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Advice Wanted For Ordering Fish In A Restaurant


I think I can use some advice when it comes to the task of ordering fish in a restaurant with the best possible results.

I know the best bet is to order fish at a seafood restaurant with a good reputation for serving fresh fish, especially if it is located right on the water. My concern is with ordering fish located at a typical restaurant located at Anytown, USA.

Case in point: Last week I went to an Italian restaurant which many local diners have been raving about. When the waiter described his list of specials, he mentioned one which began with "We're doing a grouper with..............etc." I forget the rest. In any event, I ordered it, for the plain and simple reason that I was in the mood for some fish.

I had made the assumption that the grouper would be fresh and taste fresh, simply because the waiter mentioned it as one of their evening specials. Apparently, my assumption was faulty. As it turned out, the grouper had that "frozen" taste.

In the future, whenever a waiter mentions some type of fish as one of their specials, would it be too "forward" for me to ask some of the following questions:

1) What date was the fish caught?
2) How long has the fish been stored in the refrigerator?
3) Was the fish frozen before becoming refrigerated, and if so, how long was it frozen?

It seems to me that asking such questions might have the effect of inviting a dishonest answer for the purpose of making a sale.

Based upon a previous Chowhound discussion on the subject fresh fish, there seemed to be a concensus of opinion that a freshly caught fish does not "keep" in the refrigerator longer than 2 or 3 days, and that fish should not be frozen for longer than a week.

I also had the recent experience of ordering another piece of fish at another restaurant that was described as follows: "New Zealand Whole Snapper with Onion Marmelade and Preserved Lemon. Flown In Fresh From New Zealand."

This was the 3rd day this fish special was on. Based upon the 3-day advice for freshness I had read earlier, I decided to take my chances and try it. It tasted okay while I was eating it. But afterwards, my fingers smelled "fishy" and I detected "fish breath" after I got home.

It had been several years ago since I last tried a whole fish special and I do not recall these "fishy" effects. Would you consider this a reliable indication that my New Zealand Snapper was eaten beyond the desired time limit for freshness?

When you order a fish special at a restaurant, one whose reputation for seafood dishes is uncertain to you, what standards are you looking for? What questions, if any, do you ask?

Any comments and feedback on the above would be deeply appreciated.

Thanks in advance.


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  1. If you can find a place that can answer those 3 questions without "fudging" it, let me know

    6 Replies
    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

      Where to begin. The waiter isn't going to tell you anything. He/she won't have a clue how old the fish is. If it's frozen not even the chef would necessarily know.
      The 'fishy' smell comes from a gas on the skin that begins developing the second the fish dies. It's to attract bacteria that will 'rot' the fish. Anyway.
      Any restaurant serving pre-frozen fish will dip the fish in some sort of mild acidic bath which removes/neutralizes the gas. At least they ought to.
      'Fresh fish' can be easily a week old by the time it gets to your plate.
      There are some foods like seafood that not every 'Anytown' can expect to get seriously fresh. That's just the way it is.
      Same with say getting 'fresh' asparagus from Mexico in Alaska that's been in a refrigerated trailer for a week.

      1. re: Puffin3

        An advantage enjoyed in coastal Mexico areas but not in the US is that it is perfectly acceptable to ask to see the fish before you order one. Any reputable restaurant is proud to exhibit the freshness of their catch, and you can often choose from among different sizes on a large tray.
        In the US, more than 20% of "grouper" sold is not even grouper, so what else will they deceive you about? As Puffin notes, the server is unlikely to be able to provide accurate answers. I advise ordering fish dishes only in restaurants with solid reputations. I am fortunate to be living in coastal Florida now, and I know there the good stuff is.

        1. re: Veggo

          Good advice, Veggo.
          This makes me think of Jamaica - selecting your fish on the beach and watching it be cleaned and cooked, along with fry bread (bammy). Heavenly.

          1. re: Veggo

            The same is true with snapper, if your paying 10-15 dollars for a dish it's certainly not Gulf red snapper. I also would never order it with pasta. It's a good stand alone dish. No pasta.

          2. re: Puffin3

            Hello Puffin3,

            Many thanks for the information on the origin and cause of the "fishy" smell from fish and how to neutralize the gas. I didn't know this. Good information.


            1. re: Puffin3

              Ordering/buying fish is another example of "know your food source". As I have mentioned on some CH subjects before, I spend many hours, miles, extra expense, etc. seeking out local humanely raised beef, pork poultry from very small farmers, and a few "backyard" hobby farmers.
              The taste and texture is very good and one knows what and how it was fed and raised.
              Like Veggo, I live on an Island in Florida, and there are numerous "day boat" commercial fishermen who provide opportunities to purchase local fresly caught seafood.

          3. This pertains only to the three questions you asked:
            It's going to be hard, if not impossible, to date that fish unless you are at a place that receives directly from the person who caught it (whether by line or net; makes no difference.) Fishing boats do not generally go out on daytrips (at least, not for commercial sales.) Consider that a fish caught Sunday will be iced down 'til their return trip, which is anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, seriously. It's totally permissible to ask about length of storage, and the method, but you may not get a strictly correct answer. Your best bet is just to ask if it's been frozen AT ALL, because some places (though not high-end spots, usually) will tell you that it's fresh, but what they mean is, "frozen, but thawed now," or, ask how long the kitchen itself has stored it, but kitchen storage doesn't account for the time it spent on the boat.

            11 Replies
            1. re: mamachef

              Hello Mamachef,

              Many thanks for the information on how fishing boats operate and how long an allegedly "fresh" fish can be stored on a boat. It's good to know that "fresh" means "once frozen but now thawed in many restaurants. Based upon your information, I think I will simply ask if the fish has been frozen "at all." Thanks again.


              1. re: PontiusPalate

                The most honest answer you may get is " I don't know" . So have a plan "B".

              2. re: mamachef

                the majority of the fish served in the US has been previously frozen.
                some types of sushi require that the fish be flash frozen to kill parasites
                all the fish that is caught by those huge factory ships that use purse seine nets to scoop up virtually everything in their path from the ocean floor on up are frozen on the ship for the weeks at sea that the fish will spend on the ship.
                all the fish that we get from thai fish farms (after having eaten god-knows-what) are frozen.

                and on and on and on.

                it would be safe to assume that any fish that will be provided to you
                << ordering fish located at a typical restaurant located at Anytown, USA>>
                will have been frozen for some unknown and unknowable amount of time.
                whether or not the freezing technique was good or not will probably be unknown.
                exactly what the fish REALLY is, will be questionable (many types of white fish are substituted for each other indiscriminately based on price)

                how much time the fish spent after thawing but before preparation is probably more of a knowable thing, but really, how many typical restaurants located at Anytown, USA track that AND would be honest in telling that info to the patron?

                1. re: westsidegal

                  Thanks, westsidegal. Not sure why this is directed to me? I purposely avoided any commentary on sushi-grade fish, frozen or no, because I know exactly nothing about it. ;) My comments were mainly about the interim times, 'twixt sea and land, making the bulk of the difference between fish that's "three days out" instead of "three weeks out."
                  Regarding that last question, though: I think the chances of what you mention are slim to none, not that the person delivering the information intends to be deceptive but that they really have no way of knowing the fully correct answer and are generally parroting whatever they've been told by the chef. I'm basing this on my experience w/ places like Red Lobster, where "fresh" is the buzzword - but as has been said here, "fresh" is a relative term. So, unless your dinner plans involve Le Bernardin or Le Bec Fin...most of us are, for the largest part, ass-out. :)

                  1. re: mamachef

                    Le Bec Fin first opened my freshman year in college, 1970, but it closed this past summer. R.I.P.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Le Bec Fin was one of my unrealized goals.

                      Some years ago, we were hosting two couples, and I had made reservations for our first visit. Well, I was informed, by her, who must be obeyed, that those two couples were dining there two nights later, and we had to take them elsewhere. We could not get in on that trip, or the next - then they were history. See if I ever cancel my reservations, because some guest is dining there sometime in the future. That is their problem, and not mine.

                      Now I tell folk, "we are dining at ___, and hope that you can join us." If they come back with "Sorry, but we are dining there next week," then my comment is "I hate to hear that, as you will be missed. See you at the club (or wherever)."


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        It remodeled a few years ago, in a tawdry motif oriented toward a casual "hipster" crowd, with an equivalent dumbed-down menu, and it didn't fly.
                        As big a loss to Philly as Locke Ober was to Boston.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          So very sad to hear.

                          I still have a few "target restaurants," and will no longer take "later" for an answer.

                          Back when I was in Philly, it had not opened yet. When my wife was at Wharton, it was out of the question for a poor grad student. We just missed our chance, but such is life. I wanted to taste the Quenelles de Brochet, but will try to make up for that omission in my life.

                          Thanks for the info,


                      2. re: Veggo

                        Well - guess I can scratch it from the list, then. :)

                      3. re: mamachef

                        I haven't been to Red Lobster since I worked there in the 1980s, but at that time they had a "Fresh" board and those fish really were fresh. They flew them in FedEx from Boston twice a week and were never frozen. The funny thing is, we are on Long Island, but Boston won that bid.

                        1. re: mamachef

                          i didn't mean to direct it to you, just thoughtlessly hit the "reply" button.
                          completely agree with everything you said in this thread.

                    2. If you live in an inland state, the likelihood of finding fresh ocean fish will be low. I would recommend sticking with local freshwater varieties. Fir example, around the Great Lakes, I have sad spectacular walleye. Unless there is an active fish market in your area, I would temper my expectations for fresh ocean fish. Grilling your waiter won't get you any more information as its not likely that s/he or even the chef will really know.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Bkeats

                        I agree. Grilling your waiter will not yield better fish information than frying him, blackening him, or sautéing him.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          I was at a restaurant in Galveston the water was insisting the speckled trout was local. I knew better but I asked him just to hear is answer. You can't sell speckled trout caught in Texas. I don't know if he was misinformed or lying, not important.

                          1. re: Bkeats

                            Hi Bkeats,

                            Good information. I had figured that the waiter would run back and ask the chef my questions and that the chef would be able to answer them. As one other person mentioned, the chef would probably have no idea how long the fish was on the boat before arriving.

                            But the chef would or should know how long the fish has been frozen. According to a previous Chowhound discussion, storing fish in a freezer for more than a week can have the effect of altering the structure and texture of the fish, due to an "expansion effect", giving it that "frozen" taste.

                            Perhaps, I should only ask how long the fish has been frozen. But this would not be necessary if I stick to reputable restaurants which consistently provide fresh tasting fish.


                            1. re: PontiusPalate

                              actually, the chefs in Anytown USA would NOT likely know how long the fish was frozen.

                              even more important that whether the fish was frozen for more than a week would be to know how quickly the fish was flash frozen, at what temperature was the fish held after freezing, how much temperature fluctuation occured after freezing and before thawing, and how much time the fish spent after thawing before being served to you.

                              of course, nobody in a " typical restaurant located at Anytown, USA" is likely to know ANY of this.

                          2. Most seafood is frozen. Even at a seafood restaurant at the seashore only a few items are likely to be locally caught and fresh. When I go to the beach (in Oregon) I know which seafood is local and I stick with the things I know at the restaurants I know. At home I expect most fish to be frozen and don't eat fish in restaurants that often.

                            1. There is a reason why 1 ounce of fish in a sushi place costs in the range of $5.

                              The vast majority of commercial fish is processed at sea and frozen. That is why it is so cheap. Fresh fish comes off my hook. In a restaurant, I look for local species. Not too many grouper in Oshkosh Wisconsin. But I always order the walleye, bluegill, or whitefish when offered as a special.

                              17 Replies
                                1. re: ferret

                                  Obviously. But it has been inspected by somebody to be "Sushi Grade". And hopefully treated better.

                                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                    "Sushi grade" simply means appropriate for use as sushi -- i.e. frozen per USDA guidelines.

                                    1. re: ferret

                                      No, "sushi grade" means it looks pretty and the retailer can add a few extra bucks per pound.

                                      1. re: ricepad

                                        In USA, I think that "sushi grade" only means it was frozen below zero Fh for a specified period of time in order to ensure the death of parasites.

                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                          Nope. In the US, "sushi grade" means nothing, because it's not a defined grade. It's strictly a marketing approach for pretty fish.

                                          1. re: ricepad

                                            Interesting that, yes, it isn't an FDA category, but it's not about "pretty" according to my fish market. It's about certain metrics of freezing time and temperature to ensure the demise of certain parasites. It might be that you feel they're bullshitting or being duped. But I doubt it, as I know these people, and they're not liars or fools.

                                            1. re: Bada Bing

                                              Your fish market is marketing pretty fish to you. All they are likely doing is taking their best fish, calling it "sushi grade" and adding to the price. Yes, it's probably better than the 'regular' fish. But calling it "sushi grade" means nothing other than it's good fish. In other words, "sushi grade" is not an objective measure. I'm not calling anybody a liar.

                                              1. re: ricepad

                                                Yes, anyone can call their fish Sushi-Grade...but reputable outlets will have available Frozen fish specifically for Sushi./Sashimi. Anyone offering cooked fish from Sushi grade would be suspect....but Sushi-Grade is indeed more than pretty fish...especially the highly sought after Tuna and Tuna Belly..

                                                The following link is where most top Sushi restaurants get their fish....even Morimoto


                                                1. re: ricepad

                                                  You're not listening to what I'm saying. My market makes no claims about the "sushi grade" fish being better, and no one regards it as "prettier." It's not even the most expensive stuff. Not even half the price of Alaskan halibut.

                                                  In fact, the only fish that they sell under this heading is tuna steaks, and all that the name means is a certain guarantee about how it has been frozen, which supposedly makes it safer to eat raw.

                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                    Believe what you want to believe. And trust me, your market sells "sushi grade" tuna for more than their 'regular grade' tuna, and the biggest difference is that it looks better. It may even have come from the same fish.

                                                    Your fish market will tell you the truths that align with their desire to keep you as a customer. If you want the whole story, get a job in a fish market. Or behind the sushi bar.

                                                    1. re: ricepad

                                                      <<It may even have come from the same fish.>>

                                                      The cut, from the tuna (same fish), may well tell different stories. Depends on the person, who butchers the fish, and then on the chef, who prepares it.


                                                      1. re: ricepad

                                                        Your determination to tell me about my market is odd.

                                                        If you want me to accept that there is plenty that is "fishy" in fish marketing, right down to whether they even get the species right, I think we can be on the same page. There's evidence that we can refer to.

                                                        But you don't know my supermarket. It's a small regional chain, I've known the fishmonger on a first-name basis for years, and I'm not ready to get on board with your shotgun cynicism.

                                                        Finally, there is in fact no special markup on the tuna. I looked today. They actually label it as "sashimi grade," for what that matters. And it's only about how it's been frozen. It's sold frozen.

                                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                                          No, I'm really only trying to get through to you that "sushi (or sashimi) grade" has little to no objective meaning. But you win. I give up.

                                        2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                          <<inspected by somebody>>

                                          that could be ANYBODY.

                                          1. re: westsidegal

                                            hence my point below that I think I got made fun of for...does anyone really know what they are getting???

                                      2. I agree with the others, most fish is frozen, even if it's from local waters. I live in Boston and don't expect any local bluefish or stripers to not have been frozen at sea. Commercial fishermen aren't out for daytrips, for the most part.

                                        1. Rule from friends in the restaurant business, freshest when offered broiled or grilled, day old when offered in a casserole, last stop in to a chowder.

                                          1. As others have alluded to, unless you caught it yourself, it's hard to know for sure how fresh the fish. I will say that many are caught and kept "close to" frozen for quite awhile. Swordfish for exampls may be caught on the first day of a 3 week trip and basically covered inside and out in ice but never frozen.
                                            Go to reputable, hopefully seafood restaurants, and order something that may have come from local waters if possible. Midwest? Go with trout or catfish. Never order the New England clam chowder in Oklahoma. Finally, a lot of fresh fish is flown around each night on fedex so it's not impossible to get fresh fish far from its source but you should expect to pay a premium. If the deal sounds too good to be true....

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: bobbert

                                              I think your questions are a tad over the line.

                                              And your assumption that frozen fish is bad is totally wrong.

                                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                                Thanks for your comments. I figured that my questions were a bit over the top. That's why I had asked for some feedback on those questions for future use.

                                                Perhaps, I should amend my assumption about frozen fish to fish that of fish which has been frozen too long.


                                                1. re: PontiusPalate

                                                  In my estimation, freezing of fin fish is a 1 point deduct on a 10 scale, for shell fish other than stone crabs a 3 point deduct, and for stone crabs a 7 point deduct. In many instances, there is no other option.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    Have never had stone crabs, but the Momofuku cookbook says they serve frozen ones.

                                                    1. re: jaykayen

                                                      They are almost too expensive even when they are fresh. The season opens in 14 days.

                                              2. re: bobbert

                                                HI Bobbert,

                                                Many thanks for your message and the information you provided. One conclusion I am able to draw is that the best and only way to avoid the problem of getting inferior tasting fish at restaurants is to stick to reputable seafood restaurants which have developed a reputation for consistency.

                                                I live in Norfolk, Virginia, which is located only a half hour drive away from the Atlantic Ocean. I would have expected a better piece of grouper than I received at that Italian restaurant.

                                                So, I cannot expect all restaurants in a seafood town to serve decent fresh tasting seafood.

                                                On the positive side, there is one "New American" style restaurant in Norfolk which offers a fresh fish seafood special about once a week. The owner is very particular about his seafood. During the past few months, his specials have included Atlantic Halibut, tile fish, grouper, and Faroe Island Salmon. They have all tasted fresh and they were all outstanding.

                                                I've been on a seafood kick for the past several weeks, ordering the chef's specials seafood dish "no matter what" to cut back on the amount of red meat dishes I used to eat. As I have learned during the past weeks, this does not always lead to a satisfactory result.

                                                I used to live on Chincoteague Island, where my father would take me out flounder fishing. We would catch a mess of flounder, clean them, and my mother would cook them. I know what freshly caught fish tastes like and it breaks my heart that so many restaurants are unable to serve fish with that level of freshness.


                                                1. re: PontiusPalate

                                                  Link to a pretty good article ostensibly about whether or not the adage that you should not eat fish on Mondays is valid. It goes into the basics and generalities of ordering/eating fish in restaurants including sushi. It sums up what most of us have been saying.


                                                  I would think that you should be able to get fresh fish pretty easily in the Norfolk area. There's always the "special" that might not be so special. There are restaurants where the "special" is something that, if not eaten today, will be in the garbage tomorrow although any good, reparable restaurant will not serve anything already bad.

                                              3. In your situation, where the server actually recommends not just a daily special, but a particular fish course on the special list, then if it's not too your liking send the fucking thing back.

                                                Shoot first, ask questions later. Worked ok for Rambo.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  "If you're gonna shoot, shoot. Don't talk."
                                                  From The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
                                                  And don't buy the last fish.

                                                2. please don't make fun of me, but whether in a restaurant or a market/shop/store, I will absolutely look whomever in the eye and ask, " Sounds great. Would you feed this to your baby/child?" ( I especially do this in the market) You'd be surprised the honesty this question will yield. I ask nicely and politely but very seriously. I can't tell you how many times someone has either admitted no, not tonight or steered me towards something much fresher. Worth the question. We all go on blind faith when we eat and shop.

                                                  8 Replies
                                                  1. re: MRS

                                                    What kind of sketchy places do you frequent?

                                                    1. re: C. Hamster

                                                      I don't eat or shop anyplace sketchy to the best of my knowledge. But, having once had a terrible bout of food poisoning from a highly regarded sushi restaurant, I tend to be a bit hyper-aware. I ended up in the hospital...not pretty.
                                                      The truth is, we do go on blind faith no matter where we are. How much do you really, really know about what you are eating?

                                                      1. re: MRS

                                                        "Life is like a box of chocolates....."

                                                    2. re: MRS

                                                      there is a famous deli/bakery here in los angeles that had a horrible scandal occur years ago centering around rodents.

                                                      surprisingly, the managers didn't seem to have a problem feeding the stuff to their own kids.

                                                        1. re: MRS

                                                          They were unplanned children, same as me.

                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            Ah, those "kids." What are you gonna' do with them?


                                                    3. (sigh) This is why I hardly ever order fish in a restaurant---as the other posters have noted, you really don't know what you are getting, even if you ask. (the resto itself may not know.) Sure, you can trust LeB or equivalent, but that is crazy expensive. Because the best fish are snapped up by LeB/etc, the other restaurants are left with the rest. One partial solution: Go to a Chinatown restaurant that has a fish tank, pick out the fish you want, and specify how you want it cooked (Me? Steamed with garlic and ginger.) It won't necessarily be *the* best fish, but it will be perfectly fresh.

                                                      1. I have no qualms about asking if it's fresh or frozen, when it's not labeled or obvious. And I can usually tell that they're not lying, if they act indignant and insulted. But if it's not a place known for seafood, I would assume it was frozen, no hard feelings.

                                                        I was under the impression that it is a law, at least here in NY, that if it says fresh, it has to be fresh. So when they say "flown in fresh from New Zealand" what does that mean exactly? It was fresh in New Zealand at one point?

                                                        My local grocery complies with this law, but makes me laugh at the previously frozen fish, marked as "Thawed for your convenience!" As everyone is saying, unless you pulled it from the water yourself, who's to say? I think the selling of one species as something more expensive is another thing that you can never be sure about either.

                                                        1. From Jane Lear's blog: "What about quality? Frozen-food technology has come a long way. “The technology is really advanced,” explained Seaver. “The fish is frozen, often at sea, at its peak of freshness and nutrition.” It’s frozen so fast at such a low temperature, that there’s no cellular rupturing, thus no compromise in texture.

                                                          Bear in mind that much of the artfully displayed “fresh” seafood you see glistening on crushed ice at the seafood counter was also flash-frozen at sea or at an on-shore processing plant. Once a retailer thaws it, the clock is ticking. Always ask if something has been previously frozen, and, if so, when was it thawed. If that turns out to be more than a day ago, avoid buying it. If it was thawed the same day, that’s perfectly fine, snap it up, but know you need to cook it for dinner that evening."


                                                          From National geographic: Frozen Seafood: In Many Ways, It's Better Than Fresh


                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: C. Hamster

                                                            As they say in the biz, frozen is fresher that fresh. Often times, it is!

                                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                                              Hello C. Hamster.

                                                              Thank you very much for the updated information about frozen food technology. This definitely trumps the previous advice I had read about not ordering any fish that has been frozen more than a week.

                                                              As you pointed out, asking when a fish has been thawed is a very important question.


                                                            2. They better not be freezing my Filet-O-Fish.

                                                              I'd be really pissed then.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                Our McDonalds has a chef's table. It's a joy watching them assemble Filet-O-Fish from scratch, plus the fresh ground quarter pounders are fantastic. The McNuggets are still frozen mystery meat chicken.

                                                              2. Have you read "Kitchen Confidential"? It's informative and entertaining reading for anyone who eats in restaurants. Among the many things you'll learn within its pages is on what days fish arrives at a typical restaurant, and when and when not to order it.

                                                                Personally, I would not order a fish special even at a seafood restaurant unless I felt confident that it's not on special because it's been sitting in the cooler for the better part of a week. And I would not order fish, AT ALL, at a restaurant that does not specialize in seafood.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                  Funny. Except for some new places in the past five years or so, your best bet for fish in Boston is decidedly not at a "seafood" restaurant.

                                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                                    Kitchen Confidential came in out in 2000 and was based on his experience in years prior. While much has remained unchanged there are also lots of places with access to extremely fresh fish that was nowhere near possible 15-20 years ago (certainly not at affordable levels). In Chicago our largest fish wholesalers get daily shipments of pretty much anything you can imagine and have them on trucks for delivery to our better restaurants ASAP.

                                                                    So it's all a matter of seeking out the better places. If you want a good burger, you'll go to the place that best satisfies your tastes. If you want a good steak, you go to the place with the best reputation. The same should hold true for fish.

                                                                    1. re: ferret

                                                                      Kitchen Confidential, nowadays, is as much a work of fiction as it is a biopic of Bourdain.

                                                                  2. My recommendation for you is to ask if the fish is fresh or frozen, After the server gives you the answer, request to see the fish you are interested in. If you like the way it looks, order it...but if not, then pass.

                                                                    Old fish will look dull....fresh fish will have a shine. If the fish is whole, then check the eyes to see they are clear.

                                                                    In general, I'm from the camp that believes Frozen may be better than supposed Fresh claims. Many commercial kitchen workers do not know how to hold fish properly.

                                                                    Last, like others have said, stick to places that specialize in fish

                                                                    14 Replies
                                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                                      I would call someone who asks to see a fish before it is ordered to be a high-maintenance customer. It's just a meal. Ask about the fish. If you like what you hear, order the fish. Eat it. If you are not satisfied, don't order it next time. If you don't get consistently good food and service from a restaurant, stop going there but don't make a nuisance of yourself.

                                                                      1. re: GH1618

                                                                        In the US, I agree with you. In Mexico, asking to see the fish selection is commonplace. I sure like it that way better. The US is too rushed for details like that.

                                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                                          It's common in many Chinese restaurants (in the US and elsewhere) where you are ordering live fish (from the tank) and paying by the pound.

                                                                          They bring'em out in a big bucket and let you choose the one you want.

                                                                          I'm always a little hesitant to look over a live fish before ordering for fear I might want to take it home and have it keep company with my pond of mermaids.

                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                            Being able to choose a size is definitely an additional benefit.

                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                              You could always blind fold yourself and point to the 'one'. Then there would be no eye contact, thus no guilt.

                                                                              1. re: treb

                                                                                It's not about guilt.

                                                                                It's about a desire to find company for my mermaids.

                                                                        2. re: fourunder

                                                                          Hello fourunder:

                                                                          Many thanks for the great information on how to visually inspect a fish for its level of freshness. This is very helpful. I will definitely look for a shine on its body and eyes that are clear.

                                                                          However, I usually dine solo and like to eat at the bar. I would be very surprised if my server would be willing to bring out the fish I want to order for me to see. This might gross out some of the other bar patrons.

                                                                          In any event, I will definitely stick to restaurants which specialize in fish.


                                                                          1. re: PontiusPalate

                                                                            The fish will likely already be prepped. Gutted, skinned and portioned.

                                                                            Unless it's cooked and served whole.

                                                                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                there are also food safety concerns in removing the fish from refrigeration and bringing it to a diner uncooked. anybody could be putting their hands on it etc.

                                                                                i have worked for several of boston's better-known chefs and fresh fish most often came daily, having never been frozen. none of these were "seafood" restaurants but were putting out food at extraordinary levels. until recently boston didn't have ANY excellent seafood restaurants so if i limited my ordering to that genre, i would have been s-o-l. a well-run, well-respected place should be serving quality product. period.

                                                                                at mid-price or lower i don't expect anything other than frozen seafood, and most likely farmed to boot. it probably comes iqf and the chef has no idea how long it was frozen before it got on-premise. the waiter likely knows less about the fish than the chef. it will stay in the deep freeze until just a few hours before service. unless the kitchen is run by a clueless idiot the fish should be fine for what it is.

                                                                                the info offered by c.ham above about improved freezing techniques is important to know as many on this thread seem to be working with very outdated information.

                                                                                i think the bigger issue is that most fish on average menus these days is farmed, so the flavor and texture are both just utterly kraptastical. if you see tilapia, catfish, trout or cheap salmon, don't even bother ordering them. just. yuk. certain varieties of bass, cod and grouper are headed this way too.

                                                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                  I agree entirely with your point on farmed seafood.

                                                                                  I can't understand why people eat the sketchy farmed tilapia and shrimp from Asia.

                                                                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                    The title of an old Frank Zappa song,"Cheepnis." Great song by the way, but a wee bit out there as all Zappa songs are.

                                                                              2. re: PontiusPalate

                                                                                As others have noted...showing fish is commonplace in some restaurants. In Greek restaurants, it's usually displayed on ice. In Chinese restaurants, you can see them swimming in tanks. In Palm Springs, there's a group called The Fisherman....there, they display their fish in glass showcase refrigerators.

                                                                                If you go to a Steakhouse... many will show you the steak before it is served. Fish is, and should be no different. In an Italian Restaurant that gets beat up on the NJ Board... , One of the specials of the evening was was a Veal Chop. I asked if it were a Loin or Long Bone Rib and the approximate thickness or weight. The server did not know, but went back to the kitchen and asked. When she came back out she told me it was a Loin, but I prefer the Rib, so I declined and ordered something else.....Before/When the order was placed in the kitchen, the chef came out with a half dozen Loin Veal Chops on a platter for me to see. They looked so impressive, I changed my order back to the Veal Chop.

                                                                                If a kitchen is proud of their product and they want their customers to happy....showing a piece of fish (or any ingredient) is not high maintenance. Even lowly Chain Restaurants like Romano's Macaroni Grill display the fish available for service..

                                                                                Don't give asking your query a second thought ....unless they decline to show you the product..

                                                                            1. It will depend so very heavily on the particular restaurant.

                                                                              We live in a land-locked state, AZ, but have a few restaurants that really know their fish, and do a great job. At one, the owner will meet each shipment, in the early AM, and reject any, that is not very fresh. Of course, in AZ, all fish will be less fresh, than coming off the boat, wherever. Still, we know that any fish served there, will be great.

                                                                              However, proximity to an ocean, is not a guarantee of freshness, though it should be. Not that long ago, in the Chesapeake Bay Area, we were told that the "Fresh Softshelled Crabs," were fresh. Well, they were not only long-frozen, they had spoiled, and badly. The chef tried to tell me that they were alive that morning, but having grown up on the MS Gulf Coast, and eating FRESH softshells for most of it, I knew better. I asked him to show me one, that had not been cooked yet, that was alive, and he refused, and left in a huff. So much for FRESH, even when one is seaside (or bayside). Some restaurants do not know, and do not care. No guarantees ANYWHERE.

                                                                              The closest that one can do, is to choose the right restaurant, and then inquire.

                                                                              Though some say that it is an affectation, and PR fluff, Mama's Fish House, Pai`a, HI, lists the fisherman, the vessel, and how caught, for most fish. I have dined there, when the server would bring out an addendum to the menu, listing that the Ahi was NOW caught by ____ on a long line, from the vessel _____ . That was a change from what had been printed, and handed to me, only 5 mins. before. Never had less than very, very fresh fish, at Mama's Fish House.


                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                You probably should have slapped that waiter's little hand. Figuratively, of course.

                                                                                1. re: mamachef

                                                                                  So very glad that you added that disclaimer.

                                                                                  In another, long forgotten thread, I used that term, and had CH's calling their States' AG's to file abuse suits against me.

                                                                                  Some people do not understand a bit of hyperbole, or the turn of a phrase.

                                                                                  Regarding what should have been a nice, Tidewater meal, of Fried Fresh Soft-shelled Crab, almost DID turn into something for the State's AG. Until I challenged the chef to bring me a live one, to see it, did things de-escalate to just a fuming chef, and a really pissed diner.

                                                                                  I think (actually hope), that "hands" WERE "slapped," but verbally. [Grin]


                                                                                  Note: do not call your AG - no waiters or chefs were hurt in the production of this post!

                                                                                2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                  I had the best shrimp in my entire life in Nogales. You need to get to the part of the state closest to the water.

                                                                                  1. re: 512window

                                                                                    Well, growing up on the MS Gulf Coast and New Orleans, I have had the ultimate Shrimp. All others fall far behind, and on many aspects.

                                                                                    Now, it has been 40 years, since I had Mexican Shrimp, so cannot comment now. Have not been to Mexico, since 1973. We did both the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California coasts, and seafood WAS very good - though I cannot recall any Shrimp on that trip. Maybe we just missed something?


                                                                                3. To the comments already added, I'll just supplement:

                                                                                  1. An Italian restaurant in the USA is unlikely to be great with fish unless it's really high-end (like Esca in New York City).

                                                                                  2. It is odd that was suggested as a "special" for the day, which usually is good news, but in this case it seems it might have indicated what they wanted to unload. Again, not a fish-oriented place.

                                                                                  3. Frozen fish can be spectacular and, especially with fish served far from the sea, better than fresh. Depends on handling at all stages. And the idea that fish frozen 1 week is better than fish frozen 2 weeks completely does not compute for me.

                                                                                  To sum up: you cannot get one simple bit of advice about ordering fish in a restaurant.

                                                                                  p.s., ordering on the third day of a special is not good.

                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                    Hello Bada Bing,

                                                                                    Many thanks for the great information. I have a very strong suspicion that the fish I ordered at that Italian restaurant was "on special" because they wanted to unload it.

                                                                                    I also appreciate the updated information I have been reading about frozen fish.

                                                                                    In the future, I will also refrain from ordering fish on the 3rd day it is "on special."

                                                                                    Thanks again!


                                                                                    1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                      Ordering on the third day of a special is fine, depending on the restaurant.

                                                                                      One place I frequent often has a fish special all week. But they get their fish delivered daily from a very reputable source. Its always delicious.

                                                                                      Its an Italian restaurant.

                                                                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                        "1. An Italian restaurant in the USA is unlikely to be great with fish unless it's really high-end (like Esca in New York City). "


                                                                                        there are several italian restaurants in boston who have dedicated fishbuyers and/or the chef/owner personally makes early morning trips to the fish pier.

                                                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                          My go-to for great fish is an Italian place

                                                                                          1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                            Right? That "advice" is utterly bizarre. Last time I checked, Italy had a coastline.

                                                                                      2. <In the future, whenever a waiter mentions some type of fish as one of their specials, would it be too "forward" for me to ask some of the following questions:

                                                                                        1) What date was the fish caught?
                                                                                        2) How long has the fish been stored in the refrigerator?
                                                                                        3) Was the fish frozen before becoming refrigerated, and if so, how long was it frozen?>

                                                                                        My guess is that the date of the fish being caught may be a difficult one if we are talking about wild grouper. I think the third question will be easier to answer. Also you may just ask the waitress/waiter when did the restaurant get the fish, when did they arrive.

                                                                                        1. The area I live in has one very good fish store that supplies many of the better restaurants. His prices are no bargain but his quality is excellent. I usually ask at restaurants where they get their fish from. If not from the place I respect, I avoid their fish dishes.

                                                                                          1. "a seafood restaurant with a good reputation for serving fresh fish, especially if it is located right on the water"

                                                                                            around these parts (Long Island) the further from the water, the better the fish at a restaurant.

                                                                                            LeoLioness states in this thread, "best bet for fish in --- is decidedly not at a "seafood" restaurant."

                                                                                            I find that if a non-seafood restaurant has a fish special, it is more likely to be something freshly sourced and no matter the preparation (OUCH!) fresh fish is better than last weeks catch at the seafood restaurant with a fridge full of last weeks catch (or frozen).

                                                                                            9 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                                              I agree with TB. Never order any 'fresh' (never frozen) fish on a Mon./Tues/Wed./Thursday.
                                                                                              Any truly fresh unfrozen fish hits the kitchen Friday afternoon. Whatever isn't sold by Sunday night becomes 'Chowder' etc.

                                                                                              1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                Have you ever worked in a restaurant? I'm wondering where this advice is coming from. Fish purveyors would not get by if they only sold one day a week! Hunts Point is open seven days, there's gotta be a reason. The only time they're not selling fish every day is if there is severely inclement weather. I'm assuming this goes for all other major markets too. As I said above, even Red Lobster got twice a week delivery. Don't believe everything you read.

                                                                                                1. re: coll

                                                                                                  So Hunts Point does not sell day old or week old fish? And the restaurants throw out fish past its "sell by" date?

                                                                                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                                                    I don't work there, but have sold fish we got there and never had a complaint. And believe me, my customers would have let me know. As far as I know, fish have to be "tagged" before being sold wholesale, so it's not some kind of mystery meat. So one day, maybe. One week, no way. Have you ever been to the fish market, it's busier than Times Square at Christmastime!

                                                                                                    The restaurants I've dealt with would freeze fish before it went bad, rather than throwing it out. At least if the chef actually knows how to work in a commercial kitchen! They can do something "creative" with it at their convenience later, obviously it is no longer an entrée as center of the plate.

                                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                                      "...would freeze fish before it went bad, rather than throwing it out. At least if the chef...can do something "creative" with it at their convenience later, obviously it is no longer an entrée as center of the plate."

                                                                                                      Obviously by my doubt and my experience, it has been the "entrée as center of the plate" more often than not. I'm sure there are exceptions. I just seem to stumble upon the day they were not at the market and get the four day old or frozen fish. :-/

                                                                                                      The saying that comes to mind is, "fish is like house guests, after three days they begin to stink"

                                                                                                      col, since you are one of my more respected hounds and a local Lawn Guylander, where should I go to find this pristinely fresh fish in a restaurant?

                                                                                                      1. re: Gastronomos

                                                                                                        Thank you for the compliment! The Hamptons and the North Fork are with what I am most familiar. Most especially Montauk. Worth the drive if pristine fish is what you seek!

                                                                                                        But their daily specials often come right off the boat, not usually from the Bronx. I have seen what they do with different fish, nothing goes to waste but I've never encountered anything terrible enough to comment on either, as far as freshness.

                                                                                                        Yes I admit I'm spoiled. But those are the restaurant kitchens that I have spent time in, and base my observations on. However, I'm sure there are many others up island too, since I see Gosmans and Brauns trucks all the way into the city. What puzzles me is why you think fish is always fresher inland? Not that anywhere on Long Island is more than 10 or 15 minutes from a body of salt water!

                                                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                                                          I'll drive. No worries. If there is a kitchen preparing fish dishes, not a deep fried flounder or grilled whole fish, I'm there. Hamptons, Montauk and North Fork. Just point me in the direction of fresh fish.

                                                                                                2. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                  "I agree with TB. Never order any 'fresh' (never frozen) fish on a Mon./Tues/Wed./Thursday.

                                                                                                  oh, for heaven's sake. you're suggesting only a 3 day-window to order fish in restaurant? unless you're eating at some shithole, this is nonsense. or perhaps a deeply held belief from before modern refrigeration and shipping?

                                                                                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                    Maybe where you live but certainly not here.

                                                                                                3. So only fresh…. Lets look at this, say the boat fishes for 2-3 days, the processor cleans and fillets said catch, add one more day, then the fish gets shipped. Add one more day, before the restaurant even gets the “catch of the day” this fresh fish is now 5 days old.
                                                                                                  I’ll take a properly handled 2-3 day old then frozen fish any day.