Wong's King Seafood Restaurant typically wins big accolades for being Portland's pinnacle of Chinese cuisine.
Four years ago, Portland Monthly magazine surveyed the foodie zeitgeist and named the restaurant on Southeast Division Street near 87th Avenue one of a handful of eateries "changing the way" for Portland's die-hard food lovers. WW's own taste-testers have issued similar assessments over the years. "When it comes to dim sum, there's no place in Portland, from Chinatown to 82nd Avenue, that comes close to matching Wong's King," WW wrote in its 2009 Restaurant Guide.
But this week the restaurant's enormous popularity and its place at the forefront of Chinese restaurants in Portland earn Wong's King a public shaming from the Rogue Desk.
The cause of our criticism leaps from the colorful pages of Wong's King's extensive, photograph-laden menu. On one page, the restaurant boasts five kinds of shark-fin soup. Shark-fin soup is a luxurious treat often served at Chinese weddings and fine restaurants. At Wong's King, single bowls go for $26 to $39.
But the harvesting of shark fins for soup is a barbaric practice that harms our oceans and contributes to steep declines in shark populations, conservationists say. To get the coveted fins, fishermen yank sharks aboard their boats, slice off the dorsal fins, then toss the fish overboard, leaving them to die at the bottom of the ocean. (Check below to see video of the gruesome harvest as well as a PSA.)
"Disgusting." That's how Phil Tobin, a Portland scuba diver who has encountered de-finned shark carcasses, summarizes the practice. In March, Tobin started a letter-writing campaign to Wong's King to urge it to drop the soup from its menu.
A growing number of people globally object to this brutal trade. Last month, The New York Times reported on a disastrous credit-card promotion by Citibank Hong Kong. After the bank offered cardholders discounts on shark-fin soup, angry Hong Kongers waged an email and Facebook campaign, and Citibank ended the promotion.
"[T]he episode has highlighted how rapidly public opinion has shifted on the issue, especially in Hong Kong, where much of the world's trade in the fins takes place," the newspaper wrote.
Wong's King isn't the only Chinese restaurant in animal-loving Portland to serve shark-fin soup. Ocean City Seafood Restaurant, just south of Wong's King on Southeast 82nd Avenue, also serves the prized soup (for $26 a bowl). The Rogue Desk highlights Wong's King for special scorn because of its position as a leader in the local restaurant scene.
A manager for the restaurant was not available by press time, but a waiter at Wong's King said customers order the soup to improve their luck.
They're lucky they're not a shark.