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Sea Change

December 27, 2013

Looking through the list of the most viewed posts from 2013 there was more than a fair share of negativity. As a result, today I had planned to highlight some of my favorite positive stories from the past year.

But instead I have a story of hope for 2014.

There was some good news yesterday. Perhaps some really good news. But if you were getting your food news from the Albany Times Union, you probably missed it. The story was about Reel Seafood Company changing hands from LeGrande Serras to his daughter Aliki, and it was covered by a variety of outlets.

Ordinarily this would be a snooze fest. Mrs. Fussy ate their once and we’ve never been back. It’s not that they did anything wrong per se. It’s just that their food was mediocre and vastly overpriced for what it was.

So what could they possibly be doing that has me legitimately excited?

Let’s back up for a moment. Reel Seafood has been exactly the kind of restaurant I’ve been bemoaning for years. In fact, about a year ago I explicitly wrote that I’d rather go to McDonald’s than eat at Reel Seafood.

For context, McDonald’s at the time had just launched a massive initiative with the Marine Stewardship Council. In contrast, Reel Seafood was selling farmed raised Atlantic salmon for $23 a plate.

The big news is that Reel Seafood’s ownership change is ushering in a more current notion of what it means to be a good restaurant. The following lines from Michael DeMasi’s article in yesterday’s Albany Business Review tell the story:

The new menu will be a fresh interpretation of the restaurant’s traditional dishes, and include a major expansion of the raw seafood bar. The average entree price will be slightly lower, $25, with more small-plate, lower-priced options… [Aliki Serras] said there will be an emphasis on sustainable seafood and using local, seasonal ingredients.

Lower prices? Smaller portions? Sustainable seafood? Local, seasonal ingredients? Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming. The new owner is bringing in a new chef and is going to be extensively remodeling the restaurant. Maybe she will retool the wine list too and trade out some of the mass produced supermarket wines for some more interesting varietals from independent winemakers. Dare to dream, they say.

Thanks to the hard work of everyone at fin – your fishmonger, the awareness and availability of sustainable seafood in the region is on the rise. It’s great to see another restaurant responding to the call. I can’t wait to see how this plays out in practice once it re-opens on January 25.

I sincerely hope that some of you will brave the masses on Wolf Road to find out. Reel Seafood is on the Exit 4 side of Wolf Road anyway, so if you play it smart you can easily avoid the crush of humanity by the mall. So I don’t want to hear any excuses about traffic. Understood?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2013 1:05 pm

    Psst, the expression “supermarket wines” is gibberish to people in New York.

    Reel Seafood is next door to Benson’s pet store, so the obsessive pet owners of the FLB readership really have no excuse. Well, I do: I have no one to go out to eat with and i spend all of my money on my dog. The rest of you don’t, though.

  2. DEN permalink
    December 27, 2013 5:28 pm

    To be fair, the Times Union ran a story on Christmas Eve on the same topic: http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Aiming-to-hook-new-generation-5091014.php

    The glut of stories was probably the result of an organized event for media event at the restaurant.

    Also, the crux of the story is not really that new. Aliki Serras was named GM of Reel Seafood back in October. That she is now the owner is the new twist. When the Business Review reported her promotion to GM, LeGrande was going to remain the owner and there were only some small hints at potential changes: http://www.bizjournals.com/albany/blog/2013/10/a-younger-much-different-serras-now.html

    • December 27, 2013 7:09 pm

      @DEN I linked to the same Times Union story in the post above. But if you search the TU story that Steve Barnes wrote, you will find not one mention of sustainable seafood, lower prices, local ingredients, or smaller portions. For those who are interested in the prospect that Reel Seafood might meaningfully improve with the ownership change, these things are big news indeed.

      • DEN permalink
        December 27, 2013 7:47 pm

        My oversight and my apologies.

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