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ISO Whole Fish Restaurants in Boston

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VivreManger Oct 23, 2011 09:30 AM

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

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/813669

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. StriperGuy RE: VivreManger Oct 23, 2011 10:19 AM

    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
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      VivreManger RE: StriperGuy Oct 23, 2011 10:38 AM

      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
        9
        9lives RE: StriperGuy Oct 23, 2011 11:55 AM

        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
          a
          awkwardpause RE: 9lives Oct 23, 2011 03:35 PM

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

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          Central Kitchen
          567 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

          1. re: awkwardpause
            MC Slim JB RE: awkwardpause Oct 23, 2011 03:54 PM

            Had whole branzino at Trattoria Toscana this week.

            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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            Trattoria Toscana
            130 Jersey St, Boston, MA 02215

        2. re: StriperGuy
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          cambridgedoctpr RE: StriperGuy Oct 23, 2011 02:43 PM

          i frequently get a whole cod in C-town.

          1. re: cambridgedoctpr
            StriperGuy RE: cambridgedoctpr Oct 23, 2011 11:16 PM

            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. m
          mvi RE: VivreManger Oct 23, 2011 12:00 PM

          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.

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          Muqueca
          1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

          1. Veggo RE: VivreManger Oct 23, 2011 03:02 PM

            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
              Trumpetguy RE: Veggo Oct 23, 2011 03:22 PM

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

              1. re: Trumpetguy
                v
                VivreManger RE: Trumpetguy Oct 23, 2011 04:29 PM

                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
                  Veggo RE: VivreManger Oct 23, 2011 04:45 PM

                  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
                    Msample RE: Veggo Oct 24, 2011 07:05 AM

                    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
                r
                rlee21 RE: Veggo Oct 27, 2011 05:27 PM

                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. hondodog RE: VivreManger Oct 24, 2011 08:22 AM

                Anyone know where to get a whole fish deep-fried? Had whole rockfish deep fried in Seattle (yeah, I know...it'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
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                  emannths RE: hondodog Oct 24, 2011 08:29 AM

                  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).

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                  Courthouse Fish Market
                  484 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                  1. re: hondodog
                    StriperGuy RE: hondodog Oct 24, 2011 09:22 AM

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

                    1. re: hondodog
                      m
                      mvi RE: hondodog Oct 24, 2011 02:49 PM

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

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                      Muqueca
                      1010 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      1. re: hondodog
                        hondodog RE: hondodog Oct 24, 2011 08:14 PM

                        That was easy. Thanks!

                        1. re: hondodog
                          m
                          mvi RE: hondodog Oct 25, 2011 03:20 AM

                          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.

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

                          1. re: mvi
                            t
                            tysonmcneely RE: mvi Oct 25, 2011 09:11 AM

                            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
                            MC Slim JB RE: hondodog Oct 25, 2011 05:23 AM

                            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.)

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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                            Peach Farm
                            4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                            1. re: MC Slim JB
                              Veggo RE: MC Slim JB Oct 25, 2011 05:47 AM

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

                              1. re: Veggo
                                Allstonian RE: Veggo Oct 25, 2011 07:51 AM

                                There's a major barramundi farming operation in western Massachusetts:
                                http://www.thebetterfish.com/home

                                1. re: Allstonian
                                  Veggo RE: Allstonian Oct 25, 2011 07:58 AM

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

                                  1. re: Veggo
                                    Allstonian RE: Veggo Oct 25, 2011 09:15 AM

                                    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
                                      Veggo RE: Allstonian Oct 25, 2011 09:25 AM

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

                                      1. re: Veggo
                                        StriperGuy RE: Veggo Oct 25, 2011 09:36 AM

                                        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
                                          Veggo RE: StriperGuy Oct 25, 2011 09:45 AM

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

                                          1. re: StriperGuy
                                            e
                                            emannths RE: StriperGuy Oct 25, 2011 09:55 AM

                                            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
                                              StriperGuy RE: emannths Oct 25, 2011 06:08 PM

                                              Hmmm, thanks.

                                              1. re: emannths
                                                Veggo RE: emannths Oct 25, 2011 06:11 PM

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

                                  2. re: MC Slim JB
                                    StriperGuy RE: MC Slim JB Oct 25, 2011 06:27 AM

                                    Whole tautog is great.

                                2. y
                                  yanz RE: VivreManger Oct 27, 2011 12:25 PM

                                  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).

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                                  Sorellina
                                  1 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02116

                                  1. c
                                    cambridgedoctpr RE: VivreManger Oct 27, 2011 12:32 PM

                                    have had whole fish cooked in salt - a very good method - at Dali and a few other places around town. it was very good.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: cambridgedoctpr
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                                      emannths RE: cambridgedoctpr Oct 27, 2011 12:36 PM

                                      Just curious...does every restaurant around here use branzino for this, or are other fish an option? I'd think fish like porgy/scup, orata, black bass, tautag, snapper (ha!), etc would all be quite good cooked this way.

                                      1. re: emannths
                                        c
                                        cambridgedoctpr RE: emannths Oct 27, 2011 12:40 PM

                                        not sure; the is no reason to limit it one variety of fish.

                                    2. p
                                      phatchris RE: VivreManger Oct 27, 2011 03:28 PM

                                      Neptune has a whole branzino from time to time.Also Kingfish has that spit roasted whole fish,usually snapper I believe.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: phatchris
                                        e
                                        emannths RE: phatchris Oct 27, 2011 03:32 PM

                                        I had to see a picture of a spit-roasted fish to believe it. Now I do: http://www.flickr.com/photos/maunzy/3...

                                      2. 9
                                        9lives RE: VivreManger Nov 3, 2011 05:48 PM

                                        Bina has "grilled whole Orata" on the menu. Didn't have it there but it's a nice flavorful fish.

                                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/61246842...

                                        1. m
                                          mvi RE: VivreManger Nov 3, 2011 05:58 PM

                                          Gosh, I do not know how I forgot to mention Desfina on Third Street in East Cambridge. Great little Greek restaurant that offers up several types of whole fish. Even my very picky father loved his meal there when we went. I can't remember what type he got but it was all down to bare bones when he finished.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: mvi
                                            9
                                            9lives RE: mvi Nov 3, 2011 06:34 PM

                                            I really like Desfina. Love the grilled octopus. Never had a whole fish but I'd guess they do Orata or Branzino, or something closely related; which are pretty popular Med fish..maybe sardines. I'm sure they do a great job with them.

                                            1. re: 9lives
                                              m
                                              mvi RE: 9lives Nov 3, 2011 07:13 PM

                                              You are right- Desfina is a little jewel. And we had those sardines as an appetizer. Shared them with the group. They are terrific and yes, they are served whole as well. Next time I stop in, I'll find out what types of fish they serve in addition to those tasty sardines. All I remember about my dad's fish was that it looked very impressive and he ate every bit.

                                              1. re: mvi
                                                c
                                                cambridgedoctpr RE: mvi Nov 4, 2011 10:01 AM

                                                sardines are really easy to cook and are frequently available at New Deal and Courthouse Seafood. For some reason they tend to come in on Thursdays.

                                                1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                                  e
                                                  emannths RE: cambridgedoctpr Nov 4, 2011 10:21 AM

                                                  I think that's when the plane gets in from Portugal. Courthouse almost always has stickleback too (not just Thurs-weekend), which are a decent sub in a pinch, and cheap too.

                                                  I've seen sardines at the Somerville Market Basket recently too. $6/lb, I think. Not worth it IMO, given that they're prewrapped and you have to clean them at home.

                                          2. lipoff RE: VivreManger Nov 8, 2011 02:41 PM

                                            I like whole fish a lot, and will offer some suggestions in a moment. But I think the OP vastly overstated some things. First, whole fish is not always tastier than a filet. It depends on the fish, the cooking method, the recipe and the individual diners taste. And try eating a whole blue fin tuna! I don't see how a whole fish is any more or less healthy than a filet. And I don't know about "reliable". Many restaurants may not even list the type of fish in a whole fish preparation!

                                            Many Chinese restaurants will do various whole-fish preparations. Fuloon does some of my favorites, especially "Whole Fish with Chili Pepper" (Hu2 nan2 duo4 jiao1 quan2 yu2) and "Steamed Whole Fish (qing1 zheng1 quan2 yu2) and a special-order only dish, the Special Fish with Baked Garlic Sauce (si4 chuan1 ci2 ba1 yu2). Taiwan Cafe's "pan fried cod filet with soy spinkles" may not technically be a whole fish, but it's a skin-on filet with everything but the head and tail. Myers + Chang sometimes does a whole fish, often deep-fried, and I've had some good ones there.

                                            Terenga does a nice whole fish, and Toro does a nice salt-baked whole cod. Sushi Island makes nice whole (cooked) mackerel as an appetizer.

                                            At the very high-end Locke-Ober does a terrific whole Dover sole, which they filet table side.

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                                            Toro
                                            1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                                            Locke-Ober
                                            3 Winter Place, Boston, MA 02108

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