The long wait, almost two hours, to finally get seated at a table at bustling Old Original Bookbinder's Restaurant recently in Philadelphia proved one of two things (or both): The place has maintained its popularity because of its historic ambiance, or there's a burgeoning craze for dining out on fish and seafood.
The first reason is not surprising. Since 1865, when Samuel Bookbinder established the restaurant by the dock and took advantage of just-caught fish from surrounding coasts, the freshness of its seafood has attracted sea captains, nearby diners and now tourists from all over as well as regulars.
The second reason is legitimate, positive and healthy. From coast to coast, Americans are getting more and more hooked on fish. Go to a Chinese seafood restaurant and you'll find not only Chinese locals but Americans ordering a platter of clams or whole fish. And, of course, the same story goes for soaring sushi bars.
Recent surveys indicate that fish has topped red meats and poultry in the total volume of food served in restaurants. The Hungry Tiger, for instance, serves a volume of 40,000 pounds of fresh seafood per week in its 18 restaurants in Southern California. Quite an enormous amount for a restaurant noted for serving steaks as well as affordable seafood.
Indeed, everyone is taking fish more seriously nowadays . . . now that medical sleuths are proving that Eskimos and Japanese who eat large amounts of fish have low mortality rates from heart disease. A recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine described a 20-year study which tracked 872 men between ages 40 and 59 in the Netherlands. The Dutch researchers found that the mortality rate from coronary heart disease for those who consumed at least 30 grams (about one ounce) of fish per day was more than 50% lower than among those who ate no fish. The study concluded that "the consumption of as little as one or two fish dishes per week may be of preventive value in relation to coronary heart disease."
In another study, it was observed that fish and fish oils that contain omega-3 acids (a class of fatty acids whose first unsaturated bond occurs between the third and fourth carbon) can lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, the risk factors in heart disease. The omega-3s are present in the highest levels in cold-water fish, being a sort of natural antifreeze that won't harden even at extremely low temperatures. Fattier fish contains more omega-3s, and heading the list are salmon (canned and fresh), Atlantic mackerel, American eel, sablefish, Atlantic herring, Norwegian sardines, rainbow trout, whitefish, Pacific oyster and squid.
Another reason for choosing fish when eating out is that the average consumer still does not cook as much fish at home. While other countries are eating most fish species found in their waters, the American fish buyer has to investigate each one first. However, a recent Better Homes and Gardens consumer survey concluded that 48.7% of consumers are serving more seafood than they were two years ago, 34.9% the same and 14.3% less.
Like the consumer, restaurateurs and fishmongers continue to study fish as more and more new species enter the market. "In supermarkets, where fish selling has been relegated to meat people, the educational process is needed to be able to impart better consumer information," said Larry Levine, education director of Lee and Associates Inc., the agency representing California Fisheries Assn. During the Los Angeles Sea Fare '85, held a few months ago, seafood buyers and restaurateurs were exposed to more seafood species, new products and more fish education seminars.
One of the speakers at the event was Odette Berry, owner-chef of Another Season, a fine seafood restaurant in Boston. Equipped with her restaurant experience and culinary background at London's Cordon Bleu and Maxim's Academy in Paris, Berry demonstrated some fish cooking techniques and innovative dishes in small-size servings for restaurant chefs. In stressing freshness and quality of the seafood dish, she said: "There's nothing more disheartening than finding food left on the plate. Be careful to buy fresh fish for customer satisfaction."
In giving a shopping tip to the home cook, Berry, who doesn't care for frozen fish, suggested, "If you're planning your shopping, let's say for three days or more, use the fish the first night for better quality."
Among her recipes, on the easy side is the Red Snapper garnished with Chinese pea pods. Ginger, a favorite seasoning with fish to remove fishy scents, makes a nice team with lime and cilantro in enhancing the fish flavor. Berry loves to use citrus with fish. "I love orange zest, but be careful to avoid the white part of the peel as it's bitter," she said.