Is there a bad day to eat fish in NYC?
October 16, 2005 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Fact or fiction : All (or most) NYC restaurants get their fish deliveries on the same day every week.

So, as the legend goes, it is a bad idea to order fish in a restaurant on the day or two preceding that day.

Some say that the deliveries come on Monday, others say Tuesday. It seems implausible, but I've heard it from a number of people who have lived in the city for longer than I.
posted by afroblanca to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've certainly heard the "never get sushi on Monday" saw as well. Answers, I await thee!
posted by TonyRobots at 3:23 PM on October 16, 2005

Someone with a copy of it lying around will have to confirm, but I seem to remember this is what Anthony Bourdain writes in his tell-all memoir of NYC cheffery, "Kitchen confidential." I'm not sure if this is because deliveries are weekly and come on Tuesday or, more likely, there are no deliveries on the weekend.
posted by docgonzo at 4:38 PM on October 16, 2005

Oh: And never order eggs at Sunday brunch. Don't ask.
posted by docgonzo at 4:38 PM on October 16, 2005

Why shouldn't I order eggs at Sunday brunch?
posted by ootsocsid at 4:54 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I thought that this had to do with the Fulton Street Fish Market being closed on weekends, actually. (Is that true, or, still true?) And the age-old prohibition against eating sushi on weekends has long since been invalidated since it turns out it's all sadly frozen anyway. I still can't bring myself to eat raw fish on a Sunday, though.

But I do believe that decent restaraunts get fish more than one day a week, though I got no facts for ya here.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:54 PM on October 16, 2005

I imagine it depends on how "good" the restaurant is. Try reading through this article, all about NYC restauranteurs buying fish. It doesn't give the answer explicitly, but between all the talk of fedexing fish, fish sellers calling chefs on delivery etc it certainly suggests the fish served at the more expensive places is fresh.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:03 PM on October 16, 2005


"You walk into a nice two-star place in Tribeca on a sleepy Monday evening and you see they're running a delicious-sounding special of Yellowfin Tuna, Braised Fennel, Confit Tomatoes and a Safron Sauce. Why not go for it? Here are the two words that should leap out at you when you navigate the menu: 'Monday' and 'Special'.

"Here's how it works: The chef of this fine restaurant orders his fish on Thursday for delivery Friday morning. He's ordering a pretty good amount of it, too, as he's not getting another delivery until Monday Morning. All right, some seafood purveyors make Saturday deliveries, but the market is closed Friday night. It's the same fish from Thursday!


"Why doesn't he throw the left-over tuna out? The guy can get deliveries on Monday, right? Sure, he can ... but what is preventing his seafood purveyor from thinking exactly the same way? The seafood vendor is emptying out his refrigerator too! But the Fulton Street fish market is open on Monday morning, you say!! He can get fresh! I've been to the Fulton Street market at three o'clock on Monday morning, friends, and believe me, it does not inspire confidence."

He goes on to say that refrigeration is key, and that the fish you're thinking of eating is not only old, but has been in a fridge containing various other substances, and whose door has opened and closed about a thousand times over the weekend as people grab stuff from it.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:04 PM on October 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

He does mention a particular four-star restaurant where he knows for a fact ordering fish on a Monday is OK, but the fact that he can only name one such restaurant is pretty conclusive...
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:07 PM on October 16, 2005

The Fulton Fish Market used to get its major shipments on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Everyone in Manhattan (and quite a large radius around) gets their fish from the wholesalers there.

It's a huge operation; the government collects stats on prices there. Some people say Tony Soprano makes a good living there.

It's currently moving to the Bronx, the massive Hunts Point facility getting even larger. Now 90%+ of New York City's food moves through that terminal. If anything happened to it, 8 million people would get very hungry in a couple of days.

I have no idea what days the Hunts Point terminal might get its fish deliveries. Probably 7 days/week, since the whole point of moving there is to avoid the disruption that deliveries to the Fulton market caused.

Note that given the realities of the restaurant business, it's entirely possible that the fish you order on Friday (a "good" day) was purchased in the Fulton Fish market two weeks prior.
posted by jellicle at 5:09 PM on October 16, 2005

My grandfather used to swear by this truism, or so I have heard (he died before I was born.) I can't believe that restaurants are still getting fish deliveries the same way they did in the 40s. Nothing else is the same, why would the fish delivery schedule have remained constant for over 50 years?

That said, I've worked in restaurants although not in New York, and jellicle's last paragraph is hauntingly true. Also, where do you think bouillabaisse comes from?
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:35 PM on October 16, 2005

Many restaurants get fish deliveries from other sources as well. There are several Montauk fish companies that do special deliveries of shellfish on Sundays and Tuesdays-- companies that emphatically do not operate through the Fulton system.

In an excellent-quality restaurant, there is no way of second-guessing the fish deliveries.

posted by NYCnosh at 8:38 PM on October 16, 2005

Sushi is not "sadly" frozen. It's better that way for two reasons.

1) It kills off microorganisms that would otherwise make you sick. I'm not an expert on this, so this may not apply to all varieties/sources of fish, but from what I understand, it's pretty universal.

2) Fish can be flash frozen on the boat now, so freezing it right away and keeping it frozen will yield better results than simply refrigerating it or keeping it on ice. Unless the fish are being caught right outside the restaurant...
posted by Caviar at 10:38 PM on October 16, 2005

Best answer: Fish info:

I've worked in four restaurants all in the NY tri-state region. Only one recieved a fish order every single day of the week, and the place specialized in seafood, particularly local. The fish came from the town docks and from an indie wholesaler.

The other three received fish orders twice a week. That kind of thing is the norm. Restaurants also recieve meat and produce orders about twice a week. This has more to do with the impossibility of a wholesaler delivering to everywhere at once than with any particular city's market schedule. Thursday and Friday are busy delivery days; everyone's trying to stock up for a busy weekend. Places that move a lot of seafood will also get a Tuesday order to see them through the weeknight dinners. So I'd say Tuesday and Friday are the normal fish delivery days. We're particularly conscious of the fish, though, because it just has a shorter high-quality shelf life than other food items. Fish flesh really starts to degrade quickly -- most fish start to degrade in quality significantly after about 48 hours after death.

Places that obsess over good seafood try to buy 'day-boat' fish -- fish that's caught on boats that only go out for single-day trips. That way you know the fish has not been sitting in the boat's hold for a week before even being landed. Day-boat fish is obviously mostly local (here on the East Coast, flounder, black seabass, striper, blue, lobster, shellfish, etc.). When buying non-dayboat fish -- the more pelagic varieties, the bigger predators like tuna and sword, they look for 'top-haul'. THat's the fish that was most recently caught and thus sits on the top of the haul in the boat's hold. Good fish places will pay premium prices for these types of fish.

What with air transport now, it's quite possible to get Pacific Halibut on the East Coast -- as day-boat fish, within 48 hours of landing. In fact, your imported fish may be a lot fresher than the flounder or pollock, which might have been frozen. Some fish freezes quite well, others not so much. It's almost always preferable for fish never to have been frozen, but a lot of the fish we call 'fresh' when we buy it at market has already been frozen while on the boat -- sitting in a 20-degree hold packed solid in ice. This happens to sword and tuna a lot.

The main things that affect fish quality in a restaurant are the chef's knowledge and the restuarant's willingness to pay good money for good fish. Good fish is basically available to anyone who cares enough to make the effort to find it and pay for it. A chef who's into fish will know a lot about fish, make friends with the 'fish guy', let it be known he'll reward the fish people for exceptional quality, and be willing to experiment with less popular varieties. He'll pay on time. He'll evaluate fish well for freshness by using eyes, nose, and touch. He won't accept substandard fish. He'll be offered the best stuff first. And he'll pay well for it, and his fish prices will be high.

Most places just don't care that much about their fish. Hence, the don't order on Monday rule. 90% of restaurants have a basic, standing, weekly fish order, and believe me, you are getting Thursday's delivery on Monday. It may even be in the form of chowder or stock by then.

I became spoiled by working in the fish restaurant I mentioned about. I went from eating almost no seafood to eating everything from the sea. Truly fresh fish is a totally different experience than so-so fish. Now I'm hyper-critical of fish at most places I eat. America has for a long, long time had a culture that accepts substandard fish. You've got to go to a really good fish place to get really good fish. Ask your waiter about the fish ordering. Ask where the fish comes from, ask questions about its flavor and its characteristics. If the waitstaff can't tell you much about the fish, it's a bad sign. It means the chef isn't telling them much about the fish either, which means the chef doesn't think there's anything in particular to be proud of. Places that do good fish will brag about it, and they'll offer you plenty of information to back up their quality claims.
posted by Miko at 11:15 PM on October 16, 2005 [2 favorites]

(Miko- so where's a really good fish place in New York? Or, rather the tri-state area? I'm willing to be converted!)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:14 AM on October 17, 2005

Let's just think about this logically. Think about all of the places that sell fish in any form in Manhattan. Is there a certain day of the week where the streets are clogged with fish trucks and not another day? If yes, then I'd say the myth is true. If not I'd say that fish is being delivered throughout the week.

FYI: The NYC Department of Food Safety and Community Sanitation (the food inspectors) says that fresh fish has to be used within 2 days, frozen fish within 90, so if it ain't frozen, it ain't old. (Lox have 14 days refrigerated, 60 days in vacuum sealed packages)
posted by Pollomacho at 6:50 AM on October 17, 2005

Response by poster: Wow! It's always interesting when one of these turns out to be (even somewhat) plausible. It sounds like this one may be more complex then I originally thought. Thanks all for your answers, and keep 'em coming!
posted by afroblanca at 7:02 AM on October 17, 2005

Logically, the fish suppliers are going to do what is most cost effective. Are they going to have a bunch of trucks and drivers that go out one day a week and sit idle in the parking lot the other six days? Of course not. They are going to stagger deliveries throughout the week to get the most use out of their trucks and drivers.

I used to work at a seafood restaurant in Chicago, and we got fresh fish deliveries six days a week, Monday-Saturday. Smaller restaurants, or those that don't use a large volume of seafood, get deliveries less often, or else they only use frozen.
posted by clarissajoy at 7:12 AM on October 17, 2005

fresh fish has to be used within 2 days, frozen fish within 90, so if it ain't frozen, it ain't old

The difficulty with this is that there are widely varying interpretations of what 'fresh' means. Do you start counting when the fish gets hauled onto the boat? When it's landed at the local dock? When it arrives at the wholesaler? When it's sold? Much of what we buy as 'fresh' has been frozen a long time in the boat, so it sort of looks like fresh fish (it's not wrapped in plastic on foam, it's soft to the touch) but has really been frozen. So it can be used for a much longer time than fresh-landed.

This is the good fish restuarant. It's not all that close to NYC, but it is a weekend destination for a lot of New Yorkers and makes a nice quick getaway. It's truly the most remarkable seafood I've ever had. In NYC, this place was profiled recently in the New Yorker, and it sounds like their chef has the right philosophy.
posted by Miko at 7:38 AM on October 17, 2005

I love Mystic. Okay, good enough, I'm going. Thank you, Miko
posted by IndigoJones at 2:35 PM on October 17, 2005

Get the scallops, flounder, black seabass, or whatever the server recommends warmly...
posted by Miko at 2:47 PM on October 17, 2005

He does mention a particular four-star restaurant where he knows for a fact ordering fish on a Monday is OK, but the fact that he can only name one such restaurant is pretty conclusive...

That restaurant is, of course, Le Bernadin.
posted by junesix at 8:48 PM on October 17, 2005

Restaurant RM was possibly the best seafood I'd had in Manhattan, but it's closed now. Rick Moonen is the man when it comes to cooking fish.

It's not clear if he's doing something else now, back to cooking at Branzini, or just taking some time off.
posted by Caviar at 9:07 PM on October 17, 2005

Esca (the place linked to by Miko) is Mario Batali's relatively new fish place. Of all the "food network" celebrity chef types, Mario Batali is, in my view, the best by far in terms of his actual restaurants. There are certainly better chefs out there (Thomas Keller, for example), but you don't see them pimping on TV. Unlike many Food Network chef stars, however, Batali's restaurants are uniformly fantastic, whether or not he is actually in the kitchen on a given night. One of them ( Babbo) is, in my opinion, among the top ten restaurants in New York, which is saying something. His philosophy of food stresses quality ingredients and relatively simple preparations that don't hide that quality. He's a damn good chef.

Le Bernardin, linked to by junesix, is even higher on the list. Consistently rated, by both diners and critics, in the top five restaurants in the City (though the competition has gotten stiffer lately) and among the top fish places in the world, it has earned its reputation, once again, by an obsessive concentration on quality of ingredients. I find the preparations a little fussy, and of course a meal there will break the bank, but that's just me.

Neither place says much about your average New York restaurant. Bourdain's advice is going to serve you well 99.9% of the time. Including at his own place.
posted by The Bellman at 8:13 AM on October 19, 2005

Esca is terribly overrated and overpriced, IMO. Batali's restaurants tend to combine excellent food with horrible service.
posted by mkultra at 7:38 AM on October 21, 2005

This thread made Gothamist.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:22 AM on October 21, 2005

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