Have you noticed something fishy going on around Los Angeles? Have you noticed that seafood restaurants are proliferating like so many tadpoles, that the fish and shellfish sections of a lot of menus are longer than the lists of meat and fowl, that the daily specials at many of our best French, Italian and American establishments tend to be almost entirely based on creatures of the briny deep?
This fish story is nothing new, of course: Industry analysts have been recording a huge increase in American seafood consumption for at least half a dozen years. But I recently came across a magazine article that might help explain why Los Angeles seems particularly blessed with our finny friends: According to the fall, 1986, issue of Seafood Leader, one of my favorite food-business trade publications, Los Angeles is the No. 1 seafood market in the country. New York's venerable Fulton Fish Market does about $775 million a year in business, the magazine reports, while L.A.'s version rings up almost $1.5 billion .
Some other statistics revealed by Seafood Leader: An estimated $100 million annual growth in the local industry is expected over the next 10-year period; the average age of firms selling seafood in the L.A. market is 24 years, and some 90% of all the fish and shellfish consumed in California is imported from other states or countries. And despite the ready availability of fresh fish and shellfish in many local restaurants, only 31% of all the seafood sold here really is fresh. Another 56% is frozen (more than half of that frozen shrimp), 6% canned, 6% cured and 1% dried. (Think about that for a minute: Almost everybody claims the fish they serve is fresh these days--even chain restaurants much of the time. Who's eating that 56% of frozen stuff?)
Roger Fitzgerald, who wrote the Seafood Leader piece, interviewed a number of L.A. seafood-business veterans, incidentally. The most touching story he relates was told by 84-year-old Louie Vitale, president of Los Angeles Smoking & Curing Co. (LASCO): When his partner, Frank Tarentino, was dying of cancer in the 1940s, Vitale visited him at the hospital. "Anything you want to say?" Vitale asked. Tarentino motioned him closer and said, "Louie, I haven't smoked in 12 days, and I don't even miss them . . . but I miss the feel of fish."
PARIS NEWS: The rentree , the annual post-summer "re-entry" of Parisians into their great capital, has brought the usual ration of restaurant changes this year: The two-star L'Ambroisie, run by chef Bernard Pacaud (formerly in charge of the kitchen at the then-three-star Vivarois), has vacated its tiny quarters along the Seine in the 5th arrondissement to move into a luxurious new home on the exquisite Place des Vosges. . . . Arpege is new and promising on the site of the old L'Archestrate on the rue de Varennes, serving onion/parsley soup with caviar, sweetbreads with chanterelles and chestnuts, and a sweet stuffed tomato dessert, among other inspirations. . . . Chef Francois Clerc, of the highly rated La Vieille Fontaine in the Paris suburb of Maisons-Laffitte, has opened Toque et Croque in the Les Halles quarter, serving gourmet fast food--duck sausage with leeks, roast monkfish with Provencal herbs, etc.--on big slabs of toast, at about $3 to $6 per portion. (You'll be in and out in 30 minutes, he promises). . . . Guy Savoy, Michel Pasquet, Le Dome, and Le Manoir de Paris are among the noted Paris restaurants that have remodeled this season.
THE RESTAURANT GAME: Following up my recent report on the future of Scratch in Santa Monica--its owners will replace it with a hotel-and-restaurant combination and open a new Scratch elsewhere--it can now be revealed that the elsewhere in question will be that long wooden thing sticking out into Santa Monica Bay. Scratch on the Pier, as the new place will be called, is slated for a spring opening. . . . Ambrosia, which was popular for more than a decade in Newport Beach but lost its footing following a move to Costa Mesa in 1983 and subsequently closed down, has opened again in a new location--Costa Mesa's Imperial Bank Tower--under new management. . . . The curtain has gone up on Otto Rothschild's Bar & Grill, named for the late entertainment-business photographer whose works are on display at the establishment, formerly the Hungry Tuger, at the Music Center. . . . Lew's Restaurant in the Burbank Airport Hilton offers a $12.95 candlelight buffet dinner every Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., and a series of internationally themed brunches every Sunday. . . . And Colette, in Beverly Hills, is now serving high tea every day from 3 to 5 p.m. Cost is $10.50 per person.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF FOOD SERVICE: Ex-Yippie (and pre-yuppie) Jerry Rubin and his wife Mimi have announced plans to open a "networking" restaurant (i.e., one at which you meet and talk with other people; what a daring new restaurant concept!) in New York City, on the site of the former Sea Fare of the Aegean. Super-architect Michael Graves is reportedly going to design the place. . . . Meanwhile, another former long-hair, ex-Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, is planning to launch a 250-seat eating place in downtown Atlanta in partnership with his wife, actress Barbara Bach. Tentative name: The Brasserie. . . . The Gilbert-Robinson restaurant company, a W. R. Grace subsidiary that runs such older chains as Houlihan's Old Place and Cricket's (and a fledgling one called Fedora's, which is one of the better Spago clones around), is attempting to tap into what the food industry calls "the burgeoning Oriental and Far Eastern restaurant segment" (in other words, the Chinese/Japanese/Thai food craze). Their new project, which just opened in Kansas City (G-R's home base), is called Alice Wong's: A Pacific Cafe, and the menu includes such dishes as Thai shrimp toast, Chinese chicken salad, Sichuan dumplings and grilled Hawaiian prawns.
EVENTS:Chez Melange in Redondo Beach celebrates its fourth anniversary tonight with a five-course, $45 dinner, starting at 5:30. Guest chefs include Roy Yamaguchi (385 North), Evan Goldstein (Square One, San Francisco) and David Beckworth (Rio Grill, Monterey. . . . "Showboat Champagne Fest '86" takes place Tuesday at the Reuben E. Lee in Newport Beach, featuring champagne, cognac and Lee specialties for the benefit of the American Red Cross, Orange County Chapter. . . . Magdalena's in Bellflower holds a wine dinner featuring the wares of Iron Horse, also Tuesday. . . . And Bouzy Rouge in Newport Beach launches a five-day fifth anniversary celebration today, to benefit the community's Children's Dental Health Center.