The Valley's restaurants felt ripples from the aftermath of last week's terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. During the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many restaurants closed, either for dinner or completely. Out of respect for the victims or because customers were too shocked to dine out, notable eateries went dark.
The challenge continues for our chefs, now faced with a scarcity of fresh food products because of the grounding of the nation's airplanes. From fish to foie gras, chefs are finding it difficult to ensure their customers will be able to appreciate the specialty menus they're accustomed to.
Halibut is hard to come by at Sushi on Shea in Scottsdale, where manager Sadako Yamada says the fish must be pristinely fresh to rate as sushi grade. While hardier varieties like tuna, yellowtail and salmon can withstand fresh-frozen treatment, other items like sea urchins and jumbo clams can't. The restaurant receives what fish it can get every other day, trucked in from Los Angeles. Fish from faraway waters isn't available at all.
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At Scottsdale's Cafe Blue, owner Jim Valli went into crisis mode the day after the bombing, arranging a meeting with his local seafood vendor to scavenge all the best fish available, enough to last at least a week at his upscale seafood bar. Valli bought extra quantities and kept his chefs busy filleting the fish into individually wrapped portions, then flash-freezing them. "We've got some excellent swordfish, ahi, escolar, mahi-mahi and red snapper from New Zealand," he says, "but when it runs out, I don't know what we'll do."
Many Valley restaurants rely on items trucked in from California, but this delivery system has been affected, too. Chef Christopher Gross of Christopher's Fermier in Phoenix had to throw away 10 pounds of foie gras that arrived two days late, after a three-day detour on a truck. "It was basically cooked," he says, adding that customers have been very understanding about the shortages.
In the meantime, seafood lovers might want to focus on a lobster diet. Boston Lobster Inc. Wholesale in Tempe maintains its own tanks, cultivating, feeding and caring for enough shellfish to supply restaurants for up to a week at a time.
Meal Ticket: Chef Christopher Gross is coordinating a series of fund-raising dinners with some 20 restaurants across the Valley in conjunction with a national effort to aid the New York City relief fund. Restaurants and wineries wishing to participate can call him at 602-522-2344.