Salmon: Where to Get the Goods

(A West Coast Adventure)

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Straight from the Forq Kitchen!
by Rachel Silver


Cooking Salmon: Where to Get the Goods

I am thrilled to have an excuse to try salmon at some of my most coveted restaurants—Chez Panisse, anyone? (Ok, ok, just the Chez Panisse Cafe, I do have to save some of my paycheck for the rent.)

I decided to make use of my weakness (addiction!) for trying out restaurants in search of grand food, and take myself on a journey devoted to salmon. So it begins.

The wild salmon was lightly sweetened
by beet juice (I know, sweetened raw fish
sounds nasty, but it was just the perfect
hint of subtle sweetness), and had
the most wonderful, buttery texture.
It melted in my mouth.

The Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington

My mom’s side of the family is from the Northwest—specifically Seattle and Tacoma. Ever heard of Brown and Haley chocolates and candies (founded in Tacoma, Washington)? Almond Rocas or Mountain Bars, anyone? That’s my family: the Haley’s. My great great grandfather, J.C Haley (co-founder of Brown and Haley) acquired some beach land up on the Puget Sound. That beautiful, lush land has been in my family for generations, and every summer we have a big Fourth of July bash there. I will never tire of our voracious barbecues piled high with roasted lamb, chicken, corn on the cob, fresh summer veggies, flaky fruit pies, and, of course, an assortment of colorful drinks. And did I mention the crazy fireworks?

How do these family traditions connect to salmon? The Pike Place Market—AKA the tourist mecca of tchotchkes, vibrant bouquets, and the freshest seafood around—is a short drive away from the family beach. Pike Place salmon is so delish that it’s all my grandparents will barbecue for our Fourth of July bash, year after year. My grandparents have even gone so far as to drive the Pike Place salmon from Seattle down to their home in the Bay Area, a respective 14-hour drive. As those tenacious enough to brave the Pike Place Market crowds can attest, crazier things have been done for beloved salmon.

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Not only is the Pike Place Fish Market famous for selling fish, they’re famous for throwing it, too. The fish booth attracts large crowds of people that watch as the fishmongers chant and throw slimy, slippery fish to each other. And they catch the fish every time.

It wasn’t until I watched an episode of the Bachelorette (I know, my guilty pastime come back to haunt me), where the Bachelorette took the men to Pike Place and had them try to catch the thrown fish, that I realized how difficult catching these massive, slimy beasts must be.

Want your picture taken with your fish purchase? No problem. The fishmongers do that, too, and will even surprise you with an amusing fish pose! But be careful, they often have the fish kiss the customers… on the lips!

In terms of salmon, since salmon is clearly one of the best fish out there (says me), Pike Place Fish Market sells whole fish or filets of: fresh copper river king salmon, fresh copper river sockeye salmon, fresh wild king salmon, and fresh coho salmon. Pike Place also sells some of my favorite snacks, smoked salmon and lox. And if you’re feeling adventurous and want to branch out from salmon, there are many specialty selections, such as ahi tuna, mahi mahi, opah, cod, catfish, swordfish, squid, and most every type of seafood I could imagine.

Pike Place is worth the trip, crowds, and parking ordeal in order to get fresh, fantastic fish.

And they have rows of gorgeous tulips.

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Noodle Theory, Oakland, CA

My favorite restaurant in Oakland. Period. Noodle Theory specializes in ramen soups and noodle dishes. Although not completely authentic ramen, their take on ramen is exquisite. My favorite ramen, which I order every time I dine here, is the miso ramen with a beautiful filet of salmon gently plopped on top.

Nothing describes this better than YUMBO.

The first time I ordered this dish, I was not expecting much for salmon on top of ramen. I was pleasantly surprised. And still am to this day. The salmon was cooked perfectly, a tad red in the middle, just the way I like it. And it had perfect grill lines. A small detail that makes me smile every time I eat it.

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My second favorite dish is the miso cod with garlic noodles. This dish is a noodle dish, not a ramen (soup). Oh my. Please excuse the digression from salmon, but this dish is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. The thick udon noodles cooked in garlic sauce perfectly pair with the tender, so-buttery-it’s-beyond-flaking cod.

You will not regret ordering this dish.

Unless you plan on kissing someone later.

In that case, order the salmon ramen.

Max’s Opera Café, Stanford, CA

Salmon Salad. Need I say more?

In one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally, there’s a scene where Harry and Sally are in a restaurant together, eating plates of lettuce. This scene always leaves me slightly unsettles because there’s nothing on the “salad.” Just lettuce. Can you say B-O-R-I-N-G? Yes, yes you can. While the lettuce does sound crisp, it’s asking for more.

I can provide.

Look no further for the last salmon salad you’ll ever eat. Ever.

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Oh Max’s, located in the Stanford Shopping Center, how you have so many delectable, largely-portioned meals. Including your giant, brimming-over salads. With delicious dressings and mounds of tasty toppings.

This salad had everything going for it: TENDER-as-heck salmon; my favorite type of leafy greens, arugula; couscous; white corn; and sliced sweet cherry tomatoes. Perfection.

Get ready for an “I’ll have what she’s having” moment.

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Meritage at the Claremont Hotel, Berkeley, CA

I waited weeks in excited anticipation for this delightful meal. Not only was I excited to dine at the Meritage because I’ve had their amazing breakfast buffets before, I was also excited for this meal in particular because it was my special Berkeley graduation dinner! Woot!

This restaurant NEVER disappoints. I had high expectations, and they were met. Beyond met.

As my appetizer (splurging for an appetizer here, it was a special occasion!), I ordered the “Scottish Salmon.”

Oh My God.

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I’d never tasted salmon sashimi like this.

The wild salmon was lightly sweetened by beet juice (I know, sweetened raw fish sounds nasty, but it was just the perfect hint of subtle sweetness), and had the most wonderful, buttery texture. It melted in my mouth. Yes, the raw salmon melted in my mouth.

Accompanied by the salmon sashimi were bite-size pieces of hearts of palm, thinly sliced spring radish rounds, single pieces of watercress, and cubes of soft fuji apple vierge with fresh herbs. Did I die and go to heaven?

I think I did.

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I won’t start raving about my main course—scallops—because my hands will tire from writing so much, but they were phenomenal. Exquisite. Perfect. I don’t even recall what they were served with, that’s how amazing these scallops were.

So go to the Meritage, pray to the almighty beings of the universe that they have this salmon sashimi dish, and order it without hesitation.

And if they don’t have the salmon, order the scallops.

Chez Panisse, Berkley, CA

I’m still amazed that I had the good fortune to eat at Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse is comprised of two venues: the main venue (read: the expensive I-spent-my-grocery-budget-for-the-next-three-months venue) and the café upstairs (read: the expensive but-I-only-spent-my-grocery-budget-for-the-month venue). Both out-of-this-world amazing. No adjectives begin to give this restaurant justice. Alice Waters, the founder of Chez Panisse, is all about local fresh food. I had no idea the difference fresh ingredients make.

There’s nothing particularly complex or fancy about this food, but it’s some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Chez Panisse makes me question how I prepare food, the “common-folk” way. And I thought I was gettin’ crazy when putting hot sauce and seto fumi furikake on my hardboiled eggs: my experimentations are novice compared to the expert artistry of the Chez Panisse chefs. Their dishes are works of art, both aesthetically and delectably. The fresh ingredients and expert preparation make this restaurant a truly remarkable gem in Berkeley. People come from around the world to eat here. If you can afford it (or your friends and family can afford to take you here for a birthday celebration), do it. Reservations are required exactly one month in advance for the main restaurant, but are more relaxed at the cafe. The menus at the restaurant and cafe change daily, but the restaurant’s menu is prefixed, while the cafe’s menu has a small selection of options from which to choose.

Perhaps what makes the food so fantabulous (now I’m making up adjectives in an attempt to convey the splendidness) is the manner in which the chefs work: there are two chefs who alternate cooking for six months at a time. The chefs spend their remaining six months of “time off” getting paid to study, become inspired, and create new works of culinary art. Brilliant.

On a return trip to Chez Panisse (the café), for father’s day, I was ecstatic to see salmon offered on the menu! I didn’t think twice about ordering the “local king salmon with asparagus, snap peas, and Meyer lemon beurre blanc” ($32 at the café) as I had been dying to try salmon at this famous restaurant post writing-about-salmon-for-Forq.

The salmon was beautiful. I could tell it was wild salmon by the deep pink color. And the best part? The salmon was complemented by a lemon sauce. My excitement level rose, if that was possible.

(Apparently it was.)

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I wanted to write about how the salmon at Chez Panisse was the best salmon of my life, but truthfully this was not the case. I can’t pinpoint anything that was bad about the dish, but for a salmon dish at *CHEZ PANISSE* I was expecting more. To have the best salmon of my life. To be blown away. Unfortunately I experienced neither of these things.

The best meal I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating at Chez Panisse was a simple pasta pappardelle dish with fresh wild mushrooms; a light butter, oil, and truffle sauce with fresh herbs; and *microscopically* shaved parmesan cheese. It was the perfect texture—not too light, not too heavy, not too oily, not wanting for more. Outside of Italy, this was the best pasta dish I’ve ever had. I was blown away. It all comes back to being simple, and for me, the goopy lemon sauce was a bit too much for the delicate wild salmon.

(The aftermath. My poor salmon was swimming in thick sauce.)

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What redeemed me high expectations was the dessert: an apricot gallete with homemade vanilla-bean ice cream. I’ve had a few ice creams at Chez Pannise (even though I don’t eat dairy, I can’t say no to dairy at Chez Panisse), and come to the conclusion that their homemade ice cream is the best around. So is their homemade butter, by the way, which is such a deep yellow-orange that I envision it being churned a few yards away in the kitchen.

The apricots in the galette, not only perfectly presented, were perfectly picked. They were tart, but not under-ripe. The tart apricots with the flaky, sweet galette crust were almost too much for my taste buds to handle. Add in the creamy cold-off-the-press ice cream, and I almost turned heads with how loud my “mmmmmmms” of enjoyment were. The person I was eating with pretended not to know me.

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For me, Chez Panisse’s tart and fresh dessert took the cake.

Farmed or Fresh?

Based on the colors and textures of the salmon at these various venues, I suspect that Noodle Theory and Max’s offer farmed salmon, while the Claremont, Chez Panisse, and the Pike Place Fish Market offer wild salmon.

Although I’m privy to all the grossness (I call it as it is), that accompanies farmed salmon: poor living conditions, unhealthy antibiotics, and environmental detriments, I believe in moderation. Which means that occasionally when I eat out, I will eat farmed salmon. And when I do, I go to Noodle Theory or Max’s. But when I’m fortunate enough to dine at restaurants that serve wild salmon, I always choose wild. Wild salmon is better for the fish, better for the environment, better for me, and better for my tastebuds. Win-win.

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Who’s Cooking Today

Rachel Silver

Rachel Zoë Silver, a recent Cal Berkeley graduate, has been a foodie since her first sushi at three years old. With heritage from the Pacific Northwest, she learned early how to select the best fish from the Pike Place market. Her parents, also cooks and foodies, schlepped her to the best restaurants up and down the West Coast and through Italy. Rachel was still missing her front teeth when she mastered her grandmother’s Apple Pie recipe. She is still as excited by food as she was when, at 18 months, discovered on the pantry floor, hands and face smeared brown, she declared, “Chocolate is Yum!”

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