Monday, January 3, 2011

Steelhead Salmon On The Menu | Restaurant Menu Questions and Semantics

We spent NYE at one of our favorite eating spots. I looked over their menu with delight as it changes by the season. I came upon an item labeled 'steelhead salmon.' As an angler, I became a bit concerned as to why it was on the menu and titled that way, and specifically what fish it was.

Some background information which you should remember from my podcast on the subject:  Both fish are from the same family Salmonidae but are not commonly known as salmon. Salmon and steelhead are born in streams and migrate to the ocean where they get big on oceanic food and then return to spawn. The salmon (pink, silver, chum, king, coho) as they are commonly known will spawn and die. The steelhead will spawn and eventually return to the ocean. If they are in the same family and thus considered the same by common name, then we could be called human chimpanzees as we are in the same family, Homonidae.

I asked the waitress what a steelhead salmon was and she said 'its a salmon.'

I further asked her 'are you serving steelhead trout which are in the same family as salmon or is this a salmon (pink, chum, king, silver, etc) that is on the menu by a different name' (think patagonia tooth fish as sea bass). She had a blank stare at me. This fish should be listed as Steelhead Trout in my opinion, but I'd rather it not be listed at all.

At this point THW is kicking me under the table to stop.

I said there is a difference between the two types of fish and just wanted clarification. She then said 'its a salmon, its my job to know the fish.' I did not want to doubt her and her profession.

I have enough trouble with fish on menus (specifically species in decline) and wanted to make sure this was not a wild steelhead on the menu. Think back to the Pike market in Seattle issue over the summer. I did not get the chance to ask if this was a wild fish vs. stocked or farm raised.

I further asked if the fish was whole in the kitchen and if I could see it. She said 'yes its whole and no I could not see it.' She reiterated that its her job to know fish and THW responded 'he fishes for a living he knows fish too.' Remember, never piss of your server.

I did not want this to get argumentative as we love this establishment and it was New Years Eve! I thought it should be clear that customers are technically eating a trout and not what they know as a salmon. I stated the differences between salmon as they are commonly known and steelhead which most don't know, and that they are two completely different organisms and should not be listed as such on a menu.  That is false advertisement (I don't like to see 'buffalo' listed on a menu when the organism is bison. Bison is not a buffalo.)

I heard people around me ordering 'salmon'. The flesh of which was white, not pink, and yes, I was staring at people eating this fish.

I let the issue go and ate a spectacular meal.

After dinner, pulled the manager aside. I brought up the fact that there may be an error on the menu. He listened and asked for the chef (who was too busy to come out, understandably.) We both joked about serving jackalope and what it would be called on a menu. I handed my card to the manager and  hope to hear from him.

I guess this all boils down to semantics. How an angler and biologist knows a fish by name vs. the diner who probably has never heard of a steelhead.

Please leave a comment below if you have had a similar situation or if you think I was being rude and a snobby fly fisherman.


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