But they’re not really here to eat. They’re heading out to sea in a chartered 41-foot Hatteras sportfish boat to catch the next night’s dinner at Periyali.
“If the fish is not fresh, I don’t put it in my restaurant,” Periyali owner Steve Tzolis, 76, says over the phone. Tzolis, who opened the restaurant in 1987 with his wife, Nicola Kotsoni, and owns several other NYC eateries, often joins the fishing expedition, but is currently summering in Mykonos in his native Greece — spending much of his time fishing for tuna.
Bowman recalls a trip Tzolis took back in January, when temperatures were frigid. “It’s in his blood,” says Bowman. “[Recently,] he caught three wild striped bass in one shot. They had to be at least 45 to 50 pounds.”
For a veteran restaurant chef, Bowman, 59, has a surprisingly gentle demeanor, and it shows as he balances a fishing rod across his lap and over the side of the boat. He doesn’t wait long before he suddenly senses a bite. “Feels like a blue[fish],” he says, calmly. “It’s not fighting.” He begins steadily reeling the catch in — the line’s about 200 feet out. Finally, the lure — a colorful work of art with multiple hooks custom-built by the deck technician — surfaces in a bubbling froth, and attached is what turns out to be a roughly 8-pound bluefish. The technician adeptly pulls it up, unhooks the mouth and drops it into a giant green bucket. It’s an impressive creature, but what this restaurant crew seems to be really interested in is the striped bass.
“You try to go for wild striped bass,” says Bowman, who grew up fishing in St. Petersburg, Fla., and has worked at Periyali on and off since the beginning. “Customers like the firm whitefish. It’s not as fishy as blue.”
Of course, getting out to Montauk is not an easy endeavor, especially in the summer — so is it worth it? “At $28 to $32 a plate, technically, our trip is paid for,” says Bowman, who recommends sourcing your fish from Citarella if you can’t make it out to Montauk or cover the $650 boat-charter fee. “Plus, we had a great time, and it’s great for the restaurant. It’s a win-win situation.”
Win-win for this criminal profiting from his crime, but not for the scarce striped bass nor recreational anglers.
Second, and far more serious, this chef and his restaurant owner are engaged in commercial fishing without a license, which is prohibited by law.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has busted restaurant owners for this before, but usually the owners claim (fruitlessly) that they’re just serving the illegally-caught bass to employees. This guy not only admits to selling the fish for profit, he gives its price. I’ll be sending a copy of the Post’s article to the DEC, but I imagine it will have already been flooded with complaints from angry anglers.