Fishing for Quality
Despite being in a landlocked province, restaurants find ways to get the freshest seafood on their menus
When Adelino Oliveira first opened Sabor Divino in 2008, he brought with him the lessons and flair of the 14 years he spent in Portugal refining his culinary skills. This included serving seafood previously unheard of on menus in Edmonton, and serving them in unexpected ways.
“We used to serve whole fish when we first opened, including the head,” Oliveira recalls. “I got a few odd looks from people. But, over time, the Edmonton palate has become more open to different seafood ideas.”
As the Edmonton palate opens up, though, so too does the question of where these different types of fresh seafood are coming from – especially in a landlocked province and in a city where a major supplier, Billingsgate Seafood Market, closed its doors last year.
As Oliveira explains, it’s not hard for Edmonton restaurants to serve fresh seafood as long as you know where to look.
“A lot of fish that’s served in Portuguese dishes is actually considered unsustainable and is sometimes looked down on for being served,” Oliveira explains. “Through the distributors I work with, I’ve been able to make my menu 90 per cent sustainable.”
Illustration by Vikki Wiercinski
Those distributors include Albion in Calgary and Fin’s Seafood in Sherwood Park. Sabor Divino’s menu has been certified by Ocean Wise, a not-for-profit group based at the Vancouver Aquarium that not only helps restaurants and suppliers ensure that their seafood is sustainable, but also helps the environment. Oliveira points out that everything on Sabor Divino’s menu – from the Chilean sea bass to the wild Chinook salmon – is caught and sold legally, with the habitats in mind.
“Sustainability is definitely a concern that’s growing in demand in the market,” explains Troy Keetch, a sales representative with Fin’s Seafood. He says that the idea of Alberta not having fresh seafood available is strange because of how quickly distributors like Fin’s Seafood can deliver product.
“We deliver twice a day, six days a week. There are no extra delivery costs to anything. We can even deliver something the same day it’s been ordered,” Keetch continues. “We don’t have a lot of seafood sitting around for very long because our transportation methods are so efficient.”
He explains that, from the time fish are caught domestically in places like British Columbia and Nova Scotia, it takes two to three days for them to be delivered to the Fin’s Seafood warehouse, and three to four days for fish caught internationally in places like Fiji and Chile. The fish are usually flown to Edmonton and then transported in trucks with strict temperature controls. Keetch says the fish are tightly packed into Styrofoam crates with ice to keep them as cold as possible without freezing.
Japonais Bistro manager Isaac Choi echoes Oliveira’s sentiment about knowing where to look for good quality seafood. Choi’s 11 years of experience has not only given him a desire to find different ways of preparing Japanese cuisine, but also a bit of a sixth sense when it comes to fish quality, like all sushi chefs.
“I can go to a fish market and just look around and know exactly how old the fish is, what it’s going to taste like, and whether I’ll want to serve it or not,” Choi says.
After Japonais Bistro opened in 2013, Choi was shocked at how refined Edmontonians’ palates were. He noticed the customers coming through could tell the difference between different kinds of sea urchin and other seafood on Japonais Bistro’s menu. This helped push Choi to continually put a high level of care and attention into the more than 100 menu items.
“For example, you can tell how fresh our red snapper is just by looking at it,” Choi explains. “Fresh red snapper will be clear in colour with red flecks. When it’s not as fresh, the meat is white and the flecks turn brown. Our red snapper always has clear meat with red flecks.”
Oliveira and Choi both point out that price comes alongside quality. But the difference in their seafood quality is obvious to their regular diners.
“We pay more for our fish, but we get a better product,” Oliveira says. “There are times when I’m literally picking up the fish from the airport the day it lands. The difference in quality and taste when you work with fish that fresh makes a ton of difference.”