gives you credibility, and that worth of mouth would spread. (Say, if Josiah Citrin buys his fish here - I'd go there. Trust me, Mr. Citrin's pic would never be on that Wall of Shame at Santa Monica Seafood. And his restaurant is a 60 second walk from SMF.)

                            1. re: foodiemahoodie

                              Most chefs buy their fish from the same places the fishmongers too—IMF and the other wholesalers downtown.

                              1. re: foodiemahoodie

                                can't think of any successful chef that gets their fish from a retail store.. . . .

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  S.M. Seafood has a huge wholesale operation. I see them delivering to Katsuya, Brentwood several days each week.

                    1. re: Cebca

                      Fish King (not King Fish) is on Glendale Blvd., just north of the 134 freeway.

                      Fish King Seafood & Poultry Co
                      722 N Glendale Ave, Glendale, CA 91206

                    2. I've been burnt a couple of times with the fish I bought there. I should have known when I saw the fish sitting on plastic trays rather than on the ice it should be sitting on.
                      I ended up just throwing it away rather than make the trip back to the store.
                      Knowing what I know about the lack of freshness in their product I wouldn't be going to the new cafe.

                      19 Replies
                      1. re: latindancer

                        Not only is it just sitting in plastic trays, many of their cuts are sitting in pools of fishy water in the trays. Not on ice, not dry, but on water. I have found good fish there since they moved, all my recent experiences haven't been bad. However i've walked in and walked out empty handed 2 times out of the 4 times i've been, mainly due to not seeing anything I considered good quality that I was interested in.

                        1. re: Ben7643

                          Why not let them know that you're unhappy with the change? They have comment cards -- I just wrote one to ask them to go back to putting the country of origin and method of harvest on the price labels. Maybe they would switch back to metal trays if you asked.

                          FWIW, in 20-odd years I've never had a quality issue from them.

                          I tried their Kumamoto oysters last week, and was really floored by the taste. Fabulous.

                          1. re: Bjartmarr

                            it's not just the lack of metal trays that is the problem with how I view the place.

                            1. re: Bjartmarr

                              Why should the customer instruct the fish monger how to sell fish?
                              That's like telling the Italian lady how to cook her pasta.

                              1. re: latindancer

                                I don't think a comment telling them their fish quality has gone downhill since their move would do much.

                            2. re: Ben7643

                              I guess it's a decent seafood shop but there are better and I'm not willing to spend the time and energy hoping the next time I walk in their fish is going to be up to the standards I expect.
                              It's not only the fish I find just so- so but the prepared dishes are no different.

                              1. re: latindancer

                                Agreed, but i'd also agree with Bjartmarr the Oysters looked excellent I just didn't feel like waiting in line to try them.

                                1. re: latindancer

                                  I don't think there are better west of the 405. I can imagine better but haven't found it. Please don't say Whole Foods.

                                  1. re: epop

                                    I won't buy seafood at Whole Foods. Ugh.
                                    Every single seafood section I've walked past at Whole Foods smells like a dirty fish tank.

                                    1. re: epop

                                      Safe & Save Japanese Market on sawtelle's fish blows the fish at santa monica seafood out of the water quality wise. They're west of the 405

                                      2030 Sawtelle Blvd, West Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                      However they don't have nearly the selection that santa monica seafood has. Call ahead to see what they do have, but typically there are about 6 or so different types of fish available all sushi quality. Their tuna is the best i've seen in the city.

                                      (310) 479-3810

                                      1. re: Ben7643

                                        That's good to know. I was just in there and noticed the fish.

                                        I wish there was a place that was superb and had variety, especially with whole fish.
                                        But one can't have everything.

                                        1. re: epop

                                          Downtown looks to be your best bet. American Fish would be a good place to start. If you're ever down Redondo Beach way you might drop by Quality Seafood on the International Boardwalk and check out their selection.

                                          Quality Seafood
                                          130 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach, CA

                                          American Fish & Seafood
                                          625 Kohler St, Los Angeles, CA

                                  2. re: latindancer

                                    getting to this late. actually, fish should be sold on trays, not on ice. ice will draw the moisture out of the fish. The tray is a barrier that prevents it. a little bit of moisture in the tray isn't a problem, but of course there shouldn't be too much.
                                    None of this should be read as an endorsement of either fish king or sms, both of which i find horribly expensive, particularly after shopping at marukai or mitsuwa.

                                    1. re: FED

                                      I respectfully disagree with your opinion about fish on ice.
                                      I've been around fish mongers all my life...excluding the last several years I've lived in LA. I'm extremely particular when it comes to the fish I purchase primarily because of the things I've learned over the years from these people. I grew up in a city where local,fresh seafood is considered one of its many highlights and believe me...they know what they're doing.
                                      Not one of the stores merchandises their seafood on is all on ice.

                                      1. re: FED

                                        You've never been to the wholesale fish markets downtown, huh... there's no trays.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          in situations with whole fish or where the fish will be rotated quickly, it's not as critical. but dealing with cut fish (fillets) or in a retail situation where the fish might be stored for several days, it's important to use trays both to prevent the loss of moisture through the ice and to prevent cross-contamination.
                                          a quote from the Alaska Seafood marketing group from a primer on safe retail handling of seafood.
                                          "Seafood should be carefully arranged on display trays. Whole fish should be placed in shallow pans with drain holes in the front to allow drainage of meltwater and product fluids. Steaks and fillets should be displayed in perforated trays. Shellfish can be placed in solid, deeper pans."

                                          1. re: FED

                                            Given the crowds I've seen -- and regardless of my own feelings of the "new" SMS in Santa Monica -- it seems like the fish would not last long enough on the ice to dry out.

                                            That said, I don't go to SMS in Costa Mesa much anymore -- the Asian markets have better fish, and cheaper.

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              i'll certainly agree with that! the first time i went fish shopping at Mitsuwa, I felt like I'd been played for a fool for all those years buying at mainstream markets. 99 ranches are more hit-and-miss, but there are others that are really terrific.

                                    2. I payed a visit to the 99Ranch market in Monterey park and they had all kinds of fresh fish, some in tanks, some still flapping around. Trouble was, I couldn't identify most of them. I bought a small bass which was quite good. But freshness is not the only issue. If its a poor farm raised fish, even if it is "fresh" it still won't taste good and will be mushy. I was hoping the Santa Monica Seafood would stick to top quality in wild or farmed, but, sadly, it looks like that is not the case so far. I don't understand why SMS doesn't keep the fish on ice. No excuse for that.

                                      1. Can it be a surprise? disappointed in the fish market, as they focus more on prepared foods. I imagine that a two tiered system, the prepared foods will always be an opportunity to extend the time frame/ marketability of the initial product.
                                        I have yet to try the new shop, but will. How is the parking??
                                        if nothing else, find the quality of their frozen shrimp/lobsters are always acceptable in a pinch. And, with judicious inspection,some wonderful bargains here. they are still the only show in town for certain types of fish. oh well.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: ciaolette

                                          "And, with judicious inspection, some wonderful bargains here, they are still the only show in town for certain types of fish, oh well."

                                          I wish them well as they've certainly figured out a way to keep people coming....and they are, in droves.
                                          I just won't be one of them....I don't care what they're selling.

                                          1. re: latindancer

                                            Ciaolette the parking's insane you may drive around the lot in the back for 15 mintues before finding a spot. Bring quarters just incase you may need to park on the street.

                                            Most of their frozen stuff is good like you say but so is trader joes frozen fish.

                                            1. re: Ben7643

                                              well, thanks for the parking info.....just imagine how bad it will be on a busy day like xmas or new years, yikes

                                        2. Tsukiji it's not. But Santa Monica Seafood is not horrible by any means. It's a good neighborhood fish market that beats most of the other options in the area.

                                          In their old location, I could kind of understand some of their practices -- no live seafood (bivalves excluded) and very little in the way of whole fish. However, they don't have any excuse for not stepping up their game in the new location. They've already started carrying live lobster (although at a higher price and smaller on average than 99 Ranch) and they even had some Santa Barbara prawns out the other day (although not in a tank like you'll find at 99 Ranch). I'm hopeful that they start carrying a much wider variety of whole fish and that they start to process the fish at the retail location.

                                          I've defintiely got some stinkers there (which can really suck at $20/lb.) but I've also got some wonderful fish there as well. They are, as ciaolette said, the only show in [this part of] town for a lot of stuff.

                                          In short, don't drive down from the valley or anything to get here but if you live in the area and are picking up some fish for dinner, you can't really do better.

                                          27 Replies
                                          1. re: Frommtron

                                            I asked if they plan on carrying more whole fish but I got a clear NO from the management. I don't understand it, since it sells out as fast as it comes in.

                                            I wish there were other options in this part of town.

                                            1. re: epop

                                              Well, I've learned a few things since reading and listening to the Chowhound Brigade.
                                              I will drive ( if I have to I'll walk) out of my way to buy the freshest, the most authentic, the most value for the buck and the most memorable food items available.
                                              I refuse to buy mediocre, overpriced and unimpressive seafood just to say I ate fish.
                                              There are other places, as has been noted, in Los Angeles. I've experienced fish mongers who eat, breath and think FISH and their incredibly fresh product was a reflection of their devotion.
                                              I'd rather have no fish than so-so fish.

                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                I agree. If you want the best whole fresh fish you must go downtown to the fish district - where the restaurants go to buy. google "fish wholesale los angeles" and you'll get directed. Big wharehouses of fish. Some are closed by noon. I've bought whole salmon, loup de mare (kind a seabass). Best to go in jeans an shoes that wont slip on the wet floors. Can be fun and you will find good fish.
                                                For less excitement, the Redondo Pier has a fish market with many whole fish-which they will clean for you.

                                                1. re: Baron

                                                  In Redondo Beach you can also get whole fish (they will clean and fillet it for you) at Capt Kidds. I have bought a few whole salmon from them with excellent results.

                                                  1. re: bllrdfam

                                                    To clarify: I am looking for small whole fish. For example, sardines, red mullet, whiting and porgies. These, for some reason, are hard to come by. Santa Monica Seafood occasionally gets a bit of them and quickly runs out. It drives me nuts.

                                                    1. re: epop

                                                      I think that SMS sometimes has sardines. The smallest fish at Safe and Save today was Saba. Maybe 99 ranch.

                                                      1. re: epop

                                                        Get your sardines where they sell live bait.

                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                          thx. are the sardines always fresh?

                                                          1. re: epop

                                                            They usually come out of "live" bait tanks, so they ought to be fresh.

                                                            1. re: epop

                                                              They should be fresh - they should be alive. The issue is whether or not they look just alive or really vibrant and jumpy. Also the bait shop should have a clean tank. The good thing about this is that you will be able to see this with your own eyes. My dad and his buddies used to do a lot of off-shore fishing and used sardines and anchovies for bait. They'd usually bring home any live unused bait and cook 'um up over the Hibachi...

                                                          2. re: epop

                                                            My personal theory is that sardines are just too cheap. They want to sell at certain price point. Plus, they are highly perishable.

                                                            I love sardines and have asked for them many times.

                                                            This whole thread is distressing. SMS was one of the few places that I would buy fish.

                                                            1. re: JudiAU

                                                              too cheap?? who said great food ought to be expensive?

                                                              I haven't noticed that they're more perishable than other fish. At least they're whole so you can see what you're buying, instead of fillets.

                                                        2. re: Baron

                                                          Can you please give more details about the fish district downtown? Where is it? I guess I just never knew about it all these years... Is there more than one warehouse or just one place to find? Thanks.

                                                          1. re: aliris

                                                            Just a few:

                                                            American Fish & Seafood - - (213) 599-5700

                                                            Los Angeles Fish Co - - (213) 629-1213

                                                            Pacific Fresh Fish Co. - - (213) 623-6220

                                                            Taiwan Seafood & Fish Inc - - (213) 624-2927

                                                            Yamasa Fish Cake Co. - - (213) 626-2211

                                                            Ore-Cal Corporation - - (213) 680-9540

                                                            International Marine Products - - (213) 688-2577

                                                            Unified Seafood Co - - (213) 623-7670

                                                            1. re: RicRios

                                                              Ric have you been to any of these lately? Any tips or suggestions?

                                                              1. re: Baron

                                                                They're all walking distance from my office, you better be there early.
                                                                Huge inventory, humongous carcasses of really big fish, guy asking you knife in hand which part you want, etc. Beware they also have frozen stuff. Like: they don't get everything every day. I went a few times, problem is during the week I don't have much use since early morning to late afternoon I stay downtown. Really stuff for professionals, which I'm not. Fun to do a few times though. Also as Baron points out below, we're talking the heart of skid row, no touristy route.

                                                              2. re: RicRios

                                                                Love this thread!!

                                                                Reviving with some personal experience. I tried visiting IMP but was turned away. Not exactly opened to public. I did end up buying a live halibut from Pacific Fresh Fish. Think they jacked up the price a bit since we were "new" to this buying-fish-from-wholesaler thing.

                                                              3. re: aliris

                                                                Thanks to RicRios. He listed them. Ive been to several. International Marine Producs had convenient parking and a good selection. Keep in mind that they open early and close like at noon. The restaurant folks get there early for the best. Some may be open on Saturdays. Be prepared if you go, this is skid row, not Beverly Hills.

                                                            2. re: latindancer

                                                              There's out of your way and then there's spending the evening hours after work fighting through some of the nation's worst traffic to score the best branzino you can find in the city. If that's your thing then I actually think that's awesome. I seriously commend you.

                                                              But you mention value, and that has a lot to do with SMS for people (like me) -- you simply have to consider the effort required to get your hands on an everyday foodstuff that spoils nearly immediately. Will I do that kind of driving to procure my food? On the weekend, sure. For things like chicken and meat that can stay in my fridge a couple of days or anything for my pantry, absolutely. Fish, you eat the day you buy it or you might as well buy the frozen stuff from Trader Joe's.

                                                              Now if there was a place on the westside that had the combination of selection and quality that SMS has, people would be going there instead. Alas, there isn't.

                                                              Safe and Save has very high quality fish, but the selection is awful. 99 Ranch has a really wide range of fish but the quality is really inconsistent.

                                                              While I'm with you that I don't get SMS as a chowhound destination to drive across the city for, it is certainly a very good neighborhood fish market with a lot of high quality offerings.

                                                              1. re: Frommtron

                                                                Safe and save isn't set up to have a huge selection they have a small case, I actually went today and they had 3 or 4 different types of whole fish and about 6 different filets all of which were fresh. Except for the black cod which didn't look so hot to me. They also had great looking shrimp and some other good looking shellfish. I got a nice thin long halibut fillet a little under a pound for about 9.75. At santa monica seafood the same size fillet of fish would most likely be frozen or lower quality and would be twice the price. I'll risk not having as many choices for fresher fish at better prices any day of the week. Now if i'm feeling indecisive then I will go to SMS, they do have the selection but they are not up to par on the quality.

                                                                1. re: Ben7643

                                                                  I agree with all of that, and I do like Safe and Save a lot. I also happen to like SMS for what it is, too.

                                                                  Black cod is ALWAYS hit or miss for me. I don't know what it is but even stuff that's looked good has been so-so when I had it on the plate. I'm no Eric Ripert but I can cook a fillet of cod just fine. I just find that one hard to judge.

                                                            3. re: epop

                                                              I didn't know that they didn't fabricate the fish on-site until a poster above mentioned it. I think that's huge. They could really move from good to great if they did that and minded the trays the fish sit on better.

                                                              1. re: Frommtron

                                                                I am very upset with SMS since the move. I drove 10 mi RT to SMS every week for fish. At the new location parking is nearly impossible, the store seems even more crowded and you have to compete for floor space with the crowd there to eat. At the old place you could watch them cleaning and filleting fish behind the counter. I always found the fish to be consistently excellent. For some reason the fish at the new location looks old and tired like the fish at Whole Foods. The seafood at Mitsuwa Marketplace, 3760 S Centinela Ave has always looked fresh and good but it is prepackaged in the case, not cut to order like SMS. The fish monger at the Culver City farmers market can have good fish but the guy is a jerk and you have to watch him closely or he will give you odd cuts. Has anyone tried the seafood from the SM farmers market?

                                                                1. re: schellter

                                                                  Couldn't agree more. Brokenhearted about their move. I've been going to old location for 10 years for great seafood, Indian candy and garlic bread. Parking at new location is a nightmare (what were they thinking), noise level is crazy. They should have kept the old location as a fish market and opened this as a restaurant only. There's a guy who sells farmed oysters at SM farmers market. Fresh local catch usually available at BH farmers market on Sunday.

                                                                  1. re: schellter

                                                                    I've been buying tuna for sashima from the vendor at the Wednesday SM farmers market for over a year. It's always been very good. Also have purchased small seafood mix there--also good.

                                                                    1. re: schellter

                                                                      Other posters have said that both SM farmers mkts sell fish, and that "The Anjin II at the Sta. Monica farmer's mkt has the freshest fish in the area."
                                                                      We get excellent fresh fish at the Topanga Farmers mkt (from Smart Fish)
                                                                      on Friday AM 9 to 1