Pier 2 Plate: How Fresh Fish From Around the World End Up in Local All You Can Eat Sushi Restaurants
A lot of the fish we eat for sushi in Reno comes into San Francisco from all over the world.
On a brisk October morning, as the sun begins to rise over the piers of San Francisco, crowds form at Fisherman's Wharf. It's here where locals and travelers alike seek to taste the catch of the day.
While these bay-area folks wait in line to get their mouths around a bite of fresh tuna or shellfish, a truck from Reno arrives at the pier making one of four weekly trips from the sierra to the sea.
"A restaurant in Reno, Nevada can have just as fresh of fish as a restaurant in San Francisco,” said Mel Wickliffe, owner of Pier 45 Seafood.
"It's all about the logistics of moving it from point A to point B,” said Max Boland, Vice President of Sales at Alber Seafoods.
For starters, not all of the fish we eat in Reno comes from California waters. In fact, a lot of the fish we eat for sushi comes into San Francisco from all over the world.
“It's flown in, it's trucked in, it's boated in,” said Gabriel Trujillo, a sales representative of ABS Seafood. "We've got Aji, horse mackerel out of Japan, then you've got Gurnard, these are from New Zealand.”
Then once exotic fish like this arrives in the bay, it's processed, filleted and packaged before heading out for delivery.
A buyer like Sierra Meat and Seafood does every day business with at least 5 major suppliers in San Francisco. Prices fluctuate based on supply and demand, which changes month to month.
Fishing is a year round business, but that doesn't mean you can catch all sea food, all the time. For example, November is when crab season really kicks off in San Francisco, but in October, business is running at a bit of a slower pace."
"Our salmon season has basically been a bust, there's just not a lot of fish coming in, prices have been very high," said Boland.
“Next week there will be more activity and the following week there'll be more, so we're gearing up,” said Wickliffe.
Once the seafood leaves San Francisco, it then arrives in Reno while many of us are still sleeping.
Between the hours of 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., the company will receive thousands of pounds of fresh fish. The fish team has just hours to get the product to dozens of restaurants and stores throughout Reno and Tahoe.
"It comes on a refrigerated truck from the bay area,” said John Goforth, director of seafood.
Temperature control is very important during the processing. From the truck, to the warehouse, to the fish room, the temperature is kept from 34 to 38 degrees the whole time to ensure quality and freshness of the fish.
Mahi Mahi, oysters, tuna and salmon is just a small example of some of the products that arrives in boxes filled with ice.
Some of the fish comes whole, while others come without the head and innards. This allows for a better shelf life once it reaches its final stop.
“We like to custom cut it, hand cut it for order,” said Goforth.
Some items are sliced into loins that weigh between 10 to 30 pounds. The size depends on the request made by each sushi restaurant. It's then repackaged and iced once again, to keep the fish nice and cool. The fish is then weighed to order and labeled accordingly for the buyer. Once everything is resealed and placed back onto the pallets, it's ready for shipment
"This fish will be in a restaurant this evening,” said Goforth.
On one particular morning, the fish team pulled more than 150 orders in less than 2 hours, and believe it or not, that's considered an easy morning because of the time of the year.
"We're kind of in our slow season right now, October, November is a little bit slower, said Goforth. "Then as December comes, then things really start picking up."
Even in the autumn months when seafood season is at its slowest, sushi is still a hot commodity in Reno.
In boxes labeled as fragile, chefs at Oceano inside the Peppermill begin removing 50 pounds of tuna, 16 pieces of whole salmon and a variety of other fish as they prepare for the daily lunch rush.
"You need to be fast, because people they keep ordering, sometimes people they order, like three rolls at the same time,” said Resty Merilles, head sushi chef at Oceano.
Merilles begins by slicing large loins into smaller 45 oz. cutlets. This creates not only a visually appealing display at the bar, but also a more user-friendly work environment.
"The reason we cut it like pre-portioning because it makes it easy, because of how busy the restaurant get,” said Merilles.
The chef's at Oceano quickly get to work artfully building orders for their hungry buyers. Some people request nigiri, a simple item that only requires a small amount of rice and a piece of fish. While others go the more traditional route here in Reno, ordering long rolls that combine a variety of flavors into one small bite.
"It's nice to know that the sushi that we're eating is getting here pretty quick from the ocean,” said Katie Ashworth of Reno.
"I’ve been to Japan several times for work and I’ve had fresh fish from the fish market there and this is on par with the quality I’ve had over there,” said Josh Chauvet of Reno.
But even as these locals find satisfaction in knowing how fresh their fish can be, the true appreciation is for Reno. The high-desert city in northern Nevada where chowing down on some all you can eat sushi can always be an option.
"It's fun to come here and when people come in from out of town, we always take them to sushi because its Reno sushi, it's different,” said Chauvet.