In a small, 26-seat restaurant in San Francisco, there's a sushi revolution going on. Many of the staples of the American sushi bar, like farmed salmon, bluefin tuna and freshwater eel, aren't on the menu—they've been replaced with a variety of less common but equally delicious seafood that has been sustainably caught or raised.
The first sustainable sushi bar in the United States, Tataki was the brainchild of chef/owners Kin Lui and Raymond Ho. The two friends were working at other Bay Area restaurants in 2007 when Lui read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the collapse of the bluefin tuna industry due to overfishing. Both men felt guilty working at restaurants that served bluefin, but didn't know what to do—until they decided to open their own sushi bar—one that wouldn't serve bluefin or other unsustainable seafood.
Through a friend they met Casson Trenor, an environmental activist writing a book about sustainable sushi. "Somebody had to get out and try to prove this idea that we can have sushi and we can respect the ocean," says Trenor, "because if we can't we're in trouble—we're going to lose sushi. The whole purpose of this cuisine is to showcase seasonal and local flavors in a way that's respectful and honorable." Trenor became the restaurant's "sustainability guru," helping create a menu that doesn't include fish from Seafood Watch's "Avoid" category.
Since it opened in 2008, Tataki has received rave reviews and a few surprises. "Some of the things that people think would be so difficult to replace were really, really easy," says Trenor. "Like farmed salmon—we never had a problem at all." In fact, most customers didn't miss the sushi standbys. "The support of our customers has been really great," says Lui.
The new menu involved many late nights of brainstorming and recipe testing for Tataki's chefs. In the case of faux-nagi, Lui spent months finding just the right balance of flavors and textures. The result is a recipe that unagi fans adore. "We developed a way that we can fill that same area in the sushi spectrum—that kind of dark, sweet, sultry taste that the unagi brings—with a sustainable fish," says Trenor.
The chefs at Tataki hope that other restaurants and home chefs will embrace their vision of ocean-friendly sushi. "There are so many fish you can enjoy that are sustainable, says Trenor, "and lots of ways to enjoy vegetables and fruits to take some of the drain off our ocean resources and broaden out your sushi experience."