There's no argument that Pier W is one of the finest seafood restaurants in the region. The Lakewood eatery's storied 45-year reputation was built not just on a great view, but by seeking out the freshest and finest seafood available.
Since taking over in 2007, executive chef Regan Reik has exemplified that commitment to quality by going to the source to find the best possible ingredients for his culinary creations. That's how he ended up in Alaska tracking down his most prized catch: Copper River King salmon.
Copper River King salmon is the Cadillac of wild Alaskan salmon. A rite of spring, the fish is the first of the season when it swims into the Copper River each May. And it will be gone in a month or so. The bright red, firm-fleshed, and deeply flavored fish have as much in common with pale grocery store salmon as warm Budweiser does to an ice- cold Commodore Perry.
Chef Reik was fortunate enough to travel to Cordova, Alaska, in 2008 to witness this annual ritual. "When the fish arrive into the sound, just where the saltwater meets the fresh water river, they are the finest and fullest they will ever be," he explains. "This is where the fishermen jockey for position to compete with the sea otters to capture their prize."
Because of boundless demand for the cherished fish, Copper River salmon is some of the most protected seafood in the world. "There is sonar located 50 miles up the Copper River that counts the number of fish that pass," explains the chef. "If not enough fish make it through, the fishing period is called to a halt and strictly enforced."
The aptly-named Cooper River Kings are tops because of the omega-rich flesh, beefy filets (whole fish run about 15-30 pounds) and buttery texture. They also are the most expensive, with the fish costing upwards of $40 per pound! (Lobster is only about $10 per pound.) However, because the experience is so unique, Pier W has been committed to providing the King Coppers.
Chef Reik prepares Copper River salmon in a variety of ways, as the fish lends itself well to grilling, poaching, searing and roasting. "One of my favorites is udon-glazed Copper River salmon, with Szechuan green and wax beans, and Japanese vermicelli. When we serve it with King Salmon, we charge $35 for the plate, including the accompaniments," says Reik. "But believe me, it's more than worth the investment." The salmon also can be ordered simply prepared.
Other (less expensive) varieties of Copper River salmon are also available, says the chef, including sockeye. Shoppers can find the fish at the West Side Market, Heinen's and other outlets. But buyer beware, he says. "Make sure the fish has a Copper River tag on it to ensure it is what they say it is."
When he's not cooking Copper River salmon for his guests at the restaurant, he's cooking it for his family at home. He prepares it on the grill and serves the fish with romaine lettuce, lemon and olive oil, some grilled bread and olives. "That's my kind of summer," he says. "And if I close my eyes, I am back in Cordova, on the dock of the sound."
With a limited window of just a few weeks to try this salmon, our advice is simple: Make plans to visit chef Reik at Pier W to try something truly special. It might be pricy, but it's a lot cheaper than a ticket to Alaska.