When Not To Order The Fish

by Myles Tanzer

Every New Yorker has a series of cherished myths and hard-earned wisdom that he or she considers the Gospel truth about how to get by in this city. But are the stories we tell ourselves in order to live really on the level? We turn to the experts to help us figure it out.

Living so close to bodies of water best known for the number of corpses retrieved from within, you can understand why New Yorkers are a bit cautious about the bounty of the sea. A longstanding rule of thumb holds that ordering fish from a restaurant on Mondays is never a good thing. But is this supposed “rule” really true? Can’t we enjoy a nice tuna tartare after a long and stressful first day back to the office? Or are we better just ordering a good old Ron Swanson Turf and Turf on Monday nights?

We consulted New York Times dining critic Sam Sifton on the issue. He told us to “go straight to [Anthony] Bourdain, who is the man most responsible for that ‘rule.’ He lays it out pretty good in Kitchen Confidential.” Bourdain did indeed address the subject in his 2000 memoir:

Here’s how it works: The chef of this fine restaurant orders his fish on Thursday for delivery Friday morning. He’s ordering a pretty good amount of it, too, as he’s not getting another delivery until Monday Morning. All right, some seafood purveyors make Saturday deliveries, but the market is closed Friday night. It’s the same fish from Thursday!

Bourdain goes on to say that this same fish that was kept around on Sunday from Thursday is then kept around for Monday too because of lazy vendors and poor selection at Monday fish markets. That would mean Monday’s fish is at least four days old, making it the grossest thing in the whole wide world.

But Bourdain’s position has evolved over the last decade. His 2010 book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, reassesses the rule:

I wrote those immortal words about not going for the Monday fish, the ones that’ll haunt me long after I’m crumbs in a can, knowing nothing other than New York City. And times, to be fair, have changed. Okay, I would still advise against the fish special at T.G.I. McSweenigan’s, ‘A Place for Beer’, on a Monday. Fresh fish, I’d guess, is probably not the main thrust of their business. But things are different now for chefs and cooks. The odds are better than ever that the guy slinging fish and chips back there in the kitchen actually gives a shit about what he’s doing. And if he doesn’t, these days he has to figure that you might actually know the difference.

One of those guys back there in the kitchen that definitely gives a shit about what he’s doing is Eddie Huang, chef of Lower East Side eatery Baohaus and hilarious blogger. He echoed Bourdain’s sentiments and said that “Monday is only really bad for slow restaurants.” He went on to explain, “You can get fish delivery on Monday morning. If your fish is starting to get funky on Sunday night, you get fresh delivery on Monday morning and you’re fine.”

But he issued a different warning for New York diners: “I think that Sunday is the worst day to order fish.”

Oh no, not Sundays! Huang warns, “You know for sure that there’s no fresh fish on Sunday except if it’s bought fresh from Chinatown, but even they don’t get it really fresh on Sundays.”

So class, here’s the new rule: Enjoy all the seafood your little fishy heart desires for six days of the week as long as it’s served from a busy and reputable place. But on God’s day of rest, stick with the steak.

You think you know it all about how to get by in New York, but admit it, there’s something that you have a nagging uncertainty about. Ask us! Maybe we can help!

Photo by Ed Schipul, from Flickr.