Monday, January 23, 2012

Fishing for an honest retailer

Smart consumers save money with CONSUMER REPOR...
Image by Newton Free Library via Flickr
You'll save 20 cents by buying three Korean pears at Costco Wholesale instead of at H Mart, a Korean supermarket.

Editor's note: A Consumer Reports investigation questions the honesty of seafood retailers. Today's bill of fare also includes a new tofu restaurant in Palisades Park, and more on Costco produce.

A Consumer Reports investigation on the mislabeling or employee misidentification of fish is based on samples purchased at retail, but Costco Wholesale is conspicuously absent.

Seafood was purchased in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut at Whole Foods Markets, including the Edgewater store; Wegman's, A&P, and Red Lobster Restaurants in Paramus and Scardale, N.Y.

Magazine staffers who served as mystery shoppers bought a wide variety of fish from 55 stores and restaurants in the fall of 2010, including five "big-box stores," but Costco is not named in the article.

Costco is a major seafood retailer of fish fillets, both fresh and frozen, farmed and wild-caught; large farmed shrimp, sea scallops, crab, lobster tails and other items. 

The story is in the December 2011 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. It ran under these headlines:

Mystery fish
The label said red snapper, the lab said baloney

We ordered red snapper at Amici Family Restaurant in Bergenfield, and got a tough, sinewy fillet. We asked the waitress to check with the cook, and she quoted him as saying it was red snapper. We never returned.

The magazine said none of the 22 "red snappers" it bought at 18 markets "could be positively identified as such."

When dining out, I always order seafood and we get whole fish, if it's available. We're always pleased with the choices at Wondee's, a Thai restaurant in Hackensack with relatively low prices on fish and other seafood.

When dining in, we split our seafood purchases between H Mart, a chain of Korean supermarkets in North Jersey, and Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

At H Mart, we usually buy whole fish, which are labeled with country of origin and whether they are farmed or wild. 

Costco's labeling of fish is better than most other retailers, judging from Consumer Reports, which says cod labels don't have to specify whether the fish is from the Atlantic Ocean, where the cod population is low, or the more abundant and sustainable schools in the Pacific Ocean.

The cod fillets I've purchased at Costco have all been labeled "True Pacific Cod." 

New tofu restaurant

If you put the word "tofu" in the name of your Korean restaurant, make sure you do a good job on your signature dish.

We were a little disappointed with the soft-tofu stews we were served on Sunday evening at K.J. Tofu House in Palisades Park, but liked the other food we tried and the unusual number of free side dishes.

The restaurant has been open about two months in the space formerly occupied by the Soft Tofu Restaurant. We were told K.J. Tofu House has separate owners.

The modern interior has black-stone table tops, some with electric grills, and there is jazz playing on the sound system. A banner in the window advertises a $6.95 breakfast.

K.J. Tofu House has a traditional, full Korean menu, plus a dozen different soft-tofu stews, including curry, ham and cheese, and "intestines." Most are $8.95 at lunch and $10.95 at dinner.

But along with the soft tofu stew, you get rice, an egg and 10 free side dishes at dinner, including two small, whole fish. So Gong Dong, our favorite tofu house, serves only four side dishes for $9.99.

At K.J. Tofu House, my wife ordered a pork soft-tofu stew ($10.95) and I ordered a combination meal pairing two large, broiled mackerel fillets and a small seafood tofu stew ($21.95).

After we placed our order, a server brought over the 10 side dishes, including spicy and white cabbage kimchis, tiny shrimp, potato salad, greens, and pickled jalapeno slices. Then, the entrees arrived, accompanied by two hot stone bowls of white rice.

Clearly, we had ordered too much food.

The kitchen mixed up our orders, making my wife's tofu stew spicier than mine, and my smaller stone bowl of stew didn't contain any seafood. But the mackerel was some of the best I've had, and the side dishes were terrific, ensuring a return visit.

The staff is eager to please, and we were asked how we liked the food twice. When a server didn't seem to be around to take our order, the woman behind the register ran out to write it down.

Cups of a sweet drink came with the check.

K.J. Tofu House, 268 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 201-363-0700.
Open 7 days from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. BYO.

Korean pears

My wife picked up a package of three large Korean pears for $6.79 today at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, compared to the $6.99 I paid at H Mart in Little Ferry.

A 10-pound bag of Earthbound Farm Organic Carrots was $6.99; a 1-pound package of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix was $4.79; a 3-pound bag of "thoroughly washed" Eat Smart Broccoli Florets was $4.99; six heads of Andy Boy Romaine lettuce were $3.99, and a 5-pound bag of limes was $5.99.

A 1-pound package of Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon was $15.39. 

Though it has more sodium in a 2-ounce serving than Kirkland Signature's Imported Smoked Salmon, it also tastes better and its thicker slices have more body than its farmed cousin.  

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  1. You may save 20 cents by shopping at Costco, but how do you know that those Costco Korean pears aren't held together by Australian meat glue? This is a global economy, after all.

  2. Replies
    1. No glue on the label? What do you think holds those little stickers on tomatoes, rubber bands?


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