may 1 2014 008

Catalina Offshore Products (& chance meeting grumpy Tommy Gomes) – San Diego, CA

Who hasn’t heard of Catalina Offshore Products. Or more so about their fishmonger Tommy Gomes. I’ve heard so much about him. I’m not all that into his superstardom from being on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. That doesn’t phase me all that much. What does phase me is all the readings on him from other bloggers, chefs, etc.

Kirk recently paid a visit to their warehouse so it was the ‘trigger’ that I needed to finally visit Catalina.

may 1 2014 032

My insomnia has been wretched so I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn. Catalina opens at 8a so I figured I’d get there early and check out what they have. Besides, won’t the freshest of the fresh be available that early in the morning.

I read mixed reviews about the people that worked here. A few customers said that no one directed them where to go. But on my visit, a nice gentleman told me to walk thru the double doors and I’ll see the seafood. Great  – thank you kind sir.

I was expecting to see a Costco size seafood warehouse for some reason. I don’t know why. It didn’t seem to be a very big place.

may 1 2014 007

 – Fish selection (sold by the pound)

may 1 2014 005

- Hamachi Kama $5.25/ea

One of my FAVORITE things in the entire world. These were meaty pieces too. And $5.25/each?! That’s a GREAT price. Go check out the prices of kama at any Japanese supermarket.

may 1 2014 006

- scallop and uni

Now THIS is what I drove here for. I wanted to make scallop nigiri for dinner that night and I had seen pics of their scallops offered here. $23.25/lb (for the larger ones) didn’t seem too bad.

I was just minding my own business when someone gruffly asked ‘can I help you’.

I turned around and about gasped when I saw Tommy Gomes standing in front of me. I felt like I was standing in the famous soup kitchen restaurant from Seinfeld. I gulped in fear and eeked ‘no, no….I’m just, um, looking’.

I had read enough about Tommy Gomes to formulate what, I thought, was a pretty good judgement on the guy. Besides, what you read on the internet must be ALL TRUE right (note sarcasm here).

I figured he would be surly (sorry inside joke on that word), cantankerous, and gruff (or grump/grouch/whatever ‘g’ word you want). And I assumed, because he’s well known here in San Diego, that he would, in his OWN mind, think he’s famous and therefore won’t EVEN be at the warehouse.

So I was just taken aback when he was standing right in front of me. I don’t know what happened next. Perhaps he noticed my frightened Meerkat glazed eyes.

But all of a sudden, we were chatting. I don’t even remember what we were talking about because all I kept thinking was ‘wow, he’s not an ahole’.

I remembered Reader Ben wanting to try out Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub. I had researched the restaurant (some weeks ago) and guess who supplies W&R fish inventory. Yup. Tommy Gomes.

I asked Tommy about this restaurant and what he thought of it.

“Let’s Go”.

What. I didn’t think I heard him correctly.

“Let’s Go. I know the boys there. Let me know when.”

In fact, the chefs of W&R were coming in later to pick up fish for the restaurant and that he’d introduce the guys to me.

Say what. Are you serious. This can’t be happening. Sensory overload.

He stepped away to talk to an employee so I wandered around a bit more.

may 1 2014 008

- Chocolate clams $2.50/each

This is what Kirk purchased on his last visit. I didn’t know if I could just stick my bare hand in the tank and grab a clam to take a pic. So this was the best I could do. It was a large tank though.

may 1 2014 009

- Geoduck

This has to be THE strangest spelling for any shellfish (in my opinion). I always want to call it Geo (like the car) Duck.

may 1 2014 011

This is the setup right as you enter the back warehouse. I believe the desk is where you pay the cashier. The very last station is where they do their sample tastings of that day (I think).

Tommy came back and said he was going to the back of warehouse to do something. I just nodded and was going to thank him but then he asked ‘do you want a tour’.

He talks in a very nonchalant way so I never know if he’s joking or not. That’s why I probably looked so lost (like a mental person probably).

“Yes?” – really Faye. You had to say that with a question mark. Nice one dummy.

may 1 2014 012

may 1 2014 013

- Yellowfin tuna

Reminded me of that famous Japanese fish trading floor. This fish was HUGE.

may 1 2014 014

Look at this ridiculously ginormous fish. I’m pretty sure it would be my height if I fit it with a pair of my stiletto heels. This area is where a few of the guys butcher the fish.

may 1 2014 015

- fresh fish filets

may 1 2014 016

- Super cold storage room

They have a few of these in the back. The doors to these rooms were shut tight so I was happy when Tommy opened one for me to have a look.

may 1 2014 017

- Opah!

My great uncle introduced me to this fish when I visited Taiwan last year! I actually watched it being pulled in to shore by a TRACTOR because the one they caught was the size of a house. No joke. I’ve been trying to locate that photo but dang it can’t find it at the moment.

may 1 2014 019

- Uni sorting room

Catalina Offshore receives an insane amount of live uni. There’s a special room where workers harvest the internal roe and separate the roe, based on quality, into different wooden trays.

may 1 2014 020

- Chilean Sea Bass!!

My ABSOLUTE favorite fish in the entire world. It was the first fish my dad ever cooked for me so it just holds a special place in my heart. Plus, it just cooks so beautifully.

may 1 2014 023

- Water tank area

I just found this room fascinating. Tommy said they usually have live shrimp and other critters in this room.

He picked up the following for me to take a picture.

may 1 2014 021 may 1 2014 022

- Live abalone

I don’t eat abalone but my family loves it. Mom used to tell me that abalone is super expensive (especially the live ones) so I should stop whining and eat one (it sounds mean when spoken in Chinese BTW).

may 1 2014 025

- Shipping/Packaging area

They ship anywhere in the US I believe. I made  a comment to Tommy that the prices I was seeing on the items that day were alot cheaper than what I had seen online. He explained that the prices online are indeed higher and the prices at the warehouse, if you stop in, will be cheaper.

may 1 2014 024

- Salt Farm

I was so happy to see these salts as I remembered J.S. from SunDiegoEats raving about them. Catalina carries quite a few of their salts. A few of them smelled so incredible. I wasn’t a fan of the Bonfire – it smelled like bonfire ashes to me. Sorry.

may 1 2014 026

 

This was when I realized I could take off the hair net. Forgot to mention that you are required to wear one if you want to visit the non-public portion of the warehouse.

So conclusion. Or how about FayesFork lesson (or I hate cliches) of the day.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Dumbest cliche ever as how else does one buy a book (just kidding). But that’s how I felt about Tommy and Catalina by the end of my visit. Usually the book (or person) being judged gets all butt hurt but not this guy. He’s such a straight shooter about his seafood products and about his reputation.

We had a moment at the end where he asked me about my blog. I didn’t even want to talk about it as I’m just a guppy in the huge food blog fish pond. But he asked me tough questions like ‘where do you see it in 5 years; what are you DOING to make that happen; how are you promoting it; you need to be more social’.

I asked him how he managed to find his happiness (I’m telling you – it was such a weird morning because who the heck asks a fishmonger THEY JUST MET that question).

” Life is being served to me on life’s terms ” – Tommy Gomes

Could I end this post with anything else. Me thinks not.

 

Catalina Offshore Products
5202 Lovelock Street
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 297-9797

Hours: Mon-Fri 8a-3p; Sat 8a-2p; Sun CLOSED

21 thoughts on “Catalina Offshore Products (& chance meeting grumpy Tommy Gomes) – San Diego, CA”

  1. Welcome to the wonderful world of Catalina Offshore and Tommy, who has a heart of gold…..he wants the world to think he’s a gruff old salt, but he’s a pussycat.

    1. Hi Mr Kirk,

      He’s not as intimidating as I had envisioned huh. Gruff old salt – too funny! I might buy a few of those chocolate clams next time I visit and try out your recipe.

  2. Wow that is a great post and an amazing story :) That’s awesome that you got to meet the man behind it all and got a tour. Also that last quote needs to be framed.

    I love chilean sea bass and hamachi kama too! And I’ve always wanted to try abalone because I hear its sooo amazing. And then in your pictures the shell is gorgeous but the little guy living inside it….kind of looks like a slimy shitake mushroom? Haha. Definitely not as ugly as the poor geoducks though. Is abalone hard to prepare? I wonder if its better raw or cooked? I want to go to Catalina and buy some (and hamachi kama too).

    Thanks for the link back too, even though you don’t like the Bonfire salt I like ;) Also what did you end up buying (and what do you plan on making with it)?

    1. Hi J.S.,

      Oh man we sooo need to have a seafood dinner party soon. Can you just imagine. Lobster (that I’ll slaughter but you gotta help), chilean sea bass, and hamachi kama. Do you like (raw) scallops too? The abalone does kinda look like slimy shitake mushroom! I do not remember the taste of abalone since it’s been forever since I’ve had it (and I never tried a live one before). So that would have to be on our menu that night. I tried to make kama once and it was an epic yuck fail.

      I didn’t buy any of the salts as I didn’t have a clue what I would do with em. The bonfire just smelled so ashy to me. I’m trying to remember which salts really blew me away. Hmm. I’ll try to remember next time I get a chance to sniff some of them :)

      Happy Thursday JS – Friday’s allllmost here….

  3. Wow what an adventurous morning you had! Sounds like serendipity.

    I love seafood but, that is one of the things I don’t like to deal with. But I do anyway lol. I bet Mr. Tommy’s thought provoking questions made you think! So I wonder what your answer was to where you see Fayes Fork five years from now. Maybe one of SD’s hottest restaurant venture bloggers with personal tales to tell?

    Seafood does sound good right now. On my 4th day of not being in the work kitchen…and finally I feel like cooking something at home!

    1. Hi Miss Kim,

      Serendipity! Yes. That’s a great way to describe that chance meeting.

      I hate preparing seafood as well but that’s what my trusty disposable gloves are for. I hate touching raw seafood for some reason.

      Tommy’s questions were definitely thought provoking but it kinda lit a fire under my ass to work harder on the blog if I wanted to take my writing further. But SD’s hottest restaurant venture bloggers w/ personal tales to tell ? Yes. Gimme. I want. :)

      4th day of NO work in a professional kitchen? Go girl! Forget cooking. Go somewhere fun to eat and SPLURGE. Get outta your dumpy orange clown crocs, get dressed up, and (gasp!) force yourself to be social. DO IT.

  4. Tommy is the best – the guy is really friendly and is super willing to help you out! I remember my first time going, he asked me if there was anything I needed, and he also invited me for a tour of the facility. I haven’t been to COP in a while now though, and I heard he shaved – I miss the moustache, actually.

    If you do go to W&R Seabasstropub with Tommy (!), make a post about it!

    The larger scallops can vary in quality a bit when you’re making sashimi (the ones from Catalina do at least) – I’ve gotten them three times and the first time they were good, but the next time was a tad bitter and most recently they were excellent. I think it’s based on where they are sourcing them at the time. Their sashimi-grade king salmon is awesome though – it melts in your mouth, literally. The best part is if you take it and sear it just barely on both sides so you end up with a still-raw middle, it’s like eating… salmon butter? For lack of a better term.

    Are you sure you saw an opah in Taiwan? When you said it was the size of a house, I immediately thought of sunfish, which is huge and similar in shape to opah – I think opah can grow as big as 500 pounds, while sunfish (also called Mola Mola) can reach like 2 tons!

    Salt Farm has a really, really nice truffle salt (it’s also nearly 40 dollars) – no truffle oil or fragrance, instead, you can see black bits of truffle all throughout it, and I believe it’s something like 11% truffle by weight?

    Happy Thursday! Almost time for the weekend…

    1. Hi Ben!

      He did shave his moustache. That’s too funny that people associate him with that moustache. You know you’ve made it big when people give your moustache a shout out.

      We did end up paying W&R a visit so I’ll post about it soon. I also spoke to Tommy about your concerns about the (Japanese?) water and fish. Will post about that another time as well.

      Oh you love raw scallops too! Yes! I’ve had horrible experiences with raw scallops (hello H Mart I’m talking to you). Thanks for sharing your scallop experience at COP. Tommy told me that they’ve had beer can sized scallops before. I’m going to hold off on getting them until I see these Godzilla sized suckers. I plan on getting the otoro or ANY belly next time I’m there. I want to try your sear method on the salmon but I’m always worried about messing up a good piece of raw fish. Salmon butter – mmmmm – sounds most excellent.

      Ok. Maybe I was exaggerating when I thought the Opah in Taiwan was the size of a house. It was probably the size of a Fiat or VW Bug. But I’m googling Mola Mola and it does look kinda similar to what I saw in Taiwan. So now I’m confused. Thanks dude. J/k – I’m going to email my uncle and see if he can tell me what fish it was.

      Your truffle salt is about $35 I think. http://www.salt-farm.com/p/product-shop.html

      Have you tried the truffle oils at Whole Foods (the one located in the cheese department – they use a particular one for their Marcona almonds that I really like). I wish I cooked more so that I’d have a reason to use Salt Farm. Their Applewood Bacon smells delicious. Better than the bacon salt at your beloved Slaters :)

      Happy Thurs to you Ben. Counting down the minutes til Fri evening…

    1. Hi Mr Soo,

      Not bad right?! I, FayesFork, was social.

      Have you had the Chilean sea bass fried?!! Oh man – I bet that would make for da bomb fish and chips. Hey – speaking of fried – ahemmm – Del Mar Fair is coming up. You can get your fix of all things fried again this summer :)

    1. Hi Mary,

      Yeah no hairnet pics. I woulda rocked a hairnet selfie (blech!). I barely remember Laverne & Shirley but I think I’m picturing the hair net scene when they’re done with work?

      So glad you’re back safe in SD ! Have a great weekend Mary :)

  5. We met Tommy before the back part of the warehouse had all the glass cases and have enjoyed our almost weekly visits here for years. Sign up for the online newsletter; the one at the beginning of the month has a coupon good for the month and you’ll get notices of Fri-Sat sales (you have to call to ask for the sale price and the items will be packed and waiting for you). He’s a friend of mine on Facebook; good guy.

    1. Hi Cathy,

      Thanks for the tip on the online newsletter coupon ! That’s great that you were able to visit COP almost every week. It’s a bit of a drive for me but I think I’d visit more if I lived closer. Can you tell us how busy it gets on Sat? I’m curious to see if it’s a mad house (like 99 Ranch on the weekends).

      Hope you’re having a great weekend Cathy -

      1. They do cooking demos and give samples on Fri & Sat and there is also an email with sales for Fri & Sat only. If we want something that’s on sale, I’ve called around 7 and get there by 9 just so I can leave. We try to shop and go out during the week everywhere; it seems so many places are stupid crowded on weekends.

        1. Thanks for letting me know about those demo days. I thought it was every day for some reason. I thought I signed up for their email thing but so far I haven’t received anything. So thanks again for letting me know about the demos and sales.

          Smart thinking about doing your shopping on weekdays. Stupid crowded is the best description of most Asian markets on weekends :)

  6. Look at you, so effortless to get ‘insider access’ like at pirch and here too! Everyone loves you hahahah! But seriously, the people at these establishments seem very nice!

    I had abalone and sea cucumber at an asian wedding banquet once and one or both of those gave me hives… not sure which because it was the first time for both. Plus, they didn’t really taste all that great so I won’t be eating anytime soon! I also don’t cook seafood so I eat it at restaurants. I am tempted to give it a try one day since some say it’s very easy… still unsure though!

    1. Hi Lynn,

      I’d like to think it’s insider access but alas, no. I’m sure PIRCH and Catalina would treat anyone the same way they treated me. You can read the comments on this post and see how much ppl seem to like this establishment (& fishmonger).

      Oh yeah I don’t think I’ve ever had sea cucumber. I wonder what gave you hives. I agree that both items taste a bit strange to me. But it’s been ages since I’ve had either of them so perhaps it’s worth another try.

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