Discover Irresistible, Sustainable Seafood Fresh from San Diego’s Docks
It’s lunchtime, and I’m with Chad White at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. He’s the Executive Chef and Partner, and has cheerfully agreed to show us at VisitThePlace.com a window into the working philosophy of a sustainable seafood chef and purveyor of local ingredients.
Executive Chef Chad White (photo courtesy of Sea Rocket Bistro)
Chad White has been up since dawn, having been to San Diego’s docks to buy the day’s freshest sustainable seafood catch. Sea Rocket Bistro opens for dinner, but Chad is in the kitchen preparing the menu for a special Beer Week event taking place this night. He shows me his hand-written menu, pencil on paper, that details his creative vision for introducing some of the unique recipes he’ll demonstrate for us.
Welcome to Sea Rocket Bistro
Local, coastal cuisine and craft beer lure patrons to return and experience new flavor sensations. On any given day, you’ll find a menu incorporating halibut, lobster, scallop, oyster, sardine, barracuda, tuna, sea urchin, and other delicious catch from our waters. The restaurant keeps it “Cally” and offers San Diego’s award-winning craft beers and wines from vineyards representative of the Golden State.
California spiny lobster hot off the grill
Insider’s Tip: Tuesdays are $1 Oyster Night. Where else can you get locally sourced, fresh oysters for a buck?
The restaurant’s name is inspired by California sea rocket, a hardy coastal plant found above the high tide line; it represents a menu connected both to local lands and waters.
With music in the background, Chad works over a hot pan to sear black cod liver with brioche, a breaded side, verjus gastrique (a thick fruity sauce), and macadamia brittle. This “caviar” is not a mainstream dish. In fact, cod liver is often a “throw away” part in other seafood restaurants. Here, prepared in its delicate and savory way, and spritzed with herbs and frisse lettuce as a finish, it’s a favorite happy hour choice for patrons of this cutting-edge sustainable seafood restaurant, which opened in summer 2008.
Because it’s so fresh, the caviar leaves a smooth aftertaste reminiscent of the ocean.
“Sustainability is about using products that are not being overfished,” said Chad White. “We do some unique things here: we use sea urchin or black cod liver. We’re not going after the big ticket fishes, like bluefin tuna. We want it as fresh as we can get it. We don’t want to be shipping fish from overseas, or the East Coast. We want only to utilize what is caught here, by our local fishermen.”
Sea Rocket Bistro bar
Inside, the décor carries out the sustainable theme: three-dimensional schools of fishes made of recycled cardboard hang from the ceiling. The artist, Matthew Mahoney, represents some of the iconic schooling fishes off San Diego’s coast: sardines, barracuda, and tuna. Below, I feel as if I’m undersea in this comfortable restaurant, and right at home in our coastal town. Even recycled cartons help cushion sound levels when anchored to the ceiling.
Sardine Veracruz (photo courtesy Sea Rocket Bistro)
While local seafood is a staple, Sea Rocket Bistro also serves locally pastured meats. On Mondays you can order the $10 grass-fed burger. The restaurant works with local farms and ranchers to serve pastured California meats, dairy, and local, in-season produce.
Insider’s Tip: Ask your server if Chef Chad can drop by your table to make recommendations. If he's in the kitchen and has a moment, he may even make something not listed on the menu. He works magic with Vegan recipes.
“I grew up on a farm. We grew our own vegetables, and we didn’t travel 30 miles to go buy stuff,” said Chad. “We did it all ourselves.” He has learned how to use all parts of meats and vegetables in an effort not to waste, but also to inspire a more creative menu.
Back in the warm kitchen, Chad spooned into one of his signature creations and handed it to me to try. His Bacon Jam is enjoyed inhouse, and also sold by the jar in local markets. In these times that celebrate a return to comfort foods, I tasted a savory, salty, sweet puree of bacon with molasses, dates, and brown sugar. Bring on the “down home” feeling.
Insider’s Tip: Chef Chad isn't shy about his love of bacon. In fact, his popular Bacon Jam is now carried at Whole Foods Market.
Sea Rocket Bistro is involved in the community. Recently, the restaurant hosted a “Fishermen’s Mixer and Dinner” where folks could meet the people who catch sustainable seafood, and sample dishes inspired by Chad’s inventive seafood inspirations. You can also stay in touch through the Sea Rocket Bistro Blog for upcoming events and insights into sustainable seafood.
Sea Rocket Bistro is located in North Park at 3382 30th St., San Diego. For more information, visit searocketbistro.com or call 619-255-7049. Open for dinner Monday through Friday at 5pm, and weekend lunches and dinners.
Left: Urchin shooter
(photo courtesy Sea Rocket Bistro)