RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Suzuki -- a variety of sea bass -- is in the center of a display of Japanese seafood at Tropic Fish & Vegetable Center.
Deluxe seafoods swim into market
Tropic Fish & Vegetable Center flew in some suzuki and teramoto last week to give potential buyers a taste
In the world of seafood you have your everyday stuff -- mullet, for example -- and then you have those briny jewels around which dollar signs seem to dance.
To wit, suzuki and teramoto, a fish and a shellfish with name caché and price tags to match.
Tropic Fish & Vegetable Center flew in this pairing last week to give potential buyers a taste and see if the items might find a few homes in this market.
Suzuki is a Japanese sea bass, smaller than the Chilean or New Zealand varieties normally sold here; teramoto is a deluxe scallop. Both are familiar in Japan as premium items and are beginning to make inroads in the highest of the high-end U.S. restaurants -- we're talking the likes of the French Laundry and Nobu's.
The Teramoto scallop has been flown in frozen as a special order to a few local Japanese restaurants, but suzuki has become available only as farming techniques in Japan have increased supply.
Price point and the ability to bring both items at peak quality have also been issues.
Toby Arakawa, sales representative for Tropic, pegs the retail price of both items as in the "high teens" per pound, but says the company is banking on their quality and good name.
The fish, Arakawa said, is "butter-soft, really something new," while the scallop is so sweet, "it's like night and day compared to U.S. scallops."
Tropic brought in 200 pounds of fresh whole suzuki for the tasting session, he said. "They sent it Tuesday night and we got it Tuesday morning," which sounds like a disruption of the space-time continuum until you remember how the International Dateline works.
Anyway, by Wednesday afternoon it was being served to a selection of potential buyers -- thin-sliced for sashimi and lightly cooked.
It was a rare chance to try a couple of delicacies uncommon outside Japan. Those invited knew they were in the presence of something special. Still, it was a tough room.
Most of the chefs were from the Sheraton restaurants and said they were not that impressed with the suzuki raw. Its strength, they said, will be its versatility cooked.
Alfred Cabacungan, executive sous chef at the Royal Hawaiian, said he'd serve it sautéed in a classic butter sauce. "You could even steam it, make a nice mousse ... the meat is real clean."
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shigeaki Inouye, a retired chef from Kyoya restaurant, slices a fillet, as Glenn Tanouye, owner of Tropic Fish & Vegetable Center waits with a bowl of ice water to cool and firm up the sashimi slices.
Mitsuru Yamada, executive sous chef at Momoyama, summed up the possibilities: "This suzuki -- you can use it -- endless."
The scallops won universal praise. "Perfect, sweet and the texture is perfect," said Edgar San Juan, chef at Yoshiya.
Cabacungan said he occasionally orders the scallops for the Royal. "I only bring it in for VIPs, but if I could get it consistently, I would serve it daily. I love to sear it real quick. You don't want to overcook it."
Still, teramoto scallops are smaller than the dayboat scallop that is the staple of fine-dining restaurants, so the chefs said price would be most important. There would also be a learning curve for diners, so that they come to know the names and understand why they're paying a premium.
But restaurants are always on the hunt for something different, Cabacungan said, something they can add to a familiar menu of opakapaka, swordfish, mahimahi and ahi.
Tropic's owner, Glenn Tanoue, believes that next new fish can be suzuki.
The fish has become more widely available now that aquaculturists in Japan have learned how to farm it, Tanoue said.
Many farms that once produced hamachi, then switched to tai (Japanese snapper) when hamachi prices fell, are now turning to suzuki as their newest cash crop.
"Different varieties are coming up, which is really good for us. Now the chefs have choice."