Have you ever tried Chandlers’ Tower of Tuna? Proper Moules Frites? Maybe a dozen Fat Bastards? Or dined on generous cuts of ahi or fresh Alaskan halibut cooked to perfection? So … it is no surprise that snagging top honors in the “surf” category once again at Chandlers, where owner Rex Chandler’s commitment to securing the best vendors and expediting delivery ensures Idaho diners reap the benefits of delectable oysters, mussels, ahi, halibut, black cod, abalone and many other delicacies from the sea.
He has a vested interest — his own palate. “Honestly,” said Chandler, “I eat more fish than anything else … . But when I do have to try and test and usually my go-to [order] is seafood. We often dine with friends, so everybody has a different dish, and my job now seems to be quality control. Of course, I have other responsibilities, but that’s the fun part.”
Boise has many new transplants from the East Coast and the West Coast, and the growing demand for the city to expand its seafood options is not lost on Chandler.
When asked if this impacted his ordering, he agreed that it had. “Well, we’ve always had a large seafood selection because of my background. So, the simple answer to your question is yes, quite definitely,” Chandler said. “I started in Hawaii, where I started my restaurant career. On March 15th, I celebrated 48 years as a restaurateur. I’ve owned a restaurant contiguously since 1974. So, seafood was always the specialty of our restaurants. I owned one that was nationally known — Nick’s Fish Market. [They had locations] in Honolulu, Beverly Hills, Houston and Chicago. I owned the one in Honolulu for many years, and it was very much like Chandlers.”
In Hawaii and at the other high-profile spots, Chandler honed his menu and shored up the best vendors, something he is still actively involved with for Chandlers in Boise.
“I started in Honolulu doing seafood, and I opened restaurants in Southern California where I was raised. I did fine-dining seafood,” he said. “The logistics weren’t there when we moved to Ketchum to raise my son, who was a ski racer. I couldn’t get the seafood, and I couldn’t get the product I wanted to serve. So we moved into meats and did Northwest cuisine like Elk tenderloin. Those dishes were paramount because you’re in a ski resort. So when we opened [Chandlers] in Boise in 2007, I surmised that it would be better to be a prime steakhouse that serves good fish than a seafood restaurant that serves a good steak. And, because that was what was going on at the time. Seafood was so rare here, and we were landlocked. There weren’t all of our new residents we have now who have those expectations. So I’ve seen it change and evolve. Often, I spend as much money on seafood as I do on meats; we serve so much of it.”
Oysters are always a bellwether for quality with seafood lovers and places in the Pacific Northwest — Whidbey Island’s Penn Cove Mussels — where Chandler has focused much of his sourcing. “We buy oysters directly from Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington. They’re very clean and wonderfully fresh, and we get delivery three times a week at the airport. They put it on the plane, and we have a little van, and we pick that up. And our Hawaiian seafood and a lot of our Alaskan seafood, also.”
The Hawaiian vendors are given their orders directly from Chandlers for what they want, he said. “There’s a video on our website of me at a Honolulu fish auction. And so at 5 in the morning, the fish comes in, they unload it, it goes directly into the auction. We take samples, decide on the value. Buy the fish. It goes across the street to their facility where it’s cleaned, boxed; it’s on an airplane, and we get it by 10:30 that morning. You can’t get better quality or fresher fish.”
The dish Rex Chandler wants you to try? His favorite may surprise you. “Abalone. We’re the only ones in Idaho that have it. And as a kid growing up down in Newport Beach, California, abalone was what we did. And I’ve had that on my menu from Day One. So for 48 years now, I’ve been buying from the same family out of Mexico. It’s expensive, a real delicacy and the people that like it, well you can’t believe the following we have and the amount of loyalty to that product. And other people just have no idea what it is But, that’s the specialty. And then after that, our ahi is exceptional. Also, our swordfish, black cod.”
Chandler was speaking via phone from Hawaii … “and I’m here in Hawaii right now,” he said. “So we’re heading to the fish market to get an idea of what’s going on with the marketplace … and update our recipes. I always try to keep the recipes fresh.”