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Nov 25, 2012 12:37 AM

Santa Monica Seafood

The Best in LA.

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  1. If you're talking about the fish market - I so wish it was the best. Or even better. Too many times it's a pig in a poke. And a fright-pig at that. I've bought fish there that was great, not so great, and downright terrible. Inedible bad, simply not fresh.

    1. Santa Monica Seafood baffles me. I am an LA native and grew up with my mom frequently driving to SMS to buy the best fish in LA. The selection was amazing and the freshest seafood in LA. It was like that for DECADES!

      Then, for some reason they decided to expand their prepared food business, which was nonexistent for decades. They left their fabulous storefront and moved to a dinky place on Wilshire. Their selection of fish is now minuscule and freshness is visibly questionable.

      I'm assuming that there was a generational change or a change in leadership which caused this to happen. But whatever happened and why is a sad story. Every city needs a fish market and LA does not have one.

      29 Replies
      1. I have not had any issues at SMS on Wilshire. The oyster bar is where I sit, have a beer and a half dozen raw oysters, cup of chowda and a lobster roll. Leave out with the (FISH STEW CUTS) Must be a secret, because it's the end cuts of the best fish. You can make soups, stews or simply southern style fry them for a plethora of $6 lb fresh fish. I'll ask about the freshness when I return.

        1. re: CharlesKochel

          I buy all of my fish at SM Seafood and that means I am there at least twice a week. Every piece of fish has been excellent and very fresh. I know that they sell to many restaurants and markets. I also enjoy the oyster bar. They also sell varieties of fish which I cannot find elsewhere, such as John Dory and Arctic Char.

        2. <If it was as bad as people on this board make it out to be, they would be out of business.>

          Ha. You and I both know that's not a testimony of a "great" restaurant/food market in LA. I can go up and down 3rd street, for example, or areas in WeHo and use that reason as an example to get people to go to any given restaurant. Places are packed and the food is mediocre or below. It's just not fact.
          Freshness, in the wide category of seafood, is a number one reason to shop/not shop with market.

          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

            I'm happy you're pleased with the place. You're obviously not alone judging by the people who shop there.

            The truth is...I'm very, very spoiled when it comes to fresh fish, oysters, clams and other shellfish. Many I know are fishmongers who've been in the business for several generations and I'm not unaccustomed to the industry. I've yet to find, including myself, a seafood fanatic who gravitates, naturally, to SM Seafood. Sadly, I love seafood but I'm unwilling to purchase fish anywhere where I don't completely trust the handling of it. If I've been burnt once, I'll give them the chance to correct it. If it happens again then my trust is gone. I don't particularly feel the fish always looks fresh in the pans....on the very few times I've been there the cleanliness was questionable and I like to see a little ice, changed regularly, underneath the product. I'm picky? Yes. Very. As I said, I overnight my fish from those who I wholeheartedly trust.

            1. re: latindancer

              would you share the contact of a fishmonger with me?

          2. Is It possible that the difference between the old location and the new one is that the old one was just steps from one of their warehouses? Also, because the space was small they pul less out allowing for more turnover of the product. The other thought is that they put less of the cut fish directly on Ice and it sits on the trays and that won't wick away moisture. I'm not sure if that is a wives tale but It has been mentioned in previous threads on SMS.

            1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

              what sucks is that they have a warehouse for seafood...Docks Docks Docks...I still have not seen the downgrade in quality at SMS, but obviously, some do. It's just odd to me Marina Del Rey to Malibu doesn't have the "premier" choice in the world.

              1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                <<<old location and the new one is that the old one was just steps from one of their warehouses? Also, because the space was small they pul less out allowing for more turnover of the product. The other thought is that they put less of the cut fish directly on Ice and it sits on the trays and that won't wick away moisture>>>

                Wow, you may have hit on it. At least in as far as the "working fish market" aspect is concerned. Yes, if true, it would affect the quality.

                And many of the posters on this thread are commenting on prepared food in the restaurant which was never an issue. My contention has always been to ideally keep the fresh fish market on Colorado and open the newer, trendier restaurant/ grocery on Wilshire.

                What is the chance the owners have not had a leadership change in the last 40, 50, 60 years? The move to "modernize" Colorado and the eventual move to Wilshire took place when the foodie movement was well into overdrive. I'd love to know when it went from father to son, or possibly grandson.

                Just thinking out loud ...

                  1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                    If I remember the Colorado Building was sold to someone famous to be used as a film production place. And I'm not sure if they owned or had leased that spot at the time.

                    1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                      Either way, it stands empty to this day, with the SMS name still prominently displayed on the outside.....

                1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                  I has some issues with SMS and because of that I don't think it's a perfect fishmonger above reproach. However, I read your post and I have to wonder what you're talking about. The "fabulous" storefront you talk about was a quite small compared to their new "dinky" storefront. That's both in terms of retail floor space (not including the cafe area) and fish counter space. Their "miniscule" selection is objectively wider than ever. I have been a frequent shopper there for years through both locations. These assertions are just not based in fact.

                  I have some problems with their prices and how they fabricate their cuts, but the issues you bring up are baffling to me because they are so demonstrably false.

                  As far as freshness, I'll leave that for others to decide. I've never purchased any fish there that I wouldn't consider fresh, but I've also skipped on a couple of selections because they didn't look at their peak. Despite my good run of luck with them, that's a criticism of SMS that I can understand.

                  1. re: cacio e pepe

                    I think the old place was smaller, but then it didn't have a restaurant either. Do you think the display now is as large or smaller than the old place? (not sure how big the back room the old place had). I think they maybe have had more fish before - or at least the refrigerated display was longer. But possibly a slightly smaller section devoted to the salads.

                    I loved the old place, but I've had some not so great fish at the current location (which I rejoice since it moved within 5 minutes of where I lived). You can always ask to smell the fish first to be sure (I have had good fish there, and I've had everything in between unfortunately). The skate has always been good. Calamari, defrosted has been fine. Mixed results with the shrimp. I've spoken with chefs who say "SMS sucks" - they get their fish at IMP. But there are well regarded chefs on their wall. Should I assume they buy all their fish from SMS?

                    1. re: foodiemahoodie

                      <You can always ask to smell the fish first to be sure>

                      That's the point. With the fishmongers and markets I trust, and the knowledge and reputation they're known for, it would never dawn on me to ask. It's not necessary.

                      1. re: foodiemahoodie

                        The best restaurants use IMP in this city. SMS is not bad but my last job for some reason we got all our fish from IMP but bought our lobsters from SMS, never understood why, must have been a cost vs quality thing.

                        It's too bad IMP no longer deals with the public.

                        1. re: Johnny L

                          So would you recommend the public (on the west side) continue to purchase @ SMS? I live in Topanga and from Malibu to Venice, there should be a to die for Monger.

                          1. re: CharlesKochel

                            Honestly the fish at Whole Foods looks the same to me at SMS but on and off. I've lived in Asia so I know we can't get any kind of amazing live seafood markets fresh out of the ocean so I set my expectations lower but I suggest just do what is most convenient for you and learn how to pick out a good fish.

                            Just don't try getting your fish from a Vons/Ralphs/Pavilions etc.

                            1. re: Johnny L

                              Vicente Foods also buys its fish from SMS. If I can't make it to Santa Monica, I know that Vicente will carry what is fresh and good.

                      2. re: cacio e pepe

                        OK, strike "fabulous" "dinky" and "minuscule".

                        When you went into the Colorado store it seemed like a working fish market. To me, the selection was larger and the quality better. When they added the grocery products and cooked food, it lost some of the atmosphere.

                        And I never meant to imply that all or most of their selections were not fresh, but I saw examples on Wilshire, of fish that did not look fresh … something I had never seen at the other store. At the same time, SMS is a huge wholesale operation which I'm sure every here knows.

                        They may be the one of the best. But they were THE best.

                        I'm in Santa Monica every day. I'll give it another chance this week.

                        1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                          me also, I'll meet ya there and we shall give it our final review

                          1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                            I've got to say, I tried their ahi tartare last week, for the first time, blind, since I only saw it on the chalkboard and not in the prep case. I'd never had it there before since I usually get it at my local sushi place, which was closed on Mondays. It was really good. First time I ordered something other than fresh fish to cook at home. When was the last time you purchased fish or shellfish there?

                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                              I go to the cafe almost every week after the Santa Monica market and have the tuna tartare. I think it's excellent. Also like their clam chowder. I keep meaning to try more things....the swordfish sliders look good....the crab louie....but I always go back to the tartare. I often buy fish there....have found it very fresh and good. And their smoked salmon is excellent!

                              1. re: perk

                                The also make a very good tuna melt.

                                1. re: perk

                                  Being that I am in the neighborhood at least twice a week for the time being, I will be frequenting them more and trying some more things too. Thanks for the list, good to know.

                                2. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                  I only purchase shellfish from the black market. for real

                                3. re: SilverlakeGirl

                                  Well if you strike the descriptors then what are you left with. :)

                                  However, when the move was made, I spoke with the owner and he was really excited about being able to have more counter space to offer more selection. My own experience shopping extensively at both locations makes it clear to me that there is now a greater selection at the new location.

                                  Quality is very subjective so I won't argue that, but I'll dissent. Atmosphere is also subjective, but not real important to me.

                                  But give it a go. Personally, I don't get the hate for the place. I've got some gripes with SMS, but on the whole it's a very solid fish market and beats any other retail option in most of LA.

                            2. <The Best in LA>

                              Oh, wow, do I ever wish that were true. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that if there was a huge demand for the freshest of seafood in LA then it would be there.
                              Sadly, I've been burnt more than once and I've not been back to give them another try. I just won't risk it with seafood. I've left the store with a package of 'fresh' shellfish only to come home and be bowled over by the smell when I open it. I really don't feel it's up to me to ask them to smell it before I leave with it. I don't eat as much seafood in LA like I used to where I lived before coming here. I usually overnight it's fresher than what I can buy in LA.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: latindancer

                                so interesting the polar ends of sms. Crazy. It gives me 2nd thoughts.

                                1. re: CharlesKochel

                                  Trust your instincts and experience, CharlesKochel. I have been buying all kinds of fish, including "fresh shellfish" for years and years. Never one bad experience How nice that "Latindancer can 'overnight' her/his seafood. I am perfectly happy with SMS and see no need to"overnight, unless I was planning a Clambake.

                                2. re: latindancer

                                  >> I don't eat as much seafood in LA like I used to where I lived before coming here. I usually overnight it's fresher than what I can buy in LA.<<

                                  Then you are buying in the wrong places.

                                  1. re: latindancer

                                    I urge you to park behind some of your favorite seafood restaurants in the morning. You will find the SM Seafood Trucks in the alley, unloading fish into, some of the better sushi restaurants, I suggest to Latindancer and others to select a whole fish. Look for bright fresh eyes. Hell, you can even sniff the fish. I did this recently. There were a couple of whole John Dory Fish, imported from New Zealand. They were so fresh that they appeared to be breathing. The fishmonger and I discussed the merits of barbequing the whole fish. He agreed that it was the way to go.He told me that he would decapitate it and thoroughly clean the insides. The John Dory I purchased from S,M. Seafood is among the freshest I have tasted anywhere in the world.

                                    1. re: maudies5

                                      Which restaurants have you seen? And sushi joints?

                                      I would assume the restaurant - gets the better fish. When a chef rejects seafood, where do you think it goes?

                                      1. re: foodiemahoodie

                                        where's the best black market fisherman is probably the best question, for me

                                    2. I actually think International Marine Products and Fish King are both better.

                                      If you are talking a place to eat, I like the Fisherman's Outlet better too.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: scottca075

                                        IMP is much better, but unfortunately not open the public.

                                        1. re: foodiemahoodie

                                          I buy from these guys and I like their selection and price. However, it is a little discombobulating when you first go there because it is a wholesaler and in most cases you aren't able to buy small quantities.

                                          1. re: trojans

                                            Go there on a week day and sit at the bar. Joe will be tending the bar, taking your orders, telling you what is special and is an expert on oysters.

                                      2. Geez, nothing gets this blog going like a post about Santa Monica Seafoods. For some fish and seafoods its okay, for others it's somewhat disappointing. That's also true for Gelson's, Bristol Farms, Whole Foods, and other specialty markets. For some reason, SMS seems to spark special ire.

                                        16 Replies
                                        1. re: JeffSD

                                          I think the reason for the special ire is that Santa Monica Seafoods should have the best seafood. The other stores can be hit or miss, but a seafood store rightfully has higher expectations.

                                          1. re: JeffSD

                                            The store is so completely disappointing as to be almost laughable, given the prices.
                                            A great fishmonger has many more whole fish, for one. My guess is that their commercial
                                            customers take the better stuff, and what's left is this. None of it is sushi grade, basically,
                                            and that should be a clue.

                                            1. re: epop

                                              Can you recommend a sushi grade fish store on the Westside?

                                              1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                The term "sushi grade" fish has as much meaning as "Natural" or "Locally Grown" ...


                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  Echo ipse's sentiments.

                                                  But to be constructive for Dirtywextraolives, I'll say that I liked (the now defunct) Granada Market (Sawtelle, on the Westside) if I was making sushi at home.

                                                  Now that Granada is no more, I like the selection & quality at Mitsuwa Market & Nijiya Market for their seafood (for sushi). And a bonus trip to the Santouka / Hannosuke / Hamada-Ya food court can't hurt when visiting Mitsuwa!!!

                                                  1. re: J.L.

                                                    Granada is still on Sawtelle. My husband brought home some great cracked crabs the other day. You may be confusing Granada with the defunct Shop and Save, which did have some excellent fish. Granada is definitely NOT defunct.

                                                    1. re: maudies5

                                                      Correction accepted. I was having a brain fart when I wrote this. I meant to say Shop & Save.

                                                      1. re: J.L.

                                                        The rare "double brain fart" ;-D> "Safe & Save" RIP

                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                          Most ignominious. (hanging my head in deep shame)...

                                                          1. re: J.L.

                                                            minoru hodo
                                                            atama no tareru
                                                            inaho kana

                                                    2. re: J.L.

                                                      I was just about to say, I was just in Granada Market last week to pick up some sake. Do you still recommend them? The old gentleman behind the counter has beautiful cuts if fish & meat, and some already made sushi. And his rec for sake was excellent for me. Have you tried Marukai for raw fish? They are a bit closer to me than Mitsuwa.

                                                        1. re: epop

                                                          Yes, I know, was just there last week for my sake purchase, thanks!

                                                      1. re: J.L.

                                                        I join you in missing of Granada Market

                                                      2. re: ipsedixit

                                                        True. But I wouldn't eat the seafood at SMS raw.

                                                        1. re: epop

                                                          I eat their raw oysters every week at the bar. Wonderful.