Whether it’s hot off the grill, straight out of the deep fryer, freshly shucked or sliced raw to order, the ideal way to consume seafood is right away. Wait too long to eat it and you could end up with a dish that is overcooked, soggy or, worse, inedible.
All of which is problematic for seafood restaurants, now that takeout and delivery have become must-haves for those that wish to remain open during the pandemic. As a result, many seafood-focused concepts are rethinking what’s on their menus, and how they make and package those dishes to ensure they survive the journey from kitchen to car to table.
“When everything hit in March … we just felt at the time, how are we even going to operate with this menu we have,” said Andy Long, culinary director for Lapeer Seafood Market in Alpharetta, Ga. “What we’re doing now in this high-end atmosphere, we need to make a change.”
After being closed for months, in June the upscale coastal-cuisine restaurant with an average ticket of about $75 per person reopened with a new, more affordable, approachable and travel-able takeout menu.
The new items feature dishes such as Mahi and Shrimp Ceviche ($14) and House Smoked Fish Dip ($12), which are cold so stay intact. Red Curry Shrimp ($24), with crisp vegetables and shrimp in a red curry broth, gets a scoop of sticky rice to soak up the excess liquid that otherwise might slosh around in transit. Seafood Fried Rice ($21), with poached shrimp and sous vide calamari folded in at the end to avoid overcooking during travel, has become a take-out staple.
Among the existing items that made the new menu cut was the popular Lobster Roll, but it had to be rethought to reduce costs and improve portability.
“We had to get a little creative with some things as far as pricing goes,” said Long.
Photo: Lobster and Shrimp Roll at Lapeer Seafood Market.
For example, a Lobster Roll ($30) became a Lobster and Shrimp Roll ($20). Long said it’s the same high quality of seafood, but now a larger sandwich with the addition of the shrimp. The roll is buttered and toasted to provide a temporary barrier to the mayo-based salad, ensuring it doesn’t get soggy on the trip home. French fries as a side have been swapped out for house-made chips, which stay crisp.
While the dishes aren’t the same as when eaten in the restaurant, Long said it’s “as good as it can be. You can still have a really nice experience at home.”
Trying new things
Takeout was never a big part of the business at Oyster House, the family-run-since-1947 seafood restaurant in Philadelphia, but all that changed with the pandemic.
“The pandemic has allowed us to try things we wanted to try,” said Sam Mink, third-generation restaurateur.
With indoor dining still closed in Philadelphia, Mink and his team created a standalone delivery menu and partnered with Caviar to deliver it.
“We wanted to provide a concise menu that was diverse in its offering that would travel well on the back of a bicycle,” said Mink.
Photo: House Smoked Fish Dip at Lapeer Seafood Market.
The delivery menu includes about 25 or so items, including customer favorites such as like Chilled Lobster Roll with hand-cut fries; Maryland crab cakes with Chesapeake remoulade, grilled cucumber and tomato salad; and New England Clam Chowder.
Favorites that don’t travel well, including fried clam strips and steamer clams, didn’t make it to the new menu.
“I felt to-go … [They] would be deflated and the experience would be less than ideal,” said Mink.
Lobster rolls travel in a red-and-white checked box that allows steam to escape and keeps the roll from getting soggy; crab cakes maintain their integrity without much additional effort; and chowder is sent in a plastic container ideal for reheating, if needed.
The menu also features some new dishes Mink never thought fit in the full-service dining room, but that feel right for takeout and delivery. For example, the new the Tuna Poke Bowl made with pickled vegetables, sesame aioli, avocado and black rice.
Photo: Tuna Poke Bowl made with pickled vegetables, sesame aioli, avocado and black rice at Oyster House.
Credit: Oyster House
Delivering a unique experience
Phillip Frankland Lee, owner and executive chef of SushiBar in Los Angeles, is recreating his signature omakase speakeasy experience for guests to enjoy at home.
“At our restaurant, every aspect is curated,” said Lee. “We wanted to replicate that at home.”
It took Lee almost two months to figure out how to pivot, how to prepare and package the 16-piece sushi dinners to-go in a way he felt was authentic to the dine-in experience.
Part of the challenge was whether or not to prepare sushi orders ahead of time and then refrigerate or to prepare to order, and how to best package it all for freshness during travel. Lee settled on prepared to order, knowing that sushi is not meant to be served cold and that there is a window of up to two hours to safely consume it.
Photo: Boxes at SushiBar.
Credit: John Troxell
The full omakase is available for $95 per person and includes 16 pieces of nigiri, Japanese pickled cucumbers, edamame, and a welcome cocktail (for those 21 and older). The fish is packaged in two stacked boxes, similar to those meant for chocolates, and tied like a present with a ribbon. One box snugly holds the sushi atop a paper liner, another holds individual plastic ramekins of sauces and other accoutrements.
Lee acknowledges the packaging, however, is not foolproof.
“We tell [guests], if you want it to look like the pictures, keep it upright,” said Lee.
To further add to the at-home experience, Lee worked with a production team to produce a series of “point-of-view” videos that walk diners through the entire meal, one piece of sushi at a time. A link to view the videos comes with each box.
At the height of the dine-in closure, SushiBar was selling about 100 sushi boxes a day.
“Making these supplemental videos adds a new level of hospitality while dining at home,” said Lee. “[It] expands our reach to Los Angeles diners well beyond the existence of COVID-19.”