Making Waves at The Fishery

Chef Paul Arias Casts His Line Into the World of Sea-to-Table

Photographed By: Nick Isabella

A lot of exciting things have happened in the San Diego culinary scene lately, whether it’s getting more celebrity chefs establishing restaurants here, opening a daily public market that rivals any other famed market in the country, or creating our own distinct food culture that doesn’t rely on leftovers from Los Angeles.

San Diego’s temperate climate yields high-quality produce, while our proximity to the ocean provides a bounty of fresh seafood. Two local chefs are among those leading the charge in highlighting our city’s culinary riches within their restaurants. Executive Chef Tim Kolanko sources products from the Liberty Public Market on his menu at The Mess Hall, and Executive Chef Paul Arias at The Fishery procures fresh seafood from the restaurant’s parent company, seafood supplier Pacific Shellfish. The pair of chefs have both worked under Executive Chef Jeff Jackson at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, and in 2012, Kolanko joined Arias at The Fishery to gain restaurant management experience. So perhaps what hasn’t changed in San Diego’s culinary community is the overlap and closeness of its star players.

The Expert: Paul Arias
Credentials: Executive Chef, The Fishery
Favorite Cookbook: The kind with lots of photos.

Walking into the warehouse-sized building that houses The Fishery in North Pacific Beach feels like entering a rustic fisherman’s cabin. The building’s industrial elements, exposed wood, fish mounts and photos of San Diego’s historic fishing industry make you feel confident that you came to the right place for fresh seafood. With a large dining room, bar area and seafood display counter, The Fishery is popular among the locals for grabbing lunch or dinner, having a drink at the bar or buying seafood products to prepare at home.

The Fishery’s Executive Chef Paul Arias has been running the kitchen since 2008. Previously, you could find him cooking at A.R. Valentien, The Grill at The Lodge at Torrey Pines and Royale Brasserie & Bar. At The Fishery, he rolls out a new menu quarterly to pair the restaurant’s main staples with fresh, seasonal ingredients. As soon as seasonal produce is available, The Fishery makes updates to the menu accordingly. Springtime means the start of Alaskan halibut and king salmon season at The Fishery, but you can also expect to see fresh produce such as asparagus, peas, fava beans and green garlic make an appearance on the menu.

Q: I know halibut and salmon are in their high season this time of year, but what other seafood items are best enjoyed in the springtime?

Paul Arias: Local spot prawns are definitely a local and personal favorite.

Q: Speaking of seasons, tourist season is right around the corner. Will you see an increase in business from out-of-town guests?

PA: After 18 years we have a great local following, but definitely see an increase of new faces during tourist season.

Q: How would you describe The Fishery to friends?

PA: The Fishery is a casual yet upscale restaurant. It’s minimally nautical in decor with an open floor plan. We focus on local, high-quality produce and seafood sourced from reputable and trusted fisheries to drive our menu.

Q: Do you have a favorite dish or type of fish to prepare, and why?

PA: Anything whole, from lobster to Dungeness crab to a whole fried or grilled local rockfish or red snapper. For the obvious natural and cool presentation purposes, cooking shellfish in its shell provides the most flavor, and keeping fish on the bone will also make the tastiest end product.

Q: What is your process for coming up with new recipes?

PA: Our dishes and recipes are always based on what is in season, and I try to stick to classic flavors for different regions of the world—meaning we have a variety of different international-style dishes on our menu, as well as recipes written and tested with the idea of sticking to traditional flavors.

Q: What upcoming projects or changes at The Fishery are you looking forward to?

PA: No big changes on the horizon, just continuing to focus on wild and responsibly caught domestic seafood and fresh local produce to match.

Q: How do you benefit from having a seafood distributor as The Fishery’s parent company?

PA: We are definitely lucky to have Pacific Shellfish as our parent company. For over 30 years, they have set the standard for the quality of seafood that The Fishery showcases. It doesn’t hurt that they are only about 10 steps away!

Q: I understand The Fishery is concerned with the sourcing and sustainability of its seafood products. How does that affect the quality of your food?

PA: We are very conscious of what we serve at The Fishery. There are many seafood products that are considered sustainable, but we have chosen to source and support wild and domestic fishing industries. We continue to stay informed and on the pulse of what is happening in the seafood industry as a whole, and source products that we believe in.

Q: You’ve said that spending time in France helped you view meals as a celebration. How is that sense of celebration put into your work as a chef?

PA: Every week I write a new and unique menu based around whatever is inspiring me at the moment. This menu is used for our Tuesday Tasting events that sell out every week. It’s nice to see people making the effort to come out to not only get their healthy seafood fix, but also to experience the tasting and the wine pairings.

Q: A pivotal moment on your journey to becoming a chef was making mayonnaise from scratch for the first time. What other aha moments have you had during your culinary career?

PA: Working for the first time in a restaurant that serves nothing but seafood has brought some really big aha moments in the past several years. After first starting at The Fishery we were considering the idea of brunch, so through the process of trial and error, I ended up making swordfish sausage, salmon bacon and shrimp chorizo. Over the years, I have made fish into meatballs, prosciutto and other meat-like preparations.

Q: If you had the opportunity to cook with any chef in the world, who would it be and why?

PA: I have always been a huge fan of Eric Ripert and his classic, yet simple, seafood preparations. He also seems like he’d be fun to party with!

Fish FryWhen preparing meals for his family at home, Arias typically goes to The Fishery market to buy supplies for homemade seafood pastas or stir-fry. 

Chef Arias’ Favorite New San Diego Restaurants

  1. Oceana Coastal Kitchen
  2. Bracero Cocina de Raíz
  3. Bottega Americano

Chef Arias’ Rules for Cooking

    1. Don’t rush things
    2. Always let your fish rest
    3. Just like meat, fish needs a little nap when it comes off the heat

The Fishery
5040 Cass St
North Pacific Beach, CA 92109
858.272.9985

C A T C H I N G /// Up with Chef Paul Arias of San Diego’s The Fishery.

About the author

Kai Oliver-Kurtin is a San Diego-based writer who contributes to several national and regional publications, covering travel, dining and lifestyle.

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