AVILA BEACH, Calif. — Seafood lovers came to this coastal community recently to experience four hours of heaven--heaven meaning the opportunity to eat their fill of such luxury dishes as crab thermidor, lobster Newburg, oysters Rockefeller, shrimp, smoked salmon and sushi. An equally generous pouring of California wines made the event even more celestial.
The tasting was sponsored by the Olde Port Inn, a restaurant at the end of the Port San Luis Pier. Seafood wholesalers and wine makers contributed their wares; chefs came from Southern California to cook, and the host restaurant provided a variety of its specialties.
Although consumption was conspicuous, it was not the only reason for the event. Another goal was to raise funds for the San Luis Obispo County YMCA. According to Charles Richards, YMCA general director, proceeds will be used to purchase equipment for adaptive gymnastics and movement education programs for physically and developmentally disabled children.
The sellout crowd paid $60 to attend a tasting that was not only lavish but informative. At one table, the National Marine Fisheries Service offered samples of fish prepared by a Japanese process that softens the bones to make them as tender and edible as the meat.
The process, which employs pressure and heat, permits use of more of the fish. And the nutritional content is higher, said Susumo Kato, research biologist at the Tiburon Laboratory of the Southwest Fisheries Center, National Marine Fisheries Service.
Kato exhibited a chart that showed the presence of 400 milligrams of calcium in 100 grams of processed, bone-in triggerfish (a bony fish abundant around Japan). "With fillets, you don't even talk about calcium," he said.
The fisheries service is investigating the application of the Japanese procedure to fish from American waters, Kato said. An additional advantage is that small fish not now used for food can be turned into a palatable product, he added.
The bones were not detectable in the breaded portions of processed triggerfish, imported frozen from Japan, that were fried and served at the tasting.
Dungeness crab thermidor was among dishes presented by the W.R. Merry Co., a seafood wholesaler and distributor based in Los Angeles. The plentiful supply of Dungeness expected this season did not materialize, said Bill Merry, company president.
"We don't know all the reasons. The crabs just weren't there," Merry said. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Dungeness season extends from Dec. 1 to July l5 north of Sonoma County and from the second Tuesday in November through June 30 from Sonoma County south.
Merry prepared a family recipe for thermidor, simmering the crab meat with mushrooms, onion and parsley in a rich cream sauce seasoned with Sherry, Worcestershire sauce and dry and prepared mustards.
The trendiest food was put out by Michael Kang, chef at Five Feet restaurant in Laguna Beach. Kang crossed Cajun with Asian to produce blackened sashimi and deep fried whole Louisiana catfish coated with sweet sour citrus sauce and crowned with shredded greenery.
For the sashimi, Kang rolled chunks of Hawaiian ahi in a mixture of black, white, cayenne and Sichuan peppers and blackened them in a wok lightly coated with sesame oil. The blackening process cooked only the outer one-eighth inch of the fish, leaving the interior raw. Kang then composed an ornate display of sashimi, grapefruit and lemon slices decorated with daikon sprouts and raspberries. The accompanying sauce was composed of wasabi, soy sauce and wine vinegar. Kang's display was sponsored by Pacific American Fish Co.
Toshio Sato turned out more traditional Asian fare--sushi made with yellowfin tuna. Sato came from Azuma restaurant in Santa Barbara to represent Tsurugi Japanese restaurant of San Luis Obispo because Tsurugi did not have a sushi chef that night. The sparkling wines of Domaine Chandon and Shadow Creek poured to accompany the sushi were a departure from the sake, beer or green tea customarily imbibed at sushi bars.
Holly Sea Food presented lobster Newburg, sauteed shrimp and scallops prepared by Greg Jellum, assistant head chef at the Seafare Inn in Whittier. Jellum used 10 pounds of boiled lobster meat for the extravagant Newburg.
The Los Angeles Smoking & Curing Co. (LASCCO) stocked its table with smoked steelhead trout, kippered Alaska king salmon, cured Winnipeg whitefish and smoked California salmon. Ocean Sierra wholesale seafood distributor presented a variety of local and imported fish that had been grilled in an auxiliary kitchen trucked to the site by Lee Schlossberg of New West Catering Co. in Buellton.