A Lower East Side restaurant is trying to create an appetite for an exotic fish, not just for the flavor, but for a good cause. Zagat editor James Mulcahy filed the following report.
74 Orchard Street
Norman's Cay is named is named after an island of the Bahamas, where the pristine coral reefs are threatened by lionfish, an invasive species that is wreaking havoc on the native marine life.
"They say during Hurricane Andrew, they were aquarium fish, and they think during the Hurricane that there was an aquarium that was broken, or it could have been someone just released them by accident," said owner Ryan Chadwick. "Next thing you know they are in the Florida Keys, North Carolina, and they actually were just seen recently up off the shore of the Hamptons, so they're making their way up."
The fish are venomous and have no natural predators. They haven’t caught on with local fishermen since the species doesn't respond to hooks and each fish needs to be individually speared.
"They're not afraid of humans, either," said Chadwick. "So, with a spear gun you can get relatively close to them. The spear gets within two feet of them and they don't move and we shoot them and bring them up."
Once they are caught and brought to shore, the light and flaky fresh is a delicious substitute to other over-fished species.
"We fed a bohemian guy lionfish fingers," said Gavin McLaughlin, the restaurant’s executive chef. "And my waiter didn't seem to explain it to him what it was, and he was like, 'Wow, that was the best grouper I've ever had."
Guests can order a whole-fried lionfish at Norman's with 24 hours notice. The restaurant hopes that introducing New York diners to this unusual protein will increase demand and help tip the balance in the waters of the Caribbean.
"We want to be the first restaurant in New York City to offer them consistently on our menu," said Chadwick. "We're hoping that this is going to be something that will hopefully help eradicate the species but also population control, one fish at a time."