I made a fascinating discovery this weekend in NYC. Visiting several fancy-pants food stores, I headed, of course, to the fish sections to see what’s what. We’re talking Eataly, Dean & Deluca, and Citarella. Here’s what I found:
At Eataly, the product was good, but not exemplary. Decent salmon, sole, sword, tuna, striper. The high point was the striper roe, which looked beautiful. Prices were high, but reasonable.
At Citarella, everything looked good, but again there was nothing special about the product. It was like seeing broccoli and cauliflower when what you want are Shanghai bok choy, hedgehog mushrooms, and golden beets. Prices were about 1/2 of what they are charging are Eataly.
At Dean & Deluca, the high points were beautiful Florida grouper–a nice, thick cut–and tuna, labeled just as tuna, when it was, in fact, albacore, which is nowhere near as wonderful as yellow fin or blue fin. Prices were good.
Here’s the point: In NYC, I think the chefs are using the best fish, the most expensive, fattiest stuff, the fish that sings with flavor. Ordinary consumers don’t have their access. It’s one reason why so many of the restaurants in NYC are so good: The chefs drop the bucks on products. They have to: The competition demands it, customers can taste the difference, their pride is noteworthy.
In contrast, in Boston, we have New Deal Fish: Here you find fish that is light years better than three of the fanciest fish purveyors in Manhattan. When I’m there, I have to limit myself to four meals as everything looks and tastes amazing. We’re talking hirame, toro, blue fin, striper, hiramasa, hamachi, salmon collar, gorgeous Portuguese sardines, etc.
In Boston, most chefs are not serving these cuts in as great a frequency as in Manhattan. The food costs too much; they serve fish of lesser quality that increases their profit. Most of them simply don’t care. The result? Consumers who know how to cook fish have access to astonishingly good product that is better than what’s served in most restaurants in Boston. Exceptions? Legal Sea Foods, Craigie on Main, Market, B & G Oyster, Island Creek, O Ya. (Two of these restaurants have their own private sources [Legal Sea Foods, Island Creek Oysters]; one is crazy-expensive [O Ya]; one costs an average of $100 per person, which is equal to eight meals of fish from New Deal at home; one is pitch perfect; and, one is not terribly expensive, but is mostly raw oysters.
Ironic, no? One city has great fish restaurants and ordinary markets. One city has a great fish market and ordinary restaurants.
Wait, I know, you could call this: A Tail of Two Cities!