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Fish2Fork 'names and shames' restaurants


Is your sushi sustainable? (James M. Thresher/The Washington Post)

Name and shame. That's the goal of a new Web site that rates U.S. restaurants on the sustainability of their seafood.

Fish2Fork is the brainchild of Charles Clover, a British journalist and the force behind the powerful 2009 documentary, End of the Line. Part restaurant guide, part sustainability lesson, the site launched this week, scoring 50 high-profile restaurants in six cities between five red fish (the worst rating) and five blue fish (the best). New York sushi temple Bar Masa came in last place with a five red fish score; the Inn At Little Washington was granted a half red fish; the French Laundry received half a blue fish.

The site hopes to add another 100 restaurants by the end of February and offer a comprehensive guide soon.

"Environmental groups want to tell you the positive things. They want to show you how to do the right thing," Clover said in an interview at The Washington Post. "Showing what's wrong is the journalist's job. And it's the right thing to do."

Restaurants get points based on three categories: the answers provided to Fish2Fork's extensive survey; the information the restaurant presents to consumers; and the actual fish on its menu. What restaurants say is important, says Clover, especially on their Web sites, because that is the first place many people go before deciding where to eat. What they actually serve, of course, reflects whether policies are being implemented.

Sushi restaurants came in at the top and bottom of Fish2Fork's initial list. Among the worst were New York sushi restaurant 15 East, Yellowtail and Sushi Roku in Las Vegas, the Hump and Mori Sushi in Los Angeles and Uchi in Austin. But sustainable sushi restaurants Bamboo Sushi in Portland and Tataki in San Francisco received 4.5 and three blue fish, respectively.

Fish2Fork rated five restaurants in Washington. Blue Ridge scored best with four blue fish. (Though the site focuses on seafood restaurants, Blue Ridge was assessed because executive chef Barton Seaver is a vocal advocate of sustainability. Seaver accompanied Clover to the interview at the Post.) Hank's Oyster Bar received 2.5 blue fish (it mostly serves sustainable oysters and shellfish); Hook scored two blue fish and Legal Sea Foods got half a red fish. The Oceanaire Seafood Room scored worst with 2.5 red fish. Though the restaurant has a sustainability policy that "ticks all the right boxes," according to Clover, online reviews boast that the restaurant offers Dover sole and bluefin tuna, both sustainability no-nos.

Clover's hope is that bad publicity will inspire restaurants into changing the kind of seafood they serve and encouraging a dialogue about sustainability with customers. The release of the British edition of the guide in October sent an instant shudder through the white-tabled restaurants in London. Within months, endangered species such as bluefin tuna and Atlantic halibut disappeared from many menus. Raymond Blanc, chef of the elegant Manoir and a strong proponent of sustainability, was "apoplectic" that he received only half a blue fish, says Clover. Within a short period, he had remade the menu and posted his seafood sustainability policy online. He now has the top UK rating of four blue fish.

"Blanc is a huge proponent of organics and animal welfare. He had a policy, but he hadn't communicated it to his staff or his diners. He turned his whole business around. That's very impressive. That's our mandate," Clover said.

Of course, the UK launch of 150 restaurants made a bigger media splash than it will here. The British press flew into a frenzy at the launch when actress Greta Scacchi posed naked with a fish. (Well, at least it died happy, the Daily Mail noted.) Personalities such as Sarah Brown, the wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and comedian Stephen Frye came out to support the idea.

"Some restaurants still have not grasped that sustainability has become part of the definition of good food," Clover said. "You don't want to eat a wonderful meal and have nightmares about the species you have pushed a little further towards extinction."

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  January 15, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black, sustainable food  
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