Café Sushi chef Seizi Imura turns to local waters for inspiration, and gets some help from Scituate’s Snappy Lobster.
On a bright morning in early May, Scituate-based shellfish purveyor Snappy Lobster is gearing up for its first haul of the season. Seizi Imura, the day’s guest of honor, boards the DILLIGAF (short for “Do I Look Like I Give a Fuck?”), the lobster boat owned by Snappy CEO Larry Trowbridge. It’s stacked high with yellow lobster pots, but Imura—who, clad in jeans, a zip-up hoodie, and a black knit cap, looks closer to 25 than his 39 years of age—isn’t interested in the namesake crustaceans. Instead, he zeroes in on a pungent bait tub of rotten herring and mackerel, fish varieties that he’d like to catch fresh for himself. “We haven’t gotten mackerel yet, but maybe today will be the day,” says Adam Fuller, Snappy’s head of sales.
Since taking over Cambridge’s Café Sushi from his parents in 2007, Imura has been on a quest to distance the restaurant from its “dollar sushi” and spicy-mayo heyday. In 2009 he began flying in pristine kamasu (barracuda), kanpachi (amberjack), and ishigaki dai (knifejaw snapper) regularly from Japan. And today, Imura is 3 miles out from the Scituate shoreline, surrounded by sparkling saltwater and cloud-dotted blue skies, looking to increase his local bounty. “That’s why I’m out here—I want to know what I can get!” he says.
Out on the water, as Trowbridge and Fuller pull up trawl after trawl of lobster pots, Imura snaps green rubber bands labeled “Massachusetts Wild” onto the crustaceans’ claws. All manner of quirky bycatch comes aboard—a spotted, sluglike whelk, a tiny starfish, two flounders, a pink baby conger eel, and even a couple of hermit crabs. “This is the cool shit I really want to get into—the things you can only do here [in New England],” Imura says, contemplating the merits of soy-and-mirin-braised whelks and hermit-crab hand rolls.
This means that summer has officially started … We caught some bugs, and we have some macks in the hole.
This may be Imura’s first time out on the boat with Trowbridge and Fuller, but he’s actually been working with Snappy’s seafood since he was fortuitously seated next to Fuller’s parents one night at Cambridge eatery Garden at the Cellar a couple of years ago, and got his number. The company has been around since 2009, the collaboration between lifelong fisherman Trowbridge, and Fuller, a chef in his own right who has worked at Radius, Troquet, and Great Bay. Together, the two sell a mix of their own and other local fishermen’s lobsters, striper, scallops, Jonah crab, razor clams, and more-unusual items like whelks, periwinkles, and skate cheeks to restaurants like Deuxave, Erbaluce, and Chinatown’s Happy Family Food Market. A restaurant of their own is also potentially in the works, likely on the South Shore. “I’ve never seen scallops that fresh,” Imura says of Snappy’s plump bivalves, which he says arrive to the restaurant still clapping their shells. “Their lobsters are sweeter, [the meat] is tighter.”
By 1 p.m., the last of the pots has been stripped of its captive critters, so Fuller grabs a few fishing rods. No herring out today—but there is mackerel, and Imura snags two on a single line, then deposits them into a tank accessed via a trapdoor below the boat. Oily and assertive, mackerel isn’t everyone’s favorite fish. But Imura grew up eating it; his father, Saburo—who at one point ran several sushi and seafood spots in the area—used to fillet it, salt it, and hang it from a clothesline outside of his Brookline home to cure for days.
“The mackies showed up for Seizi!” Fuller exclaims. “This means that summer has officially started—we caught some bugs, and we have some macks in the hole.”
At this point, it’s been hours since the morning’s Dunkin’ Donuts run—but luckily for all, Imura has packed his sushi knives. He nets an iridescent, black-striped mackerel from the tank, lays it flat on a cutting board in the center of the boat, removes its innards, head, and tail, and swiftly breaks it down into slim fillets with the deft knife skills he picked up at the Bay Area’s Sushi Ran, where he spent eight years before returning to Boston to take over operations at Café Sushi. “That was the first time I’ve filleted a live fish,” Imura says. Trowbridge throws him a fist bump.
But how to eat the fresh kill? The idea of torching the fillets with a cigarette lighter is briefly entertained, but soon Imura sets his sights on the other comestibles aboard the DILLIGAF: a Granny Smith apple, which is cut into small planks, and some Wise potato chips, which get crumbled and mixed gently with the fish. Together, it makes for a bizarrely balanced bite—and as for the fish itself, there’s nothing oily or assertive to speak of, just a mild whisper of the sea.
At day’s end, Fuller and Trowbridge send Imura back to his car with a plastic fish tub of mackerel—the first four of the season, Fuller points out. Imura knows exactly what he’s going to do with his catch: serve them, broiled and sashimi-style, in the same Brookline home where his parents used to hang fillets outside, and where he now lives with his own family. They may be the season’s very first local fish, but they are certainly not Imura’s last.
Snappy Lobster leads fishing excursions in Chatham for $1,200 a day (six people maximum). For more information, go to snappylobster.com.
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