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The black list: which restaurants historically do NOT rely on local seafood for most of their product?

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mikeh May 5, 2010 08:39 AM

Let's put how the oil spill will change things aside for a minute. How reliable are most New Orleans restaurants on not importing shrimp and fish from farms or China or using Sysco or US Foods to get their product? It's not a question I've ever seen asked in the context of New Orleans restaurants, so is the industry down there just so much better about these practices than elsewhere?

I ask because in my few years of living in North Carolina, when I really dug down and checked, about 90% of seafood restaurants weren't actually getting their product locally. It took a massive amount of hunting to find the ONE or TWO restaurants along the entire coast that did.

I'm coming to New Orleans soon, and I want to make sure to avoid places that don't make it a practice to source locally. First genre that hypothetically comes to mind would be some po-boy places that serve seafood po-boys - they might be driven to use an imported product to keep sandwich prices down.

Any specific restaurants we can name here (that one would normally have on a "go-to" list when coming to visit)?

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    underworld gourmet RE: mikeh May 5, 2010 09:56 AM

    This post has led me to a discussion of why New Orleans seafood restaurants aren't as good as tjey used to be, generally.

    Mainly because of the Board of Health , or whatever, regulations as to seafood catch. It now must be done by commercial fisherman.

    But in the old days, when I was a kid, the sport fishermen of the city supplied a lot of the seafood to the resaurants and boy, was it fresh. Now that it wasn't illegal them, as I understandn it, it was tolerated. A restaurant would be doing business at night, they'd be a knock on the back door, and the chef, or owner, or whatever, would go out and meet some of his regular fishermen, fresh from a day out on the water with beer and without wives, and buy a load of seafood--trout, redfish, shrimp, crabs, etc. for cash on the barrellhead and no annoying regulations--or tax--questions--asked. This is what supplied those wonderful neighborhood restaurants people like Bill Hunt and I remember so well.

    And I know becuase seveal of my uncles and cousins did exactly that. They'd fish all day, come back first to our house, call out for my mom and dad, have them select what they wanted of the day's catch---I ate more gulf trout, flounder, stuffed crab, and shrimp in sauce piquant then most kids today eat McDonald's--and then on to any number of local resaurants to sell the rest, in the manner described above.If the resaurant owner would pay a bit extra and supply beer, they'd clean the catch outside the back door,much to the delight fo he neighborhood cats.

    But health considerations ended that sort of thing--Andre Apuzzo, along with some other restauranteurs, ahd a problem iwht it about 15 years ago, as I remember....and another glorious tradtiion of NO seafood passed.

    As for today, most probably get as much as htey can localy, but have to take what their supplier gives them iat certain times.

    2 Replies
    1. re: underworld gourmet
      Bill Hunt RE: underworld gourmet May 6, 2010 08:28 PM

      Yes, things have changed greatly, but that is the way that it is.

      Once, the catch out of various ports was what was served, and it was truly wonderful. I did not care if 5 levels of bureaucracy were involved, or zeo. Back then, we could catch and sell our gaff-head catfish to the restaurants, and it would be on the menu that night.

      Now, it is much more difficult. Times have changed.

      As to who is using local vs outsourcing from ?, I cannot help. I have no real contacts any longer.

      I can comment that some chefs, like Frank Brigtsen, will not serve items, like soft-shelled crabs, even in season, if they are not good, and fresh.

      I have been impressed by G W Fins, but do not know for certain that all seafood is locally sourced. Some, maybe much, seems to be, but I cannot emphatically tell you that it is so.

      Once, things were like the Paia on Maui at Mama's Fish House - you could ask and find out, who the fisherman was, or at least his boat, for most of the seafood served. Times have changed. Way back when, the chef could state, this catfish was caught by Bill Hunt on a long line off the Rigolets and be telling you the truth. Now, I have no clue.

      Sorry, but times have changed,

      Hunt

      -----
      Brigtsen's Restaurant
      723 Dante St, New Orleans, LA 70118

      1. re: underworld gourmet
        kukubura RE: underworld gourmet May 7, 2010 05:02 PM

        I had it on good authority as recent as a few months before the storm that one of our favorite old school restaurants still got their catfish from a bayou boater through the backdoor, sort of "for old time's sake." I assume that if I knew this then others did too and that they looked the other way. Don't know if that's still the case.

        As a part-time Maryland resident when I'm not in New Orleans (only 51 weeks out of the year) I can tell you what happens when you pair an indigenous seafood culture with a destroyed aquatic ecosystem and top it off with a population who doesn't know any better and doesn't care: Asian crab meat as far as the eye can see.

      2. g
        Guy Caballero RE: mikeh May 5, 2010 10:38 AM

        Rule of thumb:

        Oysters and blue crab are almost always local and not farm raised.

        Shrimp- unless the menu specifically says gulf shrimp, assume that it is imported.

        Fish- depends on the variety but probably a solid majority of restaurant fish is not local or wild caught. redfish is generally farmed, because of a commercial fishing ban. speckled trout has a lot of regulation. if a menu just says trout and not speckled trout, you are not getting speckled trout. flounder, grouper, red snapper, tuna may or may not be from the gulf depending on the quality of restaurant. catfish is 100% farm raised.

        the bottom line is, when in doubt ask your server and hope they are telling the truth.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Guy Caballero
          m
          mikeh RE: Guy Caballero May 5, 2010 11:12 AM

          Yeah, it's quite a dance, isn't it? For my short trip, though, I'd hate to go into a place and find they're not using local (when they could be, like for shrimp for example) when I've already been seated. Maybe the easier thing to do is to come up with a list of restaurants that are committed to using local.

          Like John Besh's restaurants - in this article he says that ALL seafood he uses is local:

          http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archi...

          Or Frank Brigtsen's Charlie's Seafood - the website says it's all local: http://www.charliesseafoodrestaurant....

          and I assume Brigtsen's itself takes a similar approach, especially in light of this article:

          http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/05/05/...

          -----
          Brigtsen's Restaurant
          723 Dante St, New Orleans, LA 70118

          1. re: Guy Caballero
            Bill Hunt RE: Guy Caballero May 6, 2010 08:37 PM

            Guy,

            The speckled trout aspect shocked me a few decades ago. We had not been back to NOLA for too long. When we were there, I wanted specs, and inquired. Wow, I was floored that there was then a "season," and the same for "reds." I know that I scared our server, as I thought that I was having a heart attack. Back in my days, there were "seasons," but they were when one could most likely get good quantities, and nothing more. Imagine my shock.

            I no longer know the Gulf - the waters, or the land surround it. I am relegated to an unknowing tourist, in a land with some semi-familiar landmarks and nothing more.

            Still, some chefs have continued to impress me, time and again. Are their offerings 100% authentic and local, or just good examples of farmed, imported, or similar seafood? I guess that in the end, it's up to the palate of the customer. Can they tell? Is it local Pontchartrain blue crab, brought in by Vernon Brown that morning, or is it KRAB from some Alaskan pollock, and pressed, flavored and seasoned to try and taste like Vernon's blue crab?

            Some days, it's hard to tell,

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt
              j
              James Cristinian RE: Bill Hunt May 8, 2010 07:34 AM

              Bill, the only way to get fresh specs is to catch it yourself, as I did yesterdy on the Bolivar Peninsula in the Gulf. This is the same area that was flattened by Hurricane Ike in 2008. I don't know about Louisiana, but in Texas there are no seasons for trout or redfish. Following the blackened redfish craze, and two fish killing freezes, the Gulf Coast Conservation Association was formed, and they lobbied the state legislature into banning commercial netting in the bays and Gulf, and making it illegal to resell your catch. Chapters have opened in most states along the Gulf and up the Eastern seaboard, and similiar laws have been passed in other states.. Fishing here has exploded, and Bill, those fried specks are going to taste great this afternoon. How about a wine pairing?

          2. N.O.Food RE: mikeh May 5, 2010 08:03 PM

            I'm pretty sure we've got a state law that requires restaurants to disclose the truth if asked. Enforceable? Doubt it.

            We've also recently passed a Chinese seafood warning statute that went into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

            3 Replies
            1. re: N.O.Food
              f
              Frolic RE: N.O.Food May 7, 2010 06:22 AM

              I think that bill got completely watered down.

              1. re: Frolic
                N.O.Food RE: Frolic May 7, 2010 07:26 AM

                Here's the text of the Chinese Seafood Warning Statute (La. R.S. 40:5.5.2) that went into effect Jan. 1, 2010:

                A. The legislature finds that serious risks to public health may be posed by radiation, antibiotics, such as chloramphenicol and fluoroquinolones, chemicals, malachite green, copper salts, and other residues found in Chinese seafood. The overexposure to antibiotics from such seafood may cause serious antibiotic resistance to the consumer. In addition, chemicals such as malachite green are known carcinogens. It is the intent of the legislature to protect the health and welfare of Louisiana consumers from potentially harmful residues in seafood imported from the People's Republic of China that are sold or served in Louisiana. Therefore, the legislature finds that Louisiana consumers have the right to know if seafood imported from the People's Republic of China is being served in a food service establishment or is available for purchase.

                B. (1) The state health officer shall prepare and promulgate all rules and regulations necessary to ensure that all consumers of imported marine and freshwater seafood products from the People's Republic of China are warned about the potential health risks associated with the consumption of those products.

                (2) The state health officer and the Louisiana Restaurant Association shall employ a marketing campaign that places an emphasis on highlighting the benefits of eating domestic seafood.

                C. The state health officer shall produce a statement that may be included on labels, placards, menu boards, or other promotional signage that encourages consumers to consume Louisiana seafood and warns of the risks that may be associated with the consumption of Chinese seafood.

                D. With the cooperation and assistance of the Louisiana Retailers Association, the Louisiana Restaurant Association, and other necessary organizations, the state health officer in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry shall encourage the display of the signage and other promotional literature as provided for in Subsection C of this Section where seafood sales occur.

                I'm not sure how this statute is going to play out. Who knows? It's too early to tell. As for the "truth if asked" law, I can't find it. I found reference to it through Google, but I wasn't able to track down the final law. If memory serves though, if you ask, they've gotta tell you.

                1. re: N.O.Food
                  f
                  Frolic RE: N.O.Food May 7, 2010 11:25 AM

                  I think that was the original idea, but it didn't get approved.

            2. j
              JazzyB RE: mikeh May 6, 2010 05:56 AM

              Mortons Steakhouse (according to TF) does not use local crabmeat.

              3 Replies
              1. re: JazzyB
                h
                Hungry Celeste RE: JazzyB May 7, 2010 07:47 AM

                I'd imagine that any chain/multi-outlet (not just Morton's) serving seafood isn't using local product--it's using whatever's most cost-effective.

                1. re: Hungry Celeste
                  Bill Hunt RE: Hungry Celeste May 7, 2010 09:39 PM

                  Just a guess on my part, but I would expect that Morton's (and similar) seafood to be from China, or India, and no different in NOLA, PHX or even in HNL. Corporate purchasing will take the forefront, and the diner will get whatever was the seafood du jour.

                  Just a guess,

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    kukubura RE: Bill Hunt May 8, 2010 05:32 AM

                    One of the many reasons we steer people away from such places when they ask.

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