I spoke with Ralph Rubio, founder of Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill this week and he talked about the new Tilapia Burrito and Orange Chipotle Tilapia Salad, both made with Regal Springs tilapia, a sustainable seafood product. “The demand for seafood globally is growing exponentially”, Rubio began. “The simple premise is that there if isn’t any fish in the ocean for us to avail ourselves, to put on the menu then that’s a bad thing for us, since Rubio’s is very much in the seafood business. Even though we sell chicken and steak, we predominately sell seafood by far. Rubio’s has been in business for 31 years and we have to have a resource that we can avail us to, so we have to be responsible”.
Rubio, who since his childhood days was an avid surfer and beach-goer who truly appreciates what the ocean has to offer, is very concerned about ensuring that the sea’s bounty is used wisely. When asked about what non-sustainable fish might have been used for these dishes, he replied, “Halibut or sea bass, those are also white fish. We do serve mahi mahi which is wild caught, however they now catch the mahi mahi in a more eco-friendly manner than they used to. It is encouraging; we get our mahi mahi from Ecuador and we work closely with the Ecuadorian fishery to see that they make progress along those lines. Halibut and sea bass are also wild caught and we’re careful how we use wild caught fish like that”.
Ralph talked about the reasons for using the tilapia in the salad and burrito. “We’ve had mahi mahi and salmon on the menu for a long time, along with our beer-battered fish taco which uses pollack. When it comes time to start thinking about adding another protein, we look to see if it is sustainable first, first and foremost, that is important. What I like about the tilapia is that it is a white fish, with a very mild flavor and a tender texture to it. It’s more tender than mahi mahi, so I thought it was complementary to the lineup”.
He continued, “We had contemplated about adding tilapia for a while but it was not until Regal Springs came along that we put it on the menu. They really are the pre-eminent supplier in terms of quality, flavor and taste. It’s really the way they raise their tilapia. It comes from a farm at a volcanic lake in Indonesia, specifically Lake Toba near Sumatra. It’s a deepwater lake with very clean water and lots of currents, so the fish is raised in a very clean environment”.
Rubio’s enthusiasm showed as he talked about the taste of the new menu items. “We added the tilapia to our menu around two years ago, either grilled with a very simple canola olive oil marinade with a little sea salt and some garlic, or you can get it blackened, with a very interesting kind of blackened seasoning including three kinds of pepper; black, red and white. A little cayenne and paprika make it a very nice blackened seasoning. Since we introduced the tilapia in fish tacos it’s been very successful, so we just introduced it in both a salad and a burrito”.
“The Regal Springs Tilapia Burrito has some interesting ingredients to it, it’s got fresh guacamole, some roasted corn, some Mexican rice. Those things can be very filling, but you’ve got the tilapia which is a mild white fish and doesn’t have the density of something such as swordfish. It’s been a huge success!”. Rubio concluded, “It’s been the same thing with the Chipotle Orange Tilapia Salad; it’s delicious! The salad has Fresno chiles, mandarin oranges, sliced fresh avocado, grilled tilapia and roasted corn. Again, it’s got a lot of fresh, light ingredients on a bed of butter leaf lettuce and a little spring greens mix. It’s really a nice, low calorie way to eat grilled seafood”.
After tasting both the salad and the burrito, it is clear to see that Rubio’s has made a good choice taste-wise by using tilapia. The fish blended very well with the other ingredients, allowing the fresh guacamole and roasted corn flavors to come through nicely. I really liked the fire-roasted corn that added a nice bit of texture to the burrito along with the crisp lettuce. The salsa bar’s tomatillo salsa and fresh limes were both good at adding some heat and brightness to the flavor of the succulent fish. Another option with the burrito and the other tilapia dishes is to order the fish ‘blackened’, which upped the spice level and the complexity of the taste.
The burrito was filling, but with the combination of the light tilapia and no refried beans inside, the burrito was satisfying and yet did not leave an overstuffed feeling after eating it. The salad was a generous size with two large pieces of the grilled tilapia, but at 410 calories certainly a good choice for healthy eating or dieters. Between the mandarin orange segments and the fresh lime for squeezing on the fish, the taste was certainly evocative of a nice beachside meal. I was finished eating before you could say “So long, and thanks for all the fish”.
Ralph Rubio summed up his thoughts to me by adding, “Honestly, it’s just my opinion, but in the last 15 or 20 years there’s such a global awareness of the environmental aspects of seafood and how important it is to maintain our resources and to farm them and catch seafood responsibly that we’re a lot smarter about managing those resources than we were 20 years ago. That’s encouraging to me”. With the new Regal Springs Tilapia Burrito and the Orange Chipotle Tilapia Salad, Rubio’s has kept true to his sustainable seafood views while certainly scoring a hit in the flavor department.
Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill
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