SANTA MONICA SEAFOOD
1000 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Neighborhood: Santa Monica
(310) 393-5244
www.santamonicaseafood.com

After my office relocated to Santa Monica last year, I vowed to investigate new places to shop for groceries -- and seafood is something that I prize not only quality and freshness -- but provenance above all else. Preferably I'd like to speak to the fisherman, but a monger who can speak knowledgeably about the waters, and characteristics of the fish is good too. I cook by the rule "If it smells like fish, it ain't a dish" at least not one that I'm cooking.

True, I adore pickled herring, but that is preserved fish -- never to be confused with fresh fish. Today my schedule cleared as two meetings cancelled back to back so I grabbed my shopping bag and headed to Santa Monica Seafood. It was just before the lunch rush so I easily found a parking spot behind their store/restaurant. I was happy to find it spotlessly clean and pleasingly laid out with the large fish and prepared food counter in the middle and the restaurant close to the shopping action, but not right in the fray.

Being a lone diner, I was happy to be seated at the oyster bar and peruse the lunch menu. A couple to my right was slurping oysters on the half shell and washing them down with frosty beers. Wow! My kinda people! But I was back to the office soon so I couldn't just say "I'll have what they're having". I also noted with surprise that the prices weren't lower because we were dining in a fish market. That seemed to be a no-brainer for me. Eliminate the middle man and give the customer a break. I really wanted those oysters, but at $3.50 to $4.00 each, I would be racking up approximately $48 for a dozen (which I could EASILY eat) and even just a chaste 6 would set me back $24. Not very alluring even though we're talking oysters here.

I asked the waiter what soup he recommended. He suggested the Fish Chowder. It was fine, but not particularly memorable. A bit of corn, some bits of potato and what appeared to be haddock chunks in a light tomato broth. Certainly something I make better at home.

Next I had the Alaskan Cod Fish & Chips. It was fine as well - typical of diners and pubs all over the world - but not worth $15. I'm doing some quick math and if there was $0.50 worth of potatoes on my plate, that means there was over $14 of cod in 2 fillets? I could get on board with the price if the batter was some crazy height of pillowy crunchiness, or the sauces arrived in a flight of exotic flavors that blew my mind. But my simple cup of fish soup and F&C was $21 including my iced tea before tax and tip. If I was relaxing at a more upscale dining destination, I'd expect to pay that price. But not for sitting at an oyster bar.

So it's not going to be my go-to dining destination, but let's talk about the shopping. A nice selection of fish, both prepared and whole - but again, quite pricy overall. I asked the gentleman at the counter about his suggestions for sustainable fish and he was unprepared for the question. This was disappointing because their website aligns them with The Monterey Bay Aquarium and calls themselves at the "cutting edge of sustainability".

Sustainability isn't a joke and that isn't a marketing term. Shame on you Santa Monica Seafood for not better preparing your staff to take that endeavor seriously.

Overall, I hope to be back to purchase large portions of sustainable fish and process them myself into pleasing dinners at home - no need to pay a premium for my shrimp to be pre-cooked or fish cakes pre-made. Both of those preparations take mere minutes. But I can honestly see that their demographic are wealthy individuals who don't cook seafood and are willing to pay a premium for someone to do it for them.

Ivy

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