Sustainable Seafood is Catching on with Chefs, Consumers

May 2, 2007
Section: Bay Area Living Food
Chrissa Ventrelle

A JUMBLED Rubik's Cube feels less daunting than this whole sustainable seafood conundrum. A friend remarked that she rarely eats seafood anymore because of confusion over the related environmental and health issues. Thankfully, a number of restaurants and aquatic organizations are going the extra nautical mile to help consumers snuff out choices that meet the criteria of "ocean friendly" — seafood that is abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.

Among them is a new Italian restaurant in West Berkeley called Riva Cucina. Opened last weekend, Riva Cucina offers an Emilia-Romagna inspired menu. It is the first U.S. restaurant for the husband and wife team of Massi and Jennifer Boldrini. Although the restaurant offers plenty of terra firma dishes such as butternut squash ravioli (a specialty of Massi's hometown of Ferrara) and a roasted lamb panini, the Boldrinis have done their due diligence about their catch of the day."Choosing sustainable seafood requires keeping informed all the time," says chef Massi. Before selecting his seafood vendors, he sought advice from the folks at Fish, the popular sustainable seafood restaurant in Sausalito. "You have to consider where and how the fish is caught and the seasonality of it," he says. "You need people to advise you about sustainability and to suggest acceptable substitutes when needed."Massi grew up in the business. His father, a chef in Bologna, is in Berkeley to help with the opening. After training and working in Italy, Massi most recently worked with a handful of Napa wineries, offering catering services, kitchen management, and culinary classes. Now he's excited about getting back in uniform and on the front line."I'm going to be busy in the kitchen, getting to do things how I want to do them," he says. Jennifer will manage the front of the house, which offers 30 seats inside and 38 outside in the "piazza." For faster service, customers order at the counter, but food is delivered to the table.-Riva Cucina, 800 Heinz Ave., No. 19, Berkeley, 510-841-7482, http://www.rivacucina.com.Celebrate conservation: The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program is one group working to educate restaurants about sustainable seafood. It also helps consumers make ocean-friendly choices. Ken Peterson, communications director at Monterey Bay Aquarium, says that people want to do the right thing about seafood consumption, but they aren't always sure how.Cooking for Solutions on May 18-19 at the aquarium offers a chance to sneak in a bit of education about this issue under the guise of a good time. The weekend is packed with events. On Friday night, more than 50 restaurants and 40 wineries will set up sustainable food and wine stations throughout the aquarium for an expected 1,300 guests to sample. On Saturday, look for the Sustainable Seafood Challenge, where four chefs will compete Iron Chef-style to prepare ocean-friendly dishes.Seafood Watch also offers a free sustainable seafood pocket guide for consumers (see its Web site for details) that delineates "best choices," good alternatives," and seafood to "avoid." On the West Coast, for example, Dungeness crab and striped bass are two of 30 solid options, while Chilean sea bass and monkfish should be avoided.-Monterey Bay Aquarium Cooking for Solutions, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, http://www.montereybayaquarium.com or http://www.seafoodwatch.org,, for tickets and reservations call (866) 963-9644.Go wild: Environmental justice group Earthjustice has an entirely different tactic to get federal protection for dwindling wild salmon habitats in the Pacific Northwest. They've gathered 200 signatures from top-notch chefs, including Alice Waters and 50 Bay Area chefs, urging Congress to protect the Klamath and Columbia rivers. Chefs will also convene in Washington D.C. this month to bring attention to the declining wild salmon population.Earthjustice is also calling on consumers to "vote with their fork" and eat more wild salmon. They say that wild salmon is not vanishing because of overconsumption, but because of water diversion programs that have wreaked havoc on coastal salmon habitats. http://www.earthjustice.org.And pooches too: Vally Medlyn's, one of Danville's oldest hangouts, reopened last month with new owners and a major facelift. The dated motif has been replaced with a cleaned up, but still casual feel. The dining room is completely new and the kitchen is also spiffed up — right down to a new soda machine and cappuccino maker.Manager-waiter Zachary Cortlandt, the owner's son, says the space is more chic, a look he describes as "down to earth trendy" and "very Danville-ish." The menu is similar to the old one with a few more healthful options (no trans fats) and a kitchen ready to accommodate any substitutions. Customers can design their own omelets or sandwiches.The patio also welcomes pooches, with water and treats available. The new owners previously operated The Copper Skillet in Walnut Creek, where Black Bear Diner opened this spring.-The Copper Skillet. Vally Medlyn's, 330 Hartz Ave., Danville, 925-552-6449.Reach East Bay food writer Chrissa Ventrelle at cventrel@hotmail.com.