The fish and shellfish on the menu for the next South Carolina Aquarium Sustainable Seafood Dinner are so common that many eaters might not even associate them with healthy oceans: Jonathan Banta of The Atlantic Room at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island is serving Carolina trout, flounder, mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops.
While the upshot of Banta’s approachable five-course, Spanish-themed menu is it gently reminds consumers of which favorites pass muster with sustainable seafood advocates, it fails to take into account the diversification that now represents the forefront of responsible eating.
“The most important thing is diversity,” sustainable seafood champion and chef Rick Moonen this spring told the Las Vegas Weekly. “There’s millions upon millions of species of fish in the ocean. Edible protein—delicious. And we’re the top predators, so we just want a select few that we deem to be delicious. We just haven’t been exposed to the other species of fish that are absolutely very delicious. I don’t want to just cook salmon, tuna, bass. I’m done with that.”
Most calls for diverse seafood diets center on tiny fish closer to the base of the food chain, such as sardines, anchovies and herring, depending on the geographic region: Whelk, or sea snails, are also in the midst of a moment. Moonen describes the practice as “eating bait.” Additionally, chefs are now urging their peers to save the oceans by serving more vegetables, including sea plants.
According to Shelley Dearheart, the aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative coordinator, “The nature of the program encourages the use of underutilized species, but it is always up to each individual chef/restaurant what they decide to serve at each dinner – as long as the seafood is in a good sustainable standing.”
The aquarium has 107 partner restaurants across South Carolina, all of which earned their status by submitting menus for the aquarium’s review. When a partner restaurant’s invited to host a dinner, it must also submit the special menu for evaluation.
“As for how challenging the menu—it really depends on the chef,” spokesperson Kate Dittloff e-mails. “We’ve had some with really cool creations (lionfish) and others that are very straightforward.”
The menu for the Sept. 6 event at The Atlantic Room includes chilled almond soup with smoked trout; paella and seared wreckfish with Brussels sprouts. The dinner, with wine pairings, is priced at $75 plus tax and gratuity; 10 percent of proceeds are donated to the aquarium.
For reservations, call (843) 266-4085.