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Keeping the seafood menu closer to home
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By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
 
Published on Friday, June 19, 2015
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   Fish and shellfish from certain regions, along with spicy, ethnic flavors, are leading the new seafood apps and entrees on American restaurant menus.
 
While restaurant operators featured fewer seafood dishes overall on their menus during the first quarter of the year, the trend is not surprising and the drop was minimal, Lizzy Freier, editor at foodservice consulting firm Technomic, told SeafoodSource.
 
“We have had shrinking menus overall. Operators are getting rid of their lower-performing options in a whole streamlining effort,” Freier said. Fish dishes on restaurant menus dropped 3.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the first quarter of 2014, while shellfish dishes declined 1.4 percent and sushi fell 0.1 percent. So, the overall average decline for the category was 1.1 percent, which represents a “stagnant” category, according to Freier.
 
The good news is that, in May and June, restaurants are adding seafood dishes that that appeal to consumers looking for regional, ethnic cuisine. And, while shrimp and salmon are still the top seafood dishes featured at U.S. restaurants, tuna, crab, sushi and sashimi are also leading the category.
 
Restaurants are drawing attention to certain U.S. regions with their new seafood dishes. For example, Pret a Manger is featuring Maine Lobster Rolls and Maine Lobster Salad from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Italian chain Bertucci’s began featuring Maryland Style Crab Cakes on its spring menu. And Del Frisco’s Grille created a special Coastal Tuna Burger for its Palm Beach, Fla., restaurant
 
More restaurants are featuring local and regional seafood dishes because “people want local ingredients and to know where their food is coming from,” Freier said. “We are seeing this trend a lot outside of seafood and now it is moving more to seafood.”
 
Bold, ethnic flavors paired with seafood are also hot on U.S. restaurant menus. The Rock Bottom Brewery chain recently rolled out Tomatillo Shrimp on Sweet Potato Cakes, a Latin and Southwestern-inspired dish. Likewise P.F. Chang’s is now featuring a Cantonese-Style Steamed Snapper and Del Frisco’s Grille has a Vietnamese-inspired Banh Mi Tuna Burger.
 
“There is the health halo of seafood, but you can still have a lot of flavor associated with it. A lot of millennials, especially, are more adventurous diners and are willing to try ethnic dishes on menus.”
 
Another hot trend is fish and seafood burgers. “Burgers are always huge, but we haven’t seen much in the way of seafood burgers [until now],” Freier said. For example, Hard Rock Café recently rolled out a Mango Mahi Burger, topped with mango salsa, and Del Frisco’s Grille is featuring a Coastal Tuna Burger.
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