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In the Kitchen: Two concepts, one message
Fishwife, Turtle Bay Taqueria offer sustainable seafood options
By Joan M. Lang
June 01, 2007
It stands to reason that an entrepreneur with seafood
restaurants located on the Monterey Peninsula of California
would turn his attention to issues of sustainability.
"We've been onboard with the [Monterey Bay Aquarium's]
Seafood Watch program pretty much since it started" in the late
1990s, says Jefferson Seay, whose Pacific Grove, Calif.,
company Chef's Pride operates two Fishwife restaurants and two
Turtle Bay Taquerias in the area. "It's very important to us to
source our products responsibly. Unfortunately, it's also
"Rock cod used to be one of our most popular items," adds
Seay, who opened the first Fishwife in Seaside in 1985, at a
time when the opportunity for seafood-based menus was first
taking off. "We used to be able to get nice big fillets that
would feed four or five people. Now, you need two or three
fillets to make just one serving. Obviously, we're depleting
In recent years, Seay has made a number of menuing choices
based on availability and sustainability, including tilapia,
barramundi, local halibut, wild salmon and catfish. Whether
wild or farmed, he evaluates each source individually.
"You have to do your homework," he says. "I no longer use
farmed salmon, but I do buy a lot of farm-raised catfish.
They've done a good job raising these fish, filtering the water
and feeding them properly. And the product itself is popular
with our customers."
The challenge is intensified by the price structure of the
two restaurant concepts. The full-service Fishwife locations,
in Seaside and Asilomar Beach, specialize in seafood with a
Caribbean and Latin accent, with most entrées priced at under
$15. The newer Turtle Bay Taqueria, which first opened in
Seaside in 1996 (the second is in downtown Monterey), is a
casual, counter-service concept specializing in Mexican coastal
specialties, including a variety of tacos and burritos; the top
menu price is $8.50 for a combination Fisherman's Pasta
Having four restaurants certainly aids the cause, according
to Seay, making it easier for Chef's Pride to negotiate
favorable pricing with its suppliers. Seay works with such
local purveyors as Monterey Fish, Pacific Harvest Seafoods and
Facciola Meat Co., which has recently expanded into seafood. He
also occasionally buys fresh line-caught rock cod directly from
local fishermen who have a commercial license.
Fortunately, the local customer base is attuned to the
sustainability cause. "When you see people step up to the
counter at Turtle Bay and pull out their Seafood Watch card
before ordering, you know you have pretty sophisticated people
who get what you're trying to do," says Seay.
And a certain amount of education is also necessary. When
fish tacos were first introduced at Turtle Bay Taqueria, for
instance, Northern California customers were not all that
familiar with them - "A taco with fish? Eww…," Seay recalls.
"Now they're a favorite." Barramundi, a firm but flaky fish
farmed in western Massachusetts, was the same story. "People
didn't recognize it at first, but if one person who asks about
it can be persuaded to try it, word spreads pretty fast."
Tilapia is a menu favorite at both concepts, in particular
the Tilapia Cancun, which is rubbed with flavorful achiote
spice paste and grilled. At The Fishwife, it's served on a
cilantro-cashew pesto topped with salsa brava (a Baja-style
salsa made with cabbage and mild rice vinegar), and the Turtle
Bay Taquerias serve the same prep in burritos, on a salad and
in one of the signature Bahia Bowls.
The Bahia Bowls, in fact, have proved popular since they
were first introduced in the late 1990s. Originally launched at
Turtle Bay, these are meal-in-a-bowl entrées consisting of
rice, beans, two kinds of house-made salsa, and a choice of
toppings that includes tilapia, calamari, shrimp, Baja-style
fried fish and various seafood combinations - as well as steak,
pork, chicken and vegan Veggie Grill - artfully arranged so
that customers can toss all the ingredients together or eat
"You've got all sorts of different flavors and textures
going on, and the bowls are very colorful and tasty," says
Seay, who then upgraded the concept for The Fishwife with the
addition of fresh vegetables, fried tortilla spears and
signature toppings such as shrimp, scallops and crab sautéed in
lobster sauce (Baja Fisherman's Bowl) and mahimahi grilled with
tamarindo glaze (Hawaiian Fisherman's Bowl).
Salad specialties have also caught on with Seay's customers.
"Let's face it, we're getting fatter," he says.
The Fishwife's Sea Garden Salads line includes six different
upscale items, consisting of fresh mixed greens topped with a
mixed julienne of vegetables and salsa brava, finished with
grilled Cajun tilapia, fillet of sole, crab salad, fried
calamari, grilled prawns or chicken breast. The same
hot-and-cold principle is also in effect at Turtle Bay, with
the addition of such toppings as fried fish and charbroiled
At both concepts, vibrant Latin flavors prevail. Many of
Turtle Bay's spices and salsa recipes come from the
lesser-known coastal regions of Mexico, including the Yucatan.
The Fishwife's menu includes many tropical touches, such as
spicy Caribbean-style crab salad in the Crab Tostadito
appetizer, and such ingredients as jicama, cilantro and
habañero and serrano chilies. Nightly fish specials are
particularly creative, such as salmon with cilantro and serrano
aioli and halibut with yellow pepper beurre blanc.
With a $20 to $25 average check at The Fishwife and under $6
at Turtle Bay, Seay figures he's covered all of his bases.
"I notice a lot of the same professionals who frequent The
Fishwife at dinner coming in for lunch at Turtle Bay," he says.
"You can have a nice meal with wine or a cocktail at The
Fishwife, then come in and spend $4 for a taco and a glass of
iced tea the next day at Turtle Bay. I'm OK with that; it's a
compliment that they're coming back again."
Contributing Editor Joan M. Lang lives in Cape Elizabeth,