Sustainable Seafood Served with Passion

Ocean-friendly tuna at Passionfish restaurant, Pacific Grove, California

Chef Ted Walter and his wife Cindy are passionate about healthy, flavorful food without jeopardizing the environment—land or sea. Together, they created Passionfish, a Pacific Grove, Calif., restaurant that serves fresh, innovative cuisine with a focus on sustainable seafood and organic produce.

To accomplish this, the Walters shop local farmer’s markets for pesticide-free fruits and veggies. They also go to great lengths to buy seafood that’s harvested in a manner that does not deplete fish populations, doesn’t harm ocean habitats (including the water or the ocean floor), and doesn’t result in by-catch of the ocean’s endangered turtles or other marine species.

Seventy percent of all seafood consumed in the United States is served in restaurants. That statistic inspires the Walters to be good ocean and river stewards and to serve only sustainable seafood. At Passionfish, you can dine well knowing that you’ll find no over-fished or threatened fish on the menu.

Portrait of the Perfect Eco-Meal

With an unpretentious and relaxed atmosphere, Passionfish is perfect for those who love food for flavor’s sake. And the prices are extremely reasonable, especially given the quality of the food and the creativity that goes into making it.

On my visit, the baked gorgonzola with golden chutney served on a bed of greens was divine. Who would think of pairing gorgonzola with curry chutney? A genius, that’s who! Chef Walter isn’t just an ocean crusader—he’s a wizard in the kitchen.

The sea scallops served with tomato truffle butter and risotto were inspired and subtle. I found the scallops cooked just right—not overdone and dry, but not gooey either. (Full disclosure: I can’t resist truffles, so this dish goes down in my book as an entrée of a lifetime!)

Those who do not care for seafood should not shun Passionfish. A Lemongrass Chicken with Coconut Rice dish on the evening’s menu was absolutely brilliant, made with free-range organic chicken.

Chef Walter harvests Monterey Bay prawns.

Last but not least, Passionfish’s desserts are truly the way to top off a sublime sustainable meal. The Chocolate Truffle Torte (the other truffle—also a favorite of mine) was to die for. I visited during strawberry season, and the organic strawberries in cabernet syrup served over vanilla ice cream exploded with flavor.

Located just a mile or so from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which champions ocean conservation, you can’t do better than to enjoy an eco-guilt-free dinner at Passionfish.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For more on the Seafood Watch program, read my post on the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and the Local Ocean Seafood restaurant in Newport, Oregon.

Photos courtesy Passionfish

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Saving Oceans One Fish at a Time

The jellyfish tanks are a highlight at the ocean-friendly Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

For California vacationers, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the place to see exotic fish and sea creatures. However, the Aquarium is also dedicated to educating people about environmental issues that threaten ocean creatures. And its Seafood Watch program helps the seafood-loving consumers make wise seafood choices.

Among the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s highlights are the Kelp Forest exhibit, playful sea otters, giant tunas and barracudas (go at lunchtime to witness a feeding frenzy!), and the mysterious giant octopus whose tentacles move more gracefully than ballerinas. Also worth checking out are cute black-footed penguins, jellyfish that drift in the currents, and the Touching Pool, where you can place your hands in the water and brush your fingertips over the silky wings of stingrays gliding around the tank.

My favorite octopus, Monterey Bay Aquarium

These incredible marine life forms are so diverse and enthralling that it’s inconceivable to think of them disappearing. So it’s encouraging that the Aquarium teaches about ocean conservation.

Every year, 80,000 school children visit and learn about why they shouldn’t eat swordfish (the fishing lines entangle endangered sea turtles) or Atlantic cod (it’s dangerously overfished). The kids take home a handy Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, which lists the best and least sustainable choices of seafood at supermarkets and restaurants.

Watching Out for Oceans

The Monterey Bay Aquarium raises and explains issues pertaining to choosing and eating fish:

Overfishing: Fish such as orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna are threatened due to over-zealous fishing. Seafood Watch estimates that more than 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fished to capacity or overfished.

Farmed vs. wild-caught: Some aquaculture methods, including salmon farming, produce concentrated fecal waste that pollutes surrounding waters.

Method of fishing: If fish is caught wild, methods such as trawl nets, dredging and traps kill other species. The most famous example was dolphins being caught in tuna nets.

Human health: Toxic mercury content of seafood is a disturbing health problem, although fortunately some fish contain less mercury than others. (Swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel are especially high in mercury and should be avoided.)

Fortunately, according to Seafood Watch, we can make a difference by supporting fisheries and fish farms that are better for the environment, while passing on others that aren’t doing as well.

The Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay Aquarium

SeafoodWatch.org has a downloadable seafood guide listing fish according to their level of endangerment. You can also download a smart phone app that brings you up-to-date recommendations for restaurants and markets that serve ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.

Cooking for Solutions

Love to eat seafood? Cooking for Solutions—a celebration of fine food and wine produced in ways that preserve the health of the soil, water and ocean—is held each May at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. The 2013 event, May 17–19, features celebrity chefs John Ash and Cindy Pawlcyn.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read my next post about Passionfish, a sustainable seafood restaurant near the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

Photos courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium

California Surfing on a Ventura Beach

When I told my husband that I was planning to take a surf lesson while on a press trip to Ventura, Calif., he stared at me as if I had been snatched by Martians. He weighed his words carefully: “How unlike you.” He really meant: “Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?”

Yes, surfing seems high on the athletic adventure scale—more the purview of well-muscled beach boys than wimpy, flabby writerly types. But I love the ocean, and I couldn’t think of anything more representative of the Ventura experience than to get on a board.

Professional surfer Mary Osborne gives private lessons and runs surf camps in Ventura, Calif. Photo courtesy Patagonia

Besides, I had low expectations. I pictured lying tummy-down on the board and flailing through a few swells.

Surfing Surprises

My instructor was Mary Osborne, a champion longboarder and tandem surfer who grew up on the beaches of Ventura. She’s a petite blonde who does surf modeling and won MTV’s “Surf Girls.” And she’s devoted to teaching women and kids to surf. She runs surf camps for people of all ages, sizes and abilities.

Mary is also the co-author of Sister Surfer: A Woman’s Guide to Surfing with Bliss and Courage (Lyons Press: 2005). It’s a how-to book that guides women through the process of learning to surf and covers everything from conquering fear to waxing a board.

The first step to learning to surf is practicing on the sand with Mary giving pointers.

First surprise: Mary explained to me and the other journalist who was taking a lesson that she was going to show us the new craze: stand-up paddling. In this sport, the surfer stands on a larger, wider surfboard and paddles to catch a wave. I’d never heard of stand-up paddling, but Mary assures us it will be an Olympic event someday.

Second surprise: As we women stood in the parking lot wriggling into cold, clammy, skin-tight wetsuits, I realized there’s a pretty un-glamorous side to surfing. If you’re going to surf much, you get used to changing clothes in public!

Then Mary pulled a board out of her pickup and balanced it atop her head with the posture of a ballet dancer. Once on the sand—we were at Surfer Point by Ventura Pier—she demonstrated how to lie on the board and bring yourself to standing. It starts like the Upward Dog pose in yoga and then you kick a leg back into a lunge and bring yourself erect. Hello core muscles!!

Practicing in the ocean

After we’d practiced that move on land, Mary demonstrated stand-up paddling on the water. She made it look easy, bouncing right up on the board to a standing position. As the board skimmed along the surface, she looked like she was walking on water while “sweeping” the ocean surface with a broom-like paddle.

I couldn’t imagine being able to achieve a vertical posture. Yet, I followed Mary into the ocean, and with her patient coaching, I hand-paddled myself while lying on the board (super fun as you glide over the swells!) and then managed to stand on my knees and cautiously paddled. It’s a real lesson in balance.

Ultimately, Mary convinced me I could even stand up on the board. I gave it my best shot—twice—but always plummeted into the sea when I got semi-erect. But here’s the thing: it was fun! Even falling was okay—sort of goofy as you flop unceremoniously into the water—although getting back on the board in deep water was challenging for me.

So, I had a blast trying to surf, and honestly, I can see how with an instructor like Mary and some practice, pretty much anybody could get the hang of surfing…and soon be hanging ten!

Save the Oceans

There’s an ecological angle to my surf lesson: Mary Osborne is just one of the many pro surfers who are becoming ocean ambassadors by helping the public become aware of the importance of preserving and protecting oceans and beaches. (One of Mary’s sponsors is outdoor gear company Patagonia, a leader in corporate sustainability.)

Surfer Mary Osborne is also passionate about preserving beaches. Photo by Ellen Barnes

Mary and other surfers know firsthand about polluted, contaminated oceans. They wade through debris that washes up on shorelines daily. And, shockingly, many surfers are infected with potentially life-threatening staph infections from the water. Storm and sewage runoff washes harmful bacteria right into the water for a brew that’s toxic to both humans and ocean animals.

(For more about preserving beaches and fighting runoff pollution, visit the nonprofit organization Surfrider.)

In addition, Mary is currently on a plastic-pollution research trip run by The 5 Gyres Institute to help raise awareness of the problem. Along with a team of researchers, she and fellow professional surfer, James Pribram, are sailing from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa, to explore the Atlantic plastic “gyre”: a rotating system of ocean currents where floating debris accumulates. This plastic garbage patch harms marine wildlife and potentially threatens human health. See the 5 Gyres blog for updates on the voyage of the research ship, “The Sea Dragon.”

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and ocean lover

P.S. I’m dying to hear about an un-characteristic adventure you’ve taken, dear reader. Tell me about it in a comment below…

The SideCar Restaurant: Where SoCal’s History Mixes with Organic, Locavore Cuisine

Stepping into The SideCar Restaurant in Ventura, Calif., I knew I was going to love every bite. How could I have a bad meal in a restaurant housed within a historic 1910 Pullman dining car with old-fashioned arched train windows, classy white tablecloths, and mini-chandeliers?

The SideCar restaurant in Ventura, Calif., serves local, seasonal cuisine in a 1910 Pullman train car.

I could just feel the glory days of old Hollywood at this restaurant. In the Thirties and Forties, movie stars who were invited to lavish parties at the Hearst Castle (farther north) drove up the coast and stopped for a nice meal at The SideCar.

Grilled Cheese Night and Jazz

I was lucky enough to dine at The SideCar on Tuesday, which is Grilled Cheese Night featuring live jazz. Really, any evening at The SideCar is perfect, thanks to Chef Tim Kilcoyne’s inventive and farm-driven gourmet menu that features Ventura’s local, seasonal, sustainable and organic produce. But Tuesday and Thursday’s Burger & Martini Night light up midweek evenings.

On Tuesday night, the place was packed with a comfortable mix of older and younger clientele—all bobbing their heads to the Gil Valencia Trio jazz combo. When a guest vocalist launched into “It Had to Be You” I was hooked!

Now, grilled cheese sounds a bit mundane, but Chef Kilcoyne’s menu in mid-October included not just traditional cheddar cheese but lavish “specialty” grills such as:

Tuesday is Grilled Cheese and Jazz Night at The SideCar.

  • Triple-cream brie with roast turkey and fig-honey jam (made with figs from the restaurant’s fig tree!)
  • Herb havarti, blue cheese, red onion, oven-roasted tomato spread, and roasted garlic
  • Goat cheese and apple-walnut relish

All the sandwiches are served with scrumptious creamy tomato-basil soup.

As I enjoyed both soup and sandwich, I toasted my first dolphin sighting (see “Wild Dolphins Ahoy”) with a Ventura Lemonade, a tasty concoction of  Ventura Limoncello (created from Ventura-county lemons including those from the organic Limoneira farm), Meyer lemon-infused vodka, fresh lemonade, and homegrown mint served over ice. It was refreshing, and I could taste the California sunshine in the fruit and mint.

Sophisticated Menu

My friends and I didn’t stop with grilled cheese. We ordered salads, entrees and desserts from the menu, which lists in-season foods and the regional farms that supplied the evening’s fresh flavors. We passed dishes around the table for all to sample.

SideCar cocktail: the organic Ventura Lemonade, plus a dolphin magnet (in honor of seeing my first wild dolphins).

The pepper-crusted filet mignon with Yukon Gold mashes potatoes and creamed Swiss chard was outstanding. Even a side order of sweet-potato fries with roasted garlic aioli was a special treat.

And for dessert, our group couldn’t decide whether the pumpkin tiramisu or the blackberry crisp was more divine.

Oh yes, did I mention the wine list consisted only of California wines, many of them made with organic grapes? You can do this sort of thing in California, where fine wine abounds within just a hundred miles of any part of the state.

What’s Cooking at Your Thanksgiving?

If your tastebuds are tingling from reading this blog post, tell me what you’re cooking for Thanksgiving this year. (Leave a comment below.) I’m certainly thankful for the organic bounty of local family farms!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor