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Behind the Line Photo courtesy of AquaKnox AquaKnox, a dinner-only restaurant, will near $9 million in sales this year. Sin City seafood Las Vegas' AquaKnox offers global seafood 'playground' BY LAUREN KRAMER W hite-tablecloth restaurants are often challenged with an air of pretentiousness that can be of-putting to many diners. At AquaKnox, one of Las Vegas' popular seafood restaurants, GM Rob Menefee wants guests to have high expectations of a dinner experience. So there's a lax dress code at AquaKnox. "Tis is Vegas, after all — so we just ask people to wear clothes in the frst place," he quips. Located inside Te Venetian resort, hotel and casino on Las Vegas Boulevard, the 250-seat restaurant, owned by San Francisco-based Tavistock Restaurants, opened in August 2003 with a focus on global seafood. Te menu is 30 SeaFood Business January 2014 dotted with seafood of international origins: John Dory from New Zealand, albacore tuna and opah from Hawaii, red shrimp from Argentina, Australian barramundi, Brazilian lobster tails, Brittany blue lobsters from France and blue prawns from Baja California, Mexico. "Chef Steve Aguglia is looking for the cleanest, most sustainable species in the world," Menefee says. "He has great ethics and morals, which is a rarity to fnd in Vegas." Korean-born Aguglia came to the United States as a child, working in a hospital cafeteria for his frst job and eventually landing at the French restaurant Brasserie in Las Vegas, where he worked his way up to sous chef. He started out at AquaKnox as a line cook, becoming executive chef in April 2013 at the age of 32. Te restaurant has always had a commitment to sustainability, Aguglia says. "With Supreme Lobster, for example, one of our seafood purveyors, we know the VP Andrew Goodman, and we're able to source out the best product. We always ask, 'how sustainable is it?' If it's farmed, is the fsh given organic feed? We want to know so we can make sure we're sourcing from the right places." Te menu includes farmed king salmon from New Zealand, farmed barramundi from Australia, farmed Welsh sea bass and Grenada's Almas Ara Naccarii caviar, one of the few sustainable caviars in the world, Aguglia says. "Sturgeon aquaculture is proving to be a terrifc alternative as some wild species of sturgeon are on the brink of extinction," Menefee says. "Te benefts of this sustainable caviar is they actually assist in replenishing wild stocks, no damage to livable resources, the feed that the sturgeon consume is made from natural and sustainable products and when the eggs are harvested, 100 percent of the sturgeon is utilized for its meat, skin and bones." Te staf of 110 at AquaKnox is expected to know these details, and Aguglia leads a trip to a seafood market or warehouse four times a year, so staf can see diferent species and be educated by fshmongers. "John Sands, Supreme Lobster's director of purchasing, speaks to our staf about the importance of procuring healthy species of seafood from around the world, educating them on using pristine proteins that have minimal mercury content and the importance of practicing sustainability on the restaurant level and the global level," says Menefee. "Te knowledge, sights, sounds and smells are passed along to our guests, and those stories elevate their dining experience. For the frst time ever we have many guests that stop and think about the importance of where they get their seafood." During National Seafood Month in October, guests are informed of the latitude and longitude where a particular species was caught, the methylmercury levels and the boat's name. "We can show them on a map where their seafood was caught and it's so impactful," he adds. "You see that 'aha moment' as guests start to think about where their food is from." Aguglia has also partnered Visit us online at www.seafoodbusiness.com