At the Hotel Del Coronado, Chef Jose “JoJo” Ruiz was recently recognized as a James Beard Foundation Smart Catch Leader for his commitment to sustainable seafood at the newly opened Serẽa restaurant. And the prestigious award is only the beginning of the story.

Courtesy of Serea

The Accolade

In order to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation, “red” items or seafood that is overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life, can only appear twice on a menu and must total eight-percent volume or less. These rigorous standards mean that less than 20 restaurants in the state of California are recognized by Smart Catch.

Chef Ruiz goes even farther when deciding what seafood to serve at his recently-opened ode to seafood, Serẽa. He considers catch method, Marine Stewardship Certification (MSC), whether the seafood is farm or wild catch, and the seasonality of the species of seafood.

“I grew up in San Diego. The ocean is a part of who I am,” explains Chef Ruiz. “On the weekends, my grandparents owned a home in Popotla and I would spend the weekend in the tide pools and on the beach. I remember playing with sea urchins and sand dollars. To be recognized twice as a Smart Catch Leader is humbling, but to be able to do my part to make sure future generations have sustainable food sources is even better.”

Image: Courtesy of Serea.
Image: Courtesy of Serea.

Honoring the People Behind the Seafood

At Serẽa, you not only pick your fresh catch directly from an iced seafood display, you can also hear the stories of each fish, prawn, and lobster on offer.

On a recent visit, Chef D’ Cuisine Tony Torres pointed out a few beautiful crabs that had just been brought in by local fisherwoman Tanner Saraspe (watch a video of her catching spot prawns).

“One day, I would hope that my children and my children's children would have the opportunity to continue the fishing legacy in our family,” said Saraspe. “Sustainable fishing methods allow us to continue to do what we do without impacting the fruitful ocean. My father has been fishing spot prawn for 35 years. There is something special about going out on our boat, heading North West a few miles and looking east at the city in action.”

Chef Torres also pointed out a black cod and explained that it wasn’t actually a cod at all, but a sablefish or butterfish, brought in by a San Diego fisherman who chased the school of the fish all the way to Santa Cruz.

What to Order

Any of the displayed fresh catch can be served wood grilled or flash fried, the latter of which means your prepared fish will be presented to the table complete with head, tail, and bones.

The menu also offers traditionally plated dishes from land and sea, from ethically raised, roast chicken served with caperberries and grilled citrus gremolata, to vegan Zucchini Pesto Cavatappi layered with eggplant, blistered cherry tomato, and almond ‘parmesan’.

To start, don’t miss the Baja hiramasa sashimi, which offers an incredible combination of flavors thanks to the lime, cilantro, mint, cashew, dried cherries, and schug (or zhoug, a spicy, cilantro-based Yemeni condiment) toppings.

Image: Courtesy of Serea.

Standout sides include the likes of Spanish-style mixed mushrooms cooked with garlic and sherry and topped with a hen egg.

Chef Ruiz looks forward to crafting his menus around seasonal seafood specialities, so there will always be something new to taste and discover.

Visit Serẽa

Hotel Del Coronado, 1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado

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About the Contributor
Michelle Stansbury
Michelle Stansbury is a food enthusiast and the founder of Eat, Drink, Be SD, sharing the best restaurants, bars, and happenings in San Diego. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane.