Sea-to-table restaurant Lionfish to serve up sustainable seafood in downtown Delray location late spring

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By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor

Lionfish will soon bring its west coast sustainable seafood restaurant to the east coast with the opening of a second location on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach.

And unlike the San Diego location, the Delray menu will feature Lionfish, an invasive species that wreaks havoc on the local marine ecosystem.

Cooking up the Lionfish and other sustainably sourced fish, grass-fed meats and local seasonal ingredients will be a familiar face for folks who dine out in Delray. The executive chef is Johnny Demartini who served as a prep cook for Max’s Harvest and executive chef at Death or Glory.

“Lionfish provides such a unique concept and like nothing we have ever seen here in South Florida before,” Demartini said. “I look forward to using my culinary style and adding a personal touch to our menu.”

Demartini was selected to run the Delray kitchen by executive chef and partner of Clique Hospitality JoJo Ruiz.

Ruiz opened the first location in partnership with Andy Masi of Clique Hospitality in 2017 at the Pendry San Diego. In 2019, the duo opened Serẽa, a sea-to-table coastal cuisine dining experience offering an expertly curated menu of sustainable seafood, meats and other signature selections with a Mediterranean flair.

Lionfish Delray Modern Coastal Cuisine is their next venture. Ruiz said he plans to bring the ocean friendly sustainable practices in his west coast restaurants to Delray.

Practices like recycling and using eco-friendly supplies like biodegradable paper straws, take-out containers and silverware have allowed Lionfish and Serẽa to become national certified as “Ocean Friendly” by the Surfrider Foundation.

Lionfish in San Diego was also given the James Beard Smart Catch Leader designation. The Smart Catch program provides training and support to chefs so they can serve seafood fished or farmed in environmentally responsible ways.

Smart Catch is an educational sustainable seafood program created by chefs for chefs with the purpose of increasing the sustainability of the seafood supply chain. Restaurants must complete at least three assessments during the calendar year, and score at least 80 percent on back-to-back assessments. Smart Catch Leader restaurants cannot serve any species that are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Additionally, the restaurant must have two or less of these “red” items on their menu.

Lionfish Delray will continue sustainable practices by serving Lionfish, a species native to the Indo-Pacific that is harmful to other sea life and damaging to coral reefs.

It is believed they made their way to the Atlantic Ocean after people dumped them into the ocean from home aquariums. Because they are not native, they have few predators and reproduce rapidly. Native reef fish take about 3-4 years to reach reproductive maturity, while Lionfish take about 6 months. One female spawns about 2 million eggs per year, and the fish are known to eat up to 30 times their own stomach volume.

Science has demonstrated that a single Lionfish can reduce native marine creatures by 80-90 precent in its range within just 5 weeks. Lionfish are reproducing at an alarming rate, and they are eating the other fish before they are even able to reproduce. In Florida specifically, the coral reefs are directly affected by the diet of a Lionfish because the “grazers” that consume the algae and keep the algae levels low enough for the coral to get their oxygen are being eaten.“Cleaners” other ecologically important species, are also being eaten by Lionfish and can lead to a serious potential decline in the overall health of the creatures that depend upon them to stay healthy and disease-free.

The good news is that Lionfish are tasty.  They are similar in texture to grouper and can be used in ceviche, deep fried, grilled, used for jerky or sashimi.

They are also known as zebrafish, firefish, turkeyfish, tastyfish or butterfly-cod. There are 12 species of Lionfish. They have distinctive brown or maroon, and white stripes or bands covering their head and body. They have venomous fin spines, which can produce painful puncture wounds but are not poisonous. Only the fins contain the venom, not the edible meat.

In addition to Lionfish, the menu will feature sharable plates that can be paired with cocktails like the bourbon-based Blackberry Bliss, the Smokin’ In The Silent Desert made with espresso-infused Mezcal, or the shareable champagne supernova.

How to prepare and filet a Lionfish at home

*Wear protective gloves for cutting*

With sharp kitchen shears, remove venomous spines located on the spine, dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins. Be careful not to prick yourself with spines.

Using a knife (flexible boning knife) make short, sharp strokes cuts length-wise down the belly to remove the innards.

Slicing down the spine of the fish make short, consistent strokes, trying not to slice into flesh of the fish.

Bring the cut just before the head of the fish and filet along the ribs towards the tail.

Repeat for both sides.