Volume 23, Number 7| The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 25 - July 1, 2010
Downtown restaurants make plans in wake of BP disaster
BY Joseph Rearick
The aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may soon expand to include another set of victims: the plates of Downtown diners.
As a host of wildlife suffers the devastating affects of the spill, seafood from the Gulf and the New York City restaurants that serve it are subject to an uncertain future. Hemorrhaged oil has begun to clot popular sources of shrimp along the coast of New Orleans, and many Downtown seafood restaurants are responding to increased pricing and limited availability of the coveted crustaceans.
Jeremy Marshall, owner of Aqua Grill on Spring Street, sees trouble for the seafood industry, and has planned accordingly.
“I bought in for a six-month supply to lock in a lower price,” he said of his Gulf Coast shrimp purchases. “I called as soon as I saw [the spill] on TV, and the increase in prices started about a week after the spill.”
Still, Marshall anticipates the possibility of a “Plan B.”
“We purchase wild shrimp; we may have to switch to a farm-raised product,” he speculated. “The salinity and firmness are affected. It’s not a bad product, but the wild shrimp is firmer with a more natural taste.”
Marshall also buys seafood from all along the Atlantic coast. Some experts are predicting the spill will soon affect that region, possibly reaching all the way up to Long Island.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the full affects yet, but I think we will,” said Marshall.
The Gate House Restaurant in Battery Park City has not served any shrimp from the Gulf in the wake of the spill. “The fresh shrimps are not available or very expensive from that area,” says Eddie Yu, the restaurant’s manager. But by buying shrimp at the Hunt’s Point market in the Bronx rather than purchasing directly from a single location, Yu has been able to continue serving the several shrimp dishes his menu offers.
“We get from closer to Florida, from Asia, from [South American countries] like Honduras,” he said. “Basically, we just get what’s available [at the market].”
Yu agrees that the Gulf was once the preferred source of shrimp (he used to serve Gulf shrimp almost exclusively), but he feels the quality of his restaurant’s food has not suffered because other regions have provided shrimp of comparable quality at market.
Other restaurants, like Nobu Next Door on Hudson Street, expect to turn to new supplies of shrimp. Dana Sardinha, a public relations representative for the Tribeca restaurant and Nobu’s branch in Midtown, is confident in her company’s cache of shrimp, but is uncertain of the future.
“The only product that we purchase from that region is rock shrimp, and our chefs have assured us that we have enough to last us until the end of the year,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Because the shrimp is flash-frozen, we were able to buy it in large quantities and store it. We are hopeful that the situation in the Gulf will improve by the time our supplies run low. If the circumstances should worsen, like other restaurants we will be forced to look elsewhere.”
Indeed, Nobu has already begun to investigate the possibility of purchasing from new countries, ones its staff would not have considered without the spill’s looming presence. With seafood restaurants all around the country making similar plans, foreign shrimp production may see an exponential rise.
“We’ve already started looking into Thai shrimp,” explained Sardinha, “and we know that many countries are now starting to look to shrimp farming for the future.”