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Oct 23, 2011 09:30 AM

ISO Whole Fish Restaurants in Boston

Earlier today I posted a plea on behalf of whole fish restaurants in Boston. It was in response to an article in the Boston Globe on fish fraud in local restaurants and stores. My solution was to seek whole fish, a much tastier, healthier and reliable option than filets. I urged that some local restauranteur consider that as a niche market.

Unfortunately before I could get that point addressed the thread was moved to Media and News, a tangent to my point. That will dilute central issue. So I am reposting the central issue without the distraction of the original article.

Please note those who wish to follow the entire earlier thread, it can be found below

Please do not respond to this message by making any further reference to any media outlet. Instead concentrate on the delights of whole fish as opposed to filets and the value of Boston restaurants offering fewer fillets and more entire fish.

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  1. The fundamental problem with serving whole fish in Boston is that many of the local ones are HUGE.

    Cod, striped bass, blue fish, sword, tuna, haddock, halibut, skate, are all generally too big to be served whole.

    Of the local fish only really flounder, mackeral, small bluefish (rather uncommon to find commercially) sea robbin, pollack (boring) are small enough to serve whole.

    And you can tell the difference even fileted, it just takes some experience with the real deal...

    6 Replies
    1. re: StriperGuy

      Actually butter fish and scup can be added to the list, And I think porgie.

      The classic European technique for offering huge fish is to put the large pieces on display. Cutting a steak from that piece need not be done at the table, but the fish can be shown in the well-iced showcase and then filleted or make into a steak in the back.

      Milos in NY and Montreal offer fish that way.

      1. re: StriperGuy

        Agree with SG re size of fish makes it impractical to serve whole.

        Branzino, a farm raised Med sea bass is served at Mare and Barbara Lynch somethimes serves it. 1 makes a good serving,

        Orata is a member of the bream family..haven't seen it in restaurants but New Deal and Courthouse often have it. Haven't seen it offered in a restaurant.

        I've ordered whole red snapper in MX and it could be served whole here, but I don't think I've seen it in Boston..Oceanaire?

        1. re: 9lives

          Saw whole Branzino at Central Kitchen this week (on the menu -- didn't have it).

          Central Kitchen
          567 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

          1. re: awkwardpause

            Had whole branzino at Trattoria Toscana this week.


            Trattoria Toscana
            130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

        2. re: StriperGuy

          i frequently get a whole cod in C-town.

          1. re: cambridgedoctpr

            Yah, those small cod, live in tanks in Chinatown are the exception. Most commercially caught cod are MUCH bigger.

            I always wondered about those smaller live-in-tank Chinatown cod. And they ARE cod. This came up in another thread. How the heck are they kept alive? I forget. The stripers in chinatown are definitely farm-raised not wild, but somehow I think the cod were wild, but alive.

        3. Muqueca has a whole fish on the menu, a red snapper, but I have never tried it. Courthouse Seafood can cook you up a whole fish. You can even pick it out from the fish store they own that is two doors down.

          1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

          1. Dover sole used to be served whole and de-boned tableside back in the old days. Trout and baby coho salmon can be individual size. Most small, single serving fish are warm water - pompano, red snapper, hogfish, strawberry grouper.

            I favor a custom that is common in the Yucatan and parts of the Caribbean, when the server brings the fish to you for your inspection and approval before it is cooked for you. It is not at all rude to ask, and those who are proud of their goods will almost volunteer before you ask. Many whole fish and lobsters are sold by weight, and it gives one a chance not just to confirm freshness and species, but a size that matches your appetite.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              Portugal(Lisboa-Sintra) brings the fish for your inspection as well :)

              1. re: Trumpetguy

                Perhaps all consumers of fish in Boston restos should ask to see the fish before it is cooked, and if possible make the choice at that point. At many good, but simple, fish restos on the Mediterranean shores that is common practice. Given the unreliability of fish labeling, that is a very simple protection, even with a filet.

                1. re: VivreManger

                  I think you are on to something: a mini-movement, on a more modest scale than Occupy Wall Street, but nevertheless important to foodies. "Show me the fish!" c'mon, Beantown, tell them

                  "Show me the fish!"

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Good luck with that. Most fish is either delivered to restuarants precut, or cut before service. Read Bourain's book where he watches the fish cutter for Le Bernadin in NYC - one of the top restos in the country. They cut it in the morning, not at night to order.

              2. re: Veggo

                Also, in the better Chinese seafood restaurants, you pick the fish you want out of the tank and are allowed to inspect it before sending it to the kitchen

              3. Anyone know where to get a whole fish deep-fried? Had whole rockfish deep fried in Seattle (yeah, I's on a different coast) and it was nummy. Sweet, actually. The kitchen had a variety of fish available and you chose the fish size and they fried what you chose up.

                18 Replies
                1. re: hondodog

                  Whole fish are commonly deep fried for a number of Chinese or Southeast Asian preparations.

                  Maybe Courthouse would do it. They certainly fry little fish whole (sticklebacks, I think).

                  Courthouse Fish Market
                  484 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                  1. re: hondodog

                    Rockfish is often striped bass. Places in Chinatown will certainly fry a whole farm raised one for you.

                    1. re: hondodog

                      Muqueca has deep fried red snapper on the menu. The whole fish.

                      1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                        1. re: hondodog

                          I forgot- Island Creek Oyster Bar also had a grilled whole fish the last time we were there. I did not have it, but my dad did and he raved. I honesty can not recall what it was or if it was a special, so you should call ahead before trying it out. Perhaps someone else here knows and will jump on board.

                          Island Creek Oyster Bar
                          500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

                          1. re: mvi

                            I went to ICOB this summer and they had a fried whole bass on the menu. I Believe it was coated in rice flour and then deep friend, served over mushrooms and some vegetable, I forget.

                            It was very good, but I believe it was a special.

                          2. re: hondodog

                            Dumpling Cafe in Chinatown has a live tank, usually with one variety of fish per evening, and will prepare it steamed, fried, or braised. They had barramundi the other night.

                            Chinatown's nearby Hong Kong style live-tank places (notably Peach Farm and Jade Garden) are my favorites for whole fish, which I generally order steamed with ginger/scallion sauce. I finally got Stuff Magazine to let me review one of them recently (I wrote up whole tautog at Peach Farm, though the photo they ran was one of those small cod.)


                            Peach Farm
                            4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Live barramundi? Interesting...I have only seen them live in Australia. Good eating.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                There's a major barramundi farming operation in western Massachusetts:

                                1. re: Allstonian

                                  Interesting, although their barramundi farm is in's a warm water fish.

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    The big production operation is in Vietnam, but they started out raising barramundi in Turners Falls, and there does still seem to be a farm operating there as well.

                                    1. re: Allstonian

                                      Again, interesting. I learned only today that they live in both fresh and salt water.

                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        Striped bass can also tolerate fresh water.

                                        During the spring herring run they can be found as far inland as the Watertown damn in the Charles river.

                                        When they are farmed I wonder if they farm stripers in fresh or salt water?

                                        1. re: StriperGuy

                                          Fish passing with ease through locks make me nervous about asian carp in the Mississippi so near to the Great Lakes.

                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                            The hybrid stripers are farmed in fresh, brackish, and salt water. It looks like fresh water is the most common, but I can't find any actual data to back that up.

                                            Btw, these hybrid farmed stripers are usually called palmetto bass or sunshine bass, depending on which fish was the mother and which the father. If the male was a white bass, then it's a palmetto bass. It seems that the sunshine bass, where the striper is the male, is a little bit easier to grow and thus a little more common.

                                              1. re: emannths

                                                Great. So now fish join the ranks of "whoseyourdaddy".

                                2. I have on numerous occasions had whole fish at Sorellina. It's never on the menu but they have it as a special (not always but like half the time I'm there).

                                  At Milos, you can get the whole fish, but it's an entree for 2 (if you get a single portion, then it is fileted/steak'd).

                                  1 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02116