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January 29, 2013

There’s a tempest in a teapot happening in Albany, but I’m only going to touch on that briefly as a segue into the more important news at hand.

One of the best things to come to Troy (besides the new spoons at Dante’s Frozen Yogurt) is the Charles F. Lucas Confectionery. One of these days I’ll get a Yelp review up. But I was thrilled to chat with Vic as he was putting the finishing touches on the space, and learn about his vision. Then I was thoroughly impressed with how that vision translated into execution. If you haven’t been, you should go.

The food critic for the Times Union was recently there, and she gave it a glowing three and a half stars (out of a possible four). While I mostly agree with her assessment (the part about the espresso is a notable exception), and am thrilled for Heather and Vic about the publicity, I do have to acknowledge being surprised that the TU wrote a starred review for a wine bar that doesn’t pretend to be a restaurant.

And there has been a little bit of blowback.

The complaint is that a place which largely slices and plates meats and cheeses has no business in the upper echelon of restaurants that actually cook food well. But I have another idea. Perhaps, given some of the past 3.5* reviews the Times Union has awarded, this current review is less about irrational exuberance for the glorious artisanal cheeses and charcuterie that are being presented, and more of an indictment of past recipients of the 3.5* rating.

Exhibit A is the most current 3.5* review of record for Reel Seafood, granted it’s a bit outdated. You know where I would rather eat than Reel Seafood? McDonalds.

Did you hear the news?

First, before you accuse me of being overly harsh towards Reel Seafood, I invite you to look at the pictures they themselves posted of their food to make it look appetizing.

Then gaze upon this notable report. Here’s the headline:
McDonald’s Saves the Oceans

Okay. That may be a little far fetched. But McDonald’s has made a huge splash [sorry] in the realm of sustainable seafood. All of their fish is now fully certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as being sustainable.

Sure, sustainable can be a squishy word. But in this context it means that the fish they use aren’t being fished to extinction, the fishing practices aren’t harming the environment, and the fishery is being well managed to maintain its viability in the future.

How are they doing this?

Well, all of McDonald’s fish is Alaskan pollock. You may be familiar with this fin fish from its role in fish sticks everywhere, or you may have seen it on a sushi platter in the form of imitation crabmeat. The fishery is huge, and pollock are both low on the food chain and quick to grow. All of these help to keep the population of pollock healthy.

Plus the Alaskan waters aren’t as polluted as the rest of the world, so fish low on the food chain tend not to be full of mercury or PCBs. Yay!

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program lists this fish as a good alternative. After all, there is some concern that the heavy demands on the pollock fishery could be taking a toll on the Steller sea lions who rely on pollock for their food.

Sorry sea lions. Like the Bolivians and their quinoa, you lose.

But let’s back up to the good here. Not only is McDonald’s sourcing sustainable seafood, but all of the packaging for the Filet-O-Fish and Fish McBites will be emblazoned with the seal of the Marine Stewardship Council.

This is huge.

Last year across McDonald’s 14,000 US restaurants they sold over 200 million Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. The wrappers of these sandwiches have a larger audience than American Idol. Seriously.

It’s a fantastic way to remind consumers about sustainable seafood. And if eaters become accustomed to getting sustainable seafood for a couple of bucks at a fast food joint, hopefully they will come to demand the same standards at higher end restaurants as well.

And don’t think for a second that I’m getting sold a bill of goods here. I took a close look at the ingredients of a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. It’s not a pristine piece of fried fish. But it’s not nearly as bad as one might expect. Here’s what it is made from:

Pollock, Wheat Flour, Water, Modified Food Starch, Contains 2% or Less: Yellow Corn Flour, Bleached Wheat Flour, Salt, Whey, Dextrose, Dried Yeast, Sugar, Cellulose Gum, Colored with Paprika and Turmeric Extract, Spice Extractives.

The new packages go into effect in February, although McDonald’s has been using the good stuff for a while. I wonder how many restaurants in Albany that have earned 3.5* from the Times Union can also claim that all of their fish is sustainable. New World Bistro Bar most likely can, but I expect most don’t measure up to McD’s.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2013 12:47 pm

    I’m with Dowd. I don’t see the big deal about that Confectionary place, ’cause it has one huge strike against it — it’s not a restaurant, it’s a bar! If you can’t go there for a meal, it doesn’t deserve a review. For that matter, I don’t even get the hype about it, review or no review, ’cause it’s a bar — you can’t get a meal there. I mean, I like the Ruck, and I will say “hey, if you want to get some good wings, maybe go there,” but I wouldn’t be all “going to the Ruck tonight, best place ever!!1!”, ’cause it’s a bar. Nor would I recommend it for dinner, ’cause, y’know, it’s a bar, not a place with an actual dinner menu.

  2. ET permalink
    January 29, 2013 1:00 pm

    Good post Daniel. I agree that NWBB sources their fish well. I never had a bad fish dish there, actually they have consistently been VERY good. What irks me though is that there is not a reliable source for purchasing good, fresh fish in the capital District. I haven’t been to Off Shore Pier yet but I’m in Delmar, so that’s a bit of a trip. I have ordered fish from Catalina OP ( ) but with shipping it’s a bit pricey. BTW, I don’t care for Reel Seafood either, rather hit Ted’s fish fry.

    • January 29, 2013 3:42 pm

      Ed, have you heard of “fin-your fishmonger”? Dora and Pete have just opened their new fresh fish shop in Guilderland, all sustainably sourced!

    • January 29, 2013 9:08 pm

      Hey there, Ed. We may just be your local, reliable source of good, fresh fish. We are a mom and pop operation with a strong connection to Fish Pier in Boston. We raised our families and live locally. fin – your fishmonger opened shop late last year in Star Plaza in Guilderland at the corner of 155 and Western Ave. Our seafood is all sustainable, fresh from the Boston Pier. We have filets as well as whole and dressed fin fish. And, we are a true fishmonger. If you need it scaled, or a thicker piece cut, or have questions about sourcing, we can respond to your request. Our FB post from this morning lists out some of the seafood we brought in this morning. Check us out on FB or at our website We also carry a number of other smalll/local vendor items. We are very interested in creating community in our shop. So sorry you missed us the past two seasons at the Saturday Delmar Farmer’s Market! We’re open Tues – Fri 11a – 7p and Sat 11a – 5p. Hope to see you soon!

      • ET permalink
        January 30, 2013 12:35 pm

        You will, probably today.

    • January 30, 2013 3:44 pm

      as a “new to fish” person, I highly recommend fin- your fishmonger.
      sidenote: Filet – o – Fish was one of the few fish thingies I would eat before I spoke with Dora and Pete.

  3. -R. permalink
    January 29, 2013 2:51 pm

    Aside from “restaurant-ness” or not (ahem), my only comment is that the wine, beer, cheese and charcuterie pairings and selections are fantastic and probably better than most fine dining establishments in the greater region, especially given the price. In this instance, while I don’t believe the Confectionery to be a restaurant per se (yet), they score major points for simply knowing what the hell they’re doing, and doing it really, really well. If Clark can get away with reviewing some of the notoriously shitty ‘restaurants’ she’s reviewed during her tenure, than why not cut her some slack over this and stop quibbling about semantics.

  4. January 29, 2013 7:12 pm

    Ha ha, great picture of the Bronzini at Reel Seafood. And great news from McDonald’s… I’m there.

    I wonder what Mr. Dowd thinks of the current popularity of izakayas in NY and SF… Japanese drinking and eating establishments that serve minimalist but delicious food, often prepared at a simple toaster oven-type setup behind the bar?

  5. January 29, 2013 8:37 pm

    I don’t really get the argument about 3/12 star restaurants being a curse or something. Of the one’s I’ve been to (admittedly, in most cases only once or twice because they have special-occasion price points) with some quibbles of a half star here or there seem correctly rated. Angelo’s and Tavolo are obviously 3 1/2 stars at least, as is McGuire’s. NWBB and the Hidden Cafe, among the affordable exceptions, are both terrific restaurants. especially the former. Provence is good. The Sake Cafe is very good. I may have lucked into an unrepresentative sample, but for the most part the 3 1/2 star restaurants are places I would recommend.

  6. January 30, 2013 1:43 pm

    Oddly excited to hear about McDonalds fish. Never been a fan of McDonalds burgers/fries, but filet-o-fish, was always my fallback when circumstances washed me up at their restaurants (Taking son out for milkshake and fries treat, thruway at 3am, etc.)

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