While snappy terms such as "farm to table" have gone from trendy to passé due to misappropriation and overuse, the locovore movement remains relevant. Personally, I find comfort in the simplicity of knowing where my food came from (and how it was raised), and as a proud San Diego resident, I enjoy the option to support local agriculture and industry.
1654 India Street, Little Italy
So when I heard Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar was hosting a Dockside Dinner event highlighting local fishermen and their seafood, I bit. Whether dining out or shopping to cook at home, few concepts prove as mystifying as what constitutes local or sustainable seafood. Despite a spendy, $75 price tag, I saw the five-course dinner as an opportunity to gain a better understanding about San Diego's fishing industry, while enjoying fresh, excellently prepared seafood.
Chef Mike Reidy set up the Dockside Dinner. After cooking at high profile restaurants on the L.A. coast, the Poway native returned to San Diego to take charge of Ironside last summer as its chef de cuisine.
He estimates 80 percent of the seafood served at Ironside is locally sourced, partly the result of his routine visits the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, where he's developed relationships with local fishermen who sell their wares there each Saturday. The name of their boats or businesses might appear on the menu.
Several were in attendance this night, engaging diners and speaking about the seafood they provided. The gregarious Peter Halmay, of SD Uni Divers, has been diving for sea urchin since the early 70s. He brought some along for the first course, displaying the sort of hook he and his son Luke use to harvest the spiky creatures from offshore kelp beds 52 weeks a year.
Their uni was paired with crab provided by Martin Katslunger and his daughter Jordyn, of the fishing vessel Renee Marie, which also fishes for lobster, sea bass, halibut, and shark. The cold dish featured avocado, edible flowers, and small cubes of green apple.
A yellowtail crudo was dressed with slices of yuzu and cara cara orange, lying in a pool of pumpkin seed oil. The yellowtail was furnished by Kelly Fukushima, whose Three Boys boat uses traps, nets, hooks, and harpoons to catch the likes of swordfish, opah, and shark.
My favorite dish proved to be a seared halibut, served in cauliflower froth, heirloom spinach, and thin slices of a funky citrus fruit called buddha's hand. The 20 pound halibut was line caught by John Law on his boat, Wild West. I found myself seated beside Law, and it was a rare treat hearing about how he caught the fish by dropping a line, as he likes to do, in between checking crab or lobster traps. He also fishes rockfish, black cod, and the occasional octopus, which are likely to turn up as daily specials at local restaurants.
879 W. Harbor Drive, Downtown San Diego
Reidy hopes to make the Dockside Dinner a quarterly event at Ironside, and the chance to hear sea stories from fishing folk really does make you feel more connected to the food you eat. In the meantime, anyone interested in learning more about local fish can always hit the Tuna Harbor market. Every Saturday from 8am-1pm, the same people who catch our fish, sell it directly to the public, fresh off the boat.