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Bigger and Battered

Where does Baytown Seafood get those enormous shrimp?

Once I realized that the jumbo shrimp were imported from Asia, I started getting suspicious about the rest of the menu. "Where is your catfish from?" I asked Preap, suspecting that the restaurant might be using Vietnamese catfish, a cheaper cousin to the American channel cat.

"It's farm-raised in the United States," he said. But Vietnamese catfish often comes in boxes that have words like "farm-raised" and "Cajun" printed on the top with "Product of Vietnam" in small letters on the side.

"I'll bet you a dollar it's from Vietnam," I said. "Let's go look at a box." Preap led me back to the walk-in freezer and showed me the catfish box with "God Bless America" and "Product of USA" emblazoned on it in huge type. I stood corrected: Baytown Seafood proudly serves top-quality American farm-raised catfish.

Sonny Preap shows off his shrimp: fried, boiled, grilled and cocktailed.
Troy Fields
Sonny Preap shows off his shrimp: fried, boiled, grilled and cocktailed.

But on the way back to the dining room, I noticed Asian-labeled bags of frozen tilapia thawing in the sink. There is no tilapia on Baytown's menu, just catfish and "redsnapper."

"Are you calling tilapia 'redsnapper'?" I asked Preap on the phone later.

"Yes, sir," he responded.

I had no intention of ordering "redsnapper" at Baytown Seafood, nor did I set out to bust the restaurant for this always dubious menu item. But having noticed the substitution, I am obliged to report it. Substituting a farm-raised freshwater perch like tilapia for a saltwater species like snapper is especially cynical, not to mention illegal. But Houston restaurants large and small do it every day (see "Fish Fraud," November 1, 2001). One clueless restaurant owner confessed to me that his fish purveyor had convinced him that tilapia was a variety of snapper. If you stopped eating at every restaurant that was guilty of this fraud, you'd have to stay home. (Call 713-794-9200 if you'd like to see the Houston health department enforce existing truth-in-menu laws.)

Meanwhile, my advice is to stick with the shrimp at Baytown Seafood. If you want to try the outrageous jumbo shrimp, go for it, but be advised that the big tiger species can be a bit bland. If you prefer the full flavor of Gulf shrimp, try Baytown's boiled shrimp and grilled shrimp dishes. There's lots to love here -- you just have to know what you're getting into.

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