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American Restaurants Are Finally Embracing Tinned Seafood

Fish in a can is no longer just a Portuguese souvenir. It’s on the menu.

Mussels at Dyllan’s Raw Bar Grill
Mussels at Dyllan’s Raw Bar Grill
Dyllan’s Raw Bar Grill [Official]

Sardines in olive oil, mackerel in broth, and mussels escabeche (or mussels poached in vinaigrette) packed in colorful tins are more than the perfect souvenir from a Portugal vacation. Globally, preserved fish is on the up and up. According to Bloomberg, the market for tinned fish is expected to reach $36.7 billion by 2021. Although seafood conserva is admittedly more popular in Europe and Asia, the United States is slowly catching on to the notion that tuna isn’t the only worthwhile fish in a can, and here, restaurants are leading the way.

This isn’t the first time American restaurants have served preserved seafood, often presented without pretense in an open tin to telegraph that, like caviar, it needs no further manipulation. Tinned fish is understandably a staple for restaurants that take inspiration from Basque Country, where canneries are known for producing some of Spain’s most prized seafood. Huertas and Donostia both opened in New York City in 2014 serving Basque food, tinned fish included. (Only Huertas remains open.)

Tinned seafood also makes for a natural accompaniment to natural wine, given how well the salty, fatty fish flavors pair with the often higher-acidity wines. Opened in 2013, New York City’s Maiden Lane serves natural wines and craft beer with its extensive list of preserved seafood. (An accompanying shop sells the canned seafood, which can cost as little as $6 or as much as $45.) In Oakland, Ordinaire opened the same year with the same idea. Wine bar Haley Henry debuted in Boston in 2016 with natural and small-production wines alongside “a whole lotta tin fish.” It’s not the only Boston restaurant to pride itself on its preserved seafood selection: Saltie Girl, which boasts the “largest tinned seafood collection in New England,” also opened in 2016. The year was a big one for wine bars with tinned fish: North Charleston’s Stems & Skins also opened in 2016 with tinned seafood like mackerel pate and squid in ragout.

The trend has continued apace. In 2017, Los Angeles wine bar Hayden put Spanish and Portuguese conservas on its menu, and over the past year, restaurateurs have opened plenty of bars, restaurants, and even a brewery promising menus of tinned fish that venture beyond the standard sardine.

Sardine Head

City: Portland, Oregon
Opened: April 2018
Key players: Simon Lowry, Liz White

Sardine Head pops up at Portland cafe Sweedeedee Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights. First and foremost a natural wine bar, Sardine Head offers a menu of Breton food designed for sharing alongside tinned fish from France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain, sardines included. | Website

Dyllan’s Raw Bar Grill

City: Washington, D.C.
Opened: August 2018
Key players: Donald Carlin, Neal Corman

The raw-bar menu at seafood house Dyllan’s Raw Bar Grill features a list of tinned fish options. Prices start at $15 for a tin of sardines and go up to $120 for cockles. | Website

Ink

City: Atlanta
Opened: November 2018
Key players: Skip Engelbrecht, Nhan Le

Ink is a Japanese-style kanzume bar, meaning that canned, jarred, and tinned foods of all kinds are on the menu. The preserved fish, meat, and vegetables are both imported and made in house. They pair with a tight menu of cocktails at the 20-seat bar. “Ink isn’t where you come for dinner. It’s that in-between place where you order dessert or a small bite and a nightcap before heading home,” co-owner Engelbrecht tells Eater Atlanta. | Website

Cata Vino Mercado and Wine Bar

City: Detroit
Opened: December 2018
Key players: Pilar Baron Hidalgo, Elias Khalil, and Naomi Khal

The sibling to next-door tapas restaurant La Feria, Spanish wine bar Cata Vino pairs sherry flights with tinned seafood from Spain at night, while the mercado half of the operation sells the imported cans during the day. | Website

Bar Sardine at Bartavelle

City: Berkeley, California
Opened: December 2018
Key players: Suzanne Drexhage, Sam Sobolewski

Friday nights, Berkeley cafe Bartavelle transforms into Bar Sardine. Inspired by European coffee and wine bars “that become really different depending on the time of day,” as owner Drexhage puts it to Eater San Francisco, Bar Sardine serves snacks, including tinned fish, alongside a wine list focused on female producers. | Website

Tinned fish on display at Verjus
Tinned fish on display at Verjus
Patricia Chang/Eater SF

Verjus

City: San Francisco
Opened: January 2019
Key players: Michael Tusk, Lindsay Tusk

The wine bar from the duo behind three-Michelin-starred Quince lets customers order wines and tinned fish (plus charcuterie, cheese, and other bar snacks) at the counter before posting up at one of the standing bars or tables. According to Eater SF, the Tusks were going for a vibe that blended Parisian-style wine bars with the pintxos bars popular in San Sebastian, Spain. Verjus also boasts a wine shop known as “La Cave.” | Website

Middle Brow Bungalow

City: Chicago
Opened: February 2019
Key players: Middle Brow Beer

According to Eater Chicago, Middle Brow Beer opened this space primarily to showcase its experimental brews alongside thin-crust pizzas. But there’s also coffee at the bungalow, and during the day the brewpub serves toast paired with jam or, for a savory snack, a selection of tinned fish. | Website

Mercado Little Spain

City: New York
Opened: March 2019
Key players: José Andrés

Chef José Andrés’s Spanish market in New York City’s new Hudson Yards development will sell tinned fish and serve it at the bar. According to Bloomberg, tins will be available for a range of prices and include varieties from renowned Spanish chef Albert Adrià. | Website

Tinned fish at Little Fish
Tinned fish at Little Fish
Little Fish [Official]

Little Fish

City: Seattle
Opened: TBA
Key players: Bryan Jarr, Zoi Antonitsas

This highly anticipated and long-delayed Pike Place Market restaurant is all about fish in a tin, much of it produced in house. Little Fish will smoke and salt cure seafood at the Little Fish cannery before packing and preserving it with other ingredients, like mussels with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and paprika; or prawns with olive oil and coriander. The restaurant will still serve some imported tins, and both house-made and imported conserva will be sold in Little Fish’s retail store. There’s still no word on when exactly this temple to tinned fish will open, but there’s no doubt it won’t be the last. | Website

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