A sea change is afoot in L.A. restaurants as local chefs extend the farm-to-table ethos to their seafood.
Riding the current is Michael Cimarusti, chef of Michelin-starred West Hollywood restaurant Providence, which opened in 2005.
Cimarusti, whose eatery was named the best restaurant in the city by Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold the past four years, in 2015 enrolled Providence in a pilot program of the West Coast version of Dock to Dish, a monthly subscription service that originated several years ago in Montauk, N.Y., to deliver weekly boxes of fish caught by local fishermen. The local version sources fish from the Southern California coast to member restaurants.
Cimarusti liked the program so much that he sold fish from Dock to Dish, as well as other places, when he opened a West Hollywood seafood retail store, Cape Seafood and Provisions, in March.
He acquired the West Coast branch of Dock to Dish in November and now supplies locally caught fish to a couple of dozen local restaurants.
“I think it’s important that we in the industry pay attention to the sourcing of all our ingredients,” said Cimarusti, 47. “Fish is one of the most important. Wild fish need to be protected. The ocean needs to be protected.”
Sarah Rathbone, who started the West Coast version of Dock to Dish in 2015 and sold it to Cimarusti, was hired as the fish forager for Cape and is continuing to help Dock to Dish’s founder, fisherman and restauranteur Sean Barrett, expand internationally. She said the program aims to restore the balance in the underwater ecosystem that large-scale fishing operations have disrupted by depleting wild fish stock and taking in types of ocean life they can’t use, such as dolphins.
“It’s going back to the way things used to be, when you got whatever fish was caught,” said Rathbone, 32.
Between 25 to 30 fishermen supply Dock to Dish’s seafood, which is delivered to its subscribers within 48 hours of being caught.
Cimarusti has used his connections in the L.A. dining scene to bring in customers. Eight local restaurants, including Otium downtown and Union in Pasadena, have subscriptions, paying $2,200 a month for 50 pounds of seasonal seafood or $3,300 a month for 75 pounds.
Marie Petulla, owner of Union, said that Dock to Dish represents a change in the industry.
“I think the ‘farm-to-table’ buzzword has fallen off,” said Petulla. “Sustainable is more like what chefs are doing to challenge themselves.”
The challenge includes adapting the menu based on what happens to be caught that week, which recently included vermillion rockfish and black cod.
Because not all restaurants are able to adapt to the subscription model, Dock to Dish launched a wholesale program that has 15 to 20 weekly customers.
Cimarusti thinks that number will grow gradually.
“Things like this usually start at white table-cloth restaurants like Providence,” he said. “They find their way through all levels of the business.”
– Caroline Anderson