Many businesses today are striving to be socially and environmentally responsible, but few in the San Diego restaurant realm may come close to the efforts of Harney Sushi—a hotspot that’s as cool as it is eco-conscious. This restaurant exemplifies ecological integrity by forsaking popular sushi ingredients that are either over-fished or have a negative impact on the environment.
Harney Sushi has, in fact, been a trailblazer in the sustainable seafood movement and was one of the first sushi restaurants in San Diego to only serve such. The movement originated in the 1990s as a way to call attention to overfishing and environmentally destructive fishing methods. And, Harney Sushi is so committed to the cause that some traditional, high-demand sushi items have been eradicated from the menu, such as Toro, Bluefin Tuna, Big Eye Tuna, certain types of Yellowfin, Unagi, Red Snapper, Hamachi, Maine Sea Urchin and Octopus.
These fall under the category of short-supply fish that the owners, Dustin Summerville and Kirk Harrison, and Executive Chef Robert Ruiz, have decided they do not want to participate in depleting. The result is a staunch precedent in the San Diego seafood and sushi scene. Harney Sushi offers patrons a chance to participate in sound ecological dining that still delivers an exceptional culinary experience. Indeed, Harney Sushi proves that sustainable seafood does not mean there is any shortage of flavor or creativity. I recently visited the Old Town location, which turned out to be an educational and hugely satisfying epicurean event.
The experience starts with an expansive menu that also serves as a guide, providing information on sustainability and the restaurant’s efforts related thereto as well as the ingredients offered and what makes each eco-friendly. For example, the Sablefish item is accompanied by verbiage that reads: “The fisheries in Alaska and British Columbia are well-managed, use pots and bottom longlines, and have low bycatch.” The list of such compelling factoids goes on and includes Sockeye Salmon, Kona Blue Kampachi, and Big Eye Tuna, among others available products.
The owners believe that this strategy will enlighten customers and encourage them to share what they learned with others. To further enable information sharing, Harney Sushi is uniquely including edible QR codes on their sushi that enable customers to interact with the premiere authority on sustainable seafood, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) FishWatch. The NOAA’s website provides diners with info about the fish they are consuming along with the latest news from the sustainable seafood world. The codes are printed on a rice paper wafer that uses a water-based, edible ink.
My sushi selections for the evening did not disappoint. Among the vetted victuals I indulged in were the Salmon Skin roll with baked salmon skin, cucumber, yama gobo, radish sprouts, faux-nagi sauce and dried bonito flakes; the Poki—tuna, chuka salad, green onions, sesame seeds and togarashi; and, my favorite, the Rollz Royce roll with shrimp tempura and asparagus inside and topped with tuna sashimi, jalapeno, and hand seared money sauce, accompanied by garlic ponzu, faux-nagi sauce. From the kitchen, I opted for the savory Blistered Shishito Peppers with bonito flakes and the Carlsbad Mussels with sesame ginger and garlic in a rich and flavorful Kimchee-infused miso broth, served with three pieces of baguette bread—all selections sustainable and entirely scrumptious.
“As the world continues to grow smaller, the importance of healthy, clean oceans, and our responsibility to maintain the ecosystems within them can no longer be neglected. The global appetite for seafood continues to grow, and the ocean cannot keep up,” notes Chef Ruiz. “The sad truth is that, if you walk into a sushi bar, almost no one, or a very small percentage, can actually prove what species of fish they are serving and where it was caught. So, now we work to eliminate fish fraud, acknowledge our social responsibility to reward fisherman for fishing correctly, stimulate economies and protect our oceans, all with the value of each customer’s experience in mind.”
Even beyond sustainable seafood, the restaurant furthers its environmental stance in a myriad of other ways. Its eco-friendly practices include using Solar Rain, which helps them reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and biodegradable packaging is used for to-go orders. Even the restaurant’s soda pop options and its glassware are earth-friendly.
In summary of Harney Sushi’s environmental ethos, the creed imprinted on the first page of the menu perhaps says it best: “Harney Sushi appeals to the growing population of sushi lovers who care enough about our planet to change the way they eat; they realize that consumerism, along with the public zeal for exotic seafood, is sucking the breath out of our oceans. Together, with our enlightened customers, we strive to eat in such a way that is nourishing for our bodies, our planet, and our souls.”