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Not Lying with the Fishes: TwoXSea's Fresh-Caught Seafood Takes on S.F. 

Wednesday, Apr 25 2012
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Seated at the sunny bar in Nettie's Crab Shack, Kenny Bolov orders a Guinness, the blackened trout BLT, and the day's special — pan-roasted Alaskan halibut. "It's like a bite of spring. It's delicious," he tells owner Annette Yang. Bolov supplied the fish to her through TwoXSea, his sustainable seafood business, which is on the verge of a serious leap: moving its operations from Sausalito to Pier 45 next month.

"This industry is filled with little white lies," Bolov says. His mission for his 2-year-old company — which he's been operating out of his Sausalito restaurant, Fish — is to provide Bay Area eateries with the most ethical product possible, without any of those lies. Typically, fish are brought ashore by one company, which then sells them to another, and then another, before they finally arrive at a restaurant's back door. If a chef voices questions about a product, Bolov explains, "The best that company can do is regurgitate what was told to them. The story can get changed as the fish goes down the pipeline." He argues that the direct sale of the small, seasonal product list he's developed at TwoXSea is the only way to guarantee sustainability for every fish, every day.

His obsession with sustainability has earned Bolov a reputation as an extremist. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program publishes a seafood guide that is considered the national standard for judging whether a fish is fit to eat, and which ranks fish into three categories: "Best Choices," "Good Alternatives," and "Avoid." Originally, the "Good Alternatives" category was titled "Proceed with Caution," and Bolov wishes the name had stuck.

"What Monterey does is take the fishermen that are doing it right, the fishermen that are doing it bad, lump them into one, and put them on [the 'Good Alternatives' list]," he argues. He believes the program needs to challenge restaurants to meet higher standards by scrutinizing fishermen's gear methods, bycatch, and aquaculture, as he does at TwoXSea.

But Bolov's insistence on elevating the widely accepted standard has alienated some who follow it; he's not sure all his neighbors will be celebrating when he opens for business on the pier. His methods demand that chefs limit their menus to a few, seasonal choices, and be willing to change if their preferred fish can't be sustainably caught on the day they want to serve it.

Regardless of which guidelines buyers choose to follow, Bolov places the impetus on them to save oceans from depletion. "The fish were there and now they're not. We did it. We were hungry and we wanted to be fed," he says. He hopes conscientious diners will moralize with their money, guiding the industry towards more sustainable practices. "I put two kids on this planet," Bolov explains. "I do it all for the better good of the people that are coming after me."

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Kate Conger

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
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    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
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    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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