You Should Skip The Fish Special At A Restaurant, According To Anthony Bourdain

If you're going to a restaurant on a Monday night, there's one entree you'll probably want to avoid ordering, according to the late, great Anthony Bourdain. Back when he was just starting his career, one of the first pieces of advice the famous culinary personality doled out was to avoid the Monday fish special. Per his reasoning, it may not be the "freshest" cut.

If you're a Bourdain fan, you may still be following this advice — among his other wise tidbits. Up until his death in 2018, Bourdain was always insightful and savvy about restaurants, culture, and people, starting with the revelations in his 2000 memoir and exposé, "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly," and continuing into his multiple TV series, such as "Parts Unknown."

In his debut book, as well as a prior New Yorker article in 1999 entitled, "Don't Eat Before Reading This," Bourdain came across as someone who understood and spoke the truth about restaurants and the food industry — including what not to order. At the time, he had worked in eateries for more than 20 years, with the last decade spent as a frontline chef. 

Even today — a quarter-century later — avoiding Monday fish dishes is a mantra many diners still keep in mind, even though new insights have come forward.

According to Bourdain, Monday fish specials aren't always fresh

Among the bombshells Anthony Bourdain revealed in his New Yorker article was his perspective on Monday night fish specials. "If you like four-day-old fish, be my guest," Bourdain wrote. 

He revealed that chefs order seafood on Thursday night to sell over the weekend, when the restaurant is busiest. The chef's goal is to complete that entire seafood order by Sunday night, since there are no weekend fish deliveries. However, if the order isn't used up over the weekend, the fish that diners get with their Monday meal is left over from that original Thursday order. 

That means your Monday fish entree has been languishing under variable conditions for four days, and its quality ultimately depends on how vigilant the presiding chef was over the weekend. "When a kitchen is in full swing, proper refrigeration is almost nonexistent," Bourdain said, explaining that cooks constantly open and close the refrigerator door to access other items. He noted that the best, freshest fish comes in on Tuesday, so it might be ideal to wait a day to get fish at a restaurant.

Bourdain did, however, negate his reasoning in a passage in "Kitchen Confidential," saying he'd always try the grilled lobster at "an open-air barbecue shack on the Caribbean," even where he could see flies and knew the refrigeration was dubious at best. Because, after all, how often would he be able to travel to the Caribbean to eat the fresh fish there? 

Bourdain somewhat retracted his advice later in life

In an Insider Tech interview in 2016, Anthony Bourdain actually retracted his earlier sentiment on Monday fish nights. He reflected that the New York City market and restaurant scene was much different than it had been 16 years prior when he first wrote his article.

Bourdain maintained you should still be cautious if trying the mussels on Monday (or any night) at a local pub — in "Kitchen Confidential," he cited careless storage issues and possible spoilage as reasons to stay away from the shellfish dish. But, by and large, people know more about food, eat a larger variety of fish, and expect more from restaurants than they did back in the day, he shared. The way people eat fish and even the temperature people prefer fish to be at is no longer the same, he also explained.

Bourdain pointed to the rise of sushi as a "really important point in the development of American gastronomy," that has helped educated people on what fish should look and smell like. Sushi's rise has made diners open to eating fish raw, the way other cultures around the world have always done, he also said. This makes it harder for restaurants to get away with low-quality goods. "Regrettably, 'don't eat fish on Monday' is going to be on my headstone," he concluded. "But it's almost two decades later. Things have changed. Eat the damn fish."