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Behind the Line: Fishing for quality
Wildfish Seafood Grille relies on fresh product for a high-end clientele
By Lauren Kramer
August 01, 2010
When John Carver designed the menu for Wildfish Seafood Grille back in 2006, the goal for the chef was to offer prime seafood for the concept's three restaurants in Newport Beach, Calif., San Antonio and Scottsdale, Ariz.
"Our purchasing reflects whatever there is to offer," says Carver. "We don't use lower-cost fish like tilapia, mahi or farm-raised trout. Not that they're bad products, but our focus is high-end seafood like Atlantic lemon sole, Nantucket scallops and fresh king crab, when it's in season."
Wildfish, a 350-seat restaurant owned and operated by Eddie V's based in Scottsdale, occupies a niche. "A lot of seafood restaurants in Phoenix use frozen product, and there aren't many doing the kind of thing we're doing," says Carver.
Carver began his culinary career 25 years ago in the Midwest, after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He has served as executive chef at The Fish Market and Cipollini in Atlanta, and worked at Bice, Remi and
Pazzo in New York. Today he is an executive chef and partner at Eddie V's Edgewater Grille restaurants, and its sister restaurant, Wildfish, with its open-air kitchen as the restaurant's centerpiece and oyster bar front and center.
Sourcing seafood for the restaurants involves a fair amount of transportation. With 85 percent of its menu being seafood, Wildfish relies on fresh, mostly wild product flown in daily from Boston, Los Angeles and Miami.
"We ship anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds of fish a day, about $1,000 worth, to Wildfish," says Sean Clark, Wildfish's sous chef. "Since we're in the desert, we made a deliberate decision to spend extra energy and money getting the best seafood we could get. For example, the lobster on our menu this evening was caught last night, auctioned this morning and flown to me today."
Outstanding quality seafood is out there, Carver says. "The challenge is knowing where to buy it and having good relationships with your suppliers." Wildfish sources from Foley Fish in Boston, Pacific Seafood in Seattle, Santa Monica Seafood in California and Honolulu Fish in Hawaii, among others.
The cuisine at Wildfish is a mixture of French and Asian, both of which allow the seafood to shine through, Carver says. At any one time, guests can choose from at least 12 seafood species on the menu.
"We treat our seafood with very little sauce or garnishment because we spend a lot of time sourcing very expensive product, and we want the seafood to be the star, and for our guests to taste it first," he says.
For example, the menu features two styles of Chilean sea bass among its entrées, the most popular being Asian-style, which is steamed Hong Kong-style with a light soy-sherry broth and sesame spinach. The other sea bass entrée is a traditional French preparation, roasted in a lemon white wine broth with garlic and scallions.
Atlantic salmon is served lightly smoked with bok choy and a Chinese black bean vinaigrette, while jumbo Georges Bank scallops come sautéed with citrus fruit, roasted macadamia nuts and brown butter. The lobster tacos, served on fresh tortillas with grilled sweet corn, avocado-tomato pico and lime, offer the only hint at Wildfish's Southwest location.
In addition to its appetizers and entrées, the menu at Wildfish also features "Wild Plates" that can serve as an intermediate course. There's chopped salad with Jonah crab and Gulf shrimp, and butter clams with garlic, herb and Parmesan crumbs, among others.
Carver relies occasionally on farmed product, such as shrimp when wild shrimp is difficult to source, and farmed salmon when wild is not in season. Carver makes every effort to introduce guests to sustainable species.
"Our goal at Wildfish is to give the dining public some choices in high-end, prime seafood," he says. "There's not many restaurants in the area doing this kind of thing, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive."
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia