“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” So begins Steinbeck’s 1945 novel, set in a time when sardines created a boom economy in this fishing village; though these fish were once thought to be almost wiped out, this vast, silvered biomass has been making a comeback. Sardine fishing boats sway on anchor next to vessels that troll for tuna and hook-and-line for groundfish. This town has become epicenter of the sustainable fishing movement, with the venerable Monterey Bay Aquarium a main attraction, and their Seafood Watch a guide for consumers and chefs alike.
This past January, Schooners Coastal Kitchen and Bar opened to an enthusiastic public. Located in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, once the site of a cannery, the dining room opens to views of the bay where sea otters drift in kelp forests and rafts of sea lions roar at one another. This restaurant used to be the Duck Club Grill, but Chef James Waller overhauled it into a no-fuss seafood restaurant with local, simple ingredients and transparency that includes an open kitchen and the menu lists where and how the seafood entrees were caught.
Chef Waller got his start in seafood at fish houses on the Jersey Coast, where fishermen brought in their hauls of bluefish, clams, and scallops to feed the hungry beach-goers. When he started working in Monterey, he thought customers would insist on salmon year round, which means farmed, or Atlantic swordfish--seafood that’s not sustainable. “But I was wrong,” he explained. “People kept showing up with Seafood Watch cards or referencing their Smartphone apps from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They were totally onboard and appreciated the extra effort that goes into carefully sourcing seafood.”