Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fire sale on Copper River wild salmon

Columbia UniversityImage via Wikipedia
The Columbia University campus in Manhattan, above, is expanding to the Riverside Drive viaduct near Fairway Market in Harlem.

Fresh Copper River salmon for $8.99 a pound?

That's got to be a mistake, I thought as I looked at the label of a shrink-wrapped foam tray holding a fillet in Costco on Saturday evening.

On May 21, when the first fresh wild salmon of the season from the famed Alaskan river arrived at the Hackensack warehouse store, it was priced at $13.99 a pound. The second fillet I bought a week or so later also was $13.99 a pound.

Usually, the Copper River salmon is gone in a couple of weeks and is replaced by fresh wild salmon from the northwestern United States, though often the place isn't specified, but last year, it was priced at $8.99 a pound.

I asked an employee, and he said as far as he knew, the label was correct. I mentioned the price for Copper River salmon was $13.99 a week ago, and he shrugged.

My deep orange-red fillet of sockeye salmon weighs 1.66 pounds, and was only 49 cents a pound more than the insipid, pale, artificially colored farmed salmon at the other end of the refrigerated seafood case.

Fairway's Harlem store

We attended a graduation in upper Manhattan on Saturday morning, so it was only natural to stop at Fairway Market on the way home -- the store I shopped in now and then before the Paramus outpost opened its doors in March 2009.

The New York store has old-fashioned outdoor produce displays -- there was a  big box of watermelons in the parking lot -- but this is no longer the store of $4.99 a pound coffee beans or $2.99 store-label pasta sauce.

Of course, you can say that about prices at just about every supermarket.

I hadn't shopped here in more than a year, but for a mid-afternoon Saturday, I was surprised at how uncrowded the store was.

Still, expecting a crush, I had dispatched my wife to the unique cold room -- essentially, a large, refrigerated room with the butcher and fish counters, dairy and other products -- for goat meat, while I went to get a couple of pounds of custom-ground coffee beans.

We always bought our goat meat at the Harlem store, usually frozen for under $3 a pound -- a better price than anywhere in North Jersey -- but the Parmaus store never carried it. On Saturday, we found fresh goat meat on the bone for $4.79 a pound, but only one package.

I also picked up two pounds of coffee beans (Turkish grind) for $7.99 and $8.49 a pound, and two, 32-ounce jars of Fairway vodka sauce for $4.49 each.

After I got my coffee, I went to the cold room to discover it had been completely made over. At the fish counter, I saw wild salmon on ice for around $15 a pound, but none labeled with the place of origin.

A woman mentioned she had a second home in Canada, near a salmon farm, and added: "You wouldn't believe what they put in there," a reference to feed pellets that color the fish artificially and antibiotics to prevent the salmon from getting sick in close quarters.

Mirroring changes inside the store, the neighborhood is being remade. The biggest potholes have been rearranged, catching us unawares as we left the store and drove to the West Side Highway.

And east of the parking lot, a huge construction project by Columbia University force the relocation of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to 125th Street, from under the shadow of the Riverside Drive viaduct, and the demolition of many buildings.

Restaurant prices

Two of our favorite restaurants in Hackensack have raised their prices.

We had dinner Saturday night at Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles, and were handed new menus with higher prices, but the new takeout menus haven't arrived yet.

For example, one of our favorite dishes  -- steamed whole fish with chili pepper, garlic and lemon juice -- is now $18, compared with $14.95 before.

With Greek fish houses charging $32 for a whole fish, this still is a bargain.

We had a great meal of spicy shrimp-and-mushroom soup; mock duck salad with fruit in a piquant tamarind dressing; soft-shell crabs in Panang curry, and vegetable fried rice.

Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles,
296 Main St. Hackensack; 201-883-1700.

Lotus Cafe

I stopped at Lotus Cafe for a copy of its special fixed-price and banquet menu, and noticed dinners for four to 10 people have gone up, the former to $66 from $59 and the latter to $238 from $208. 

If you leave a 20% tip, a six-course dinner for four now is $20.95 per person, including tax. An 11-course banquet for 10 -- including Peking duck, prawns, filet mignon and a whole fish -- is $30.25 per person, tax included. 

This is among the best Chinese food in North Jersey. I've enjoyed the dinners for four and six people a number of times; the food is wonderful and the portions are generous.

I didn't look at the regular menu, which reflects the same quality, but expect prices have been adjusted there, too.

Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., in the Home
Depot Shopping Center, Hackensack; 201-488-7070.
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