Richmond’s coastal location gives it access to incredible seafood that can be showcased in its restaurants. However, increasingly there is growing awareness that this seeming bounty cannot be taken for granted, especially if future generations are to enjoy these precious ingredients.
The Ocean Wise seafood program has been instrumental in educating both restaurants and consumers about sustainable seafood options. Tania Leon, an accounts coordinator at Ocean Wise who focuses on Asian partner restaurants, has seen a significant shift in the willingness of those establishments to join the program. With Richmond’s high concentration of Asian seafood dining options, this change is incredibly exciting. “For a couple years now, I’ve been working on bringing on Chinese restaurants. In the past, we’ve seen a gap in terms of more diverse restaurants,” she says over the phone, adding, “It’s really come a long way.”
Two industry leaders who Leon mentions are The Dolar Shop and Vitality Steam Seafood, both of whom have been passionate proponents of sustainability. The Dolar Shop (720 – 5300 No. 3 Road), which originates from China, is the first hot pot restaurant in Canada to become Ocean Wise. Director Lucy Liu, along with General Manager Jeffrey Chan, chat at the restaurant about the decision to become Ocean Wise. Liu says that The Dolar Shop counters a stereotype about Chinese restaurants: “Even though we are a company based in China, we care a lot.” Chan wants to implement the green and sustainable initiatives he witnessed at Cactus Club Café, where he previously worked.
The hot pot restaurant offers an elevated dining experience, from its glamourous décor to the elegant individual hot pots provided to diners. Menu items are premium, such as thick cut wagya and tri-colour, hand-crafted noodles. Currently, The Dolar Shop features five sustainable seafood selections: flounder filet, organic giant tiger prawns, organic mussels, raw oysters, and live abalone, all sourced from Ocean Mama Seafood who recommended the restaurant to Ocean Wise.
The Dolar Shop menu displays the Ocean Wise symbol next to these five items, and so far, the response from customers has been extremely positive. Chan explains that diners frequently comment on the symbol, with servers educating individuals who are less familiar with the concept of sustainability.
At Vitality Steam Seafood (140 – 8500 Alexandra Road), staff are also being trained to teach diners about the value of sustainable options. Vitality offers the unique eating experience of steaming seafood at the centre of the table, with their flavourful juices dripping into an optional congee base. During an in-person conversation, manager Mike Yang explains, “We are steaming the seafood. The seafood needs to be of high quality.” In other words, the cooking technique doesn’t allow for the masking of inferior product. In addition, Yang is committed to making business decisions that are “better for the environment.”
He was connected with Ocean Wise through the Chinese Restaurant Awards (CRA) whose representatives saw Vitality as an ideal fit. “We engage with a lot of key players who will either give us introductions or recommendations,” says Leon. Vitality’s important work was recognized when they won a CRA 2019 Ocean Wise Sustainable Seafood Award.
Vitality features tons of Ocean Wise options, including scallops, oysters, worth it abalone, and mussels. They also showcase many local seafood selections, such as BC spot prawns and geoduck. Yang says that sourcing sustainably is slightly more work, but worth it in the end. He continues to search for other Ocean Wise products, such as snow crab, that he can add to Vitality’s menu.
In addition to these Asian restaurant leaders, Richmond also has numerous other Ocean Wise partners who equally champion the cause of sustainability. Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant (140 – 3866 Bayview Street) pays tribute to its Steveston waterfront location by offering many Ocean Wise items, including a fabulous Louisiana clambake share platter with snow crab, manilla clams, Salt Spring Island mussels, scallops, and prawns, in addition to andouille sausage, fingerling potatoes, corn, crusty bread, and French fries.
The new 75 West Coast Grill (Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel, 7151 Westminster Highway) prides itself on its many Ocean Wise dishes, such as ceviche with albacore tuna marinated in coconut milk, lime, cilantro, avocado, and crispy plaintain chips. Another popular item is their blackened halibut with tomatoes, capers, red onions, roasted wild mushrooms, baby spinach, olive oil, and angel hair pasta.
These leaders in sustainability signal a new energy on the part of Richmond restaurants to become active and enthusiastic members of Ocean Wise. “By seeing other success stories, it really starts to catch on,” says Leon. And Liu is proud of The Dolar Shop’s ambassadorial role and urges other establishments to follow its lead: “The ocean is beautiful. We can be good and protect the ocean.”