IT reader and cookbook writer Pat Tanumihardja sent us a note singing the praises of San Francisco's sustainable sushi scene, so we asked her to share the details from her recent visit...
Eat seasonal! Buy organic! You’re preaching to the choir in San Francisco, where sustainable cuisine is no longer a buzzword but the word on the dining scene. Now there’s a new trend in town—sustainable sushi.
What is sustainable sushi anyway and why should we care? It's prepared with seafood coming from sources, caught or farmed, that can exist long-term without compromising the health of fish populations, habitats or the ecosystem. Unfortunately, the most beloved sushi items in the United States—long-line tuna, farmed salmon, farmed freshwater eel (unagi), farmed imported shrimp, and farmed Japanese amberjack tuna (hamachi)—aren’t sustainable.
So what’s an eco-conscious sushi lover to do? Enter Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar. The forward-thinking restaurant opened last April in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco and touts itself as the world’s pioneer in serving sustainable sushi. I recently paid a visit to explore my options.
The postage-stamp-sized restaurant sat about a dozen customers at handcrafted bamboo tables. Once our order was taken, the first dish arrived quickly. The kampachi tataki comprised lightly seared slices of Hawaiian almaco jack (a type of amberjack) served with avocado slices, jalapeños and dribbled with a spicy ponzu sauce. The 49er roll came next, comprising the rose-peach flesh of arctic char—an ocean-friendly substitute for farmed Atlantic salmon, and just as tasty— served with tobiko (flying-fish roe), avocado, and lemon slices. Then the tataki roll arrived. Draped with Technicolor flaps of almaco jack, skipjack, local albacore, and hand-line yellowfin (maguro), the roll was finished off with generous sprinklings of masago, each artful pile different from the next - wasabi, soy, yuzu, and traditional masago.
Two nigiri specials quickly followed—wild Alaskan salmon sprinkled with sea salt and farmed hotate, milky-white Hokkaido scallops that melted like butter in my mouth (these are now a regular menu item).
The kicker had to be the extinguisher roll. After the flaming mound of rum-soaked salt crystals on the plate were extinguished, we bit into spicy amberjack (sustainable, of course) rolled into vinegary rice and topped with chunks of avocado, blobs of spicy mayonnaise, and a shower of habañero tobiko.
I was curious to see frozen imported fish on Tataki’s menu, so I asked Casson Trenor, Tataki's sustainability advisor and director of business development at FishWise. He acknowledges that eating local is an integral part of sustainability, but says it isn't the only consideration. At this point, the local supply of sustainable fish just can’t keep up with the restaurant’s needs. Ultimately, supporting a sustainable source on the other side of the world is a better option than supporting a local source that is not sustainable. It influences the market. As the market shifts, more people closer to home are adopting better practices. Tataki’s suppliers will continue to evolve accordingly.
In fact, there are rumblings that similar restaurants in Portland, Oregon and Washington State are opening up, and many restaurants like London sushi chain Moshi Moshi have removed the endangered bluefin tuna (of toro or tuna belly fame) from its menus.
At the end of our meal, I didn’t miss the farmed salmon or unagi one bit. The seafood was fresh, the preparations innovative, and the prices reasonable. Being an eco-conscious sushi connoisseur was easier than I thought!
Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar: 2815 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94115; +1 415 931 1182
Photo: Pat Tanumihardja
For more about the magnificent wild bluefin tuna and why it matters, read National Geographic Magazine's cover story on global fisheries from April 2007. See also the "Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood" from the Blue Ocean Institute, which tells you what's endangered and what's not.