Sushi That Swims Against the Tide of Tradition

The words “sustainable sushi” don’t necessarily strike a chord at waltz time.

Virtuous shopping doesn’t always go with skillful cooking, let alone a hand trained in slicing amberjack, mixing soybeans and all the other elements of an exceptional nigiri. The difference became more pronounced as New York City attracted more omakase counters whose chefs imbibed the traditional techniques of the Edomae school during long apprenticeships in Japan.

Their menus have refined our notions of sushi. Their respect for custom, however, often extends to the choice of fish, regardless of how far it has been fished or how depleted its stocks since the Edo period.

Rosella, who has been serving what she calls sustainable sushi in the East Village since the fall, offers one remarkable dish after another while swimming against the current Edomae. It uses ingredients not in the traditionalist playbook, from fish sauce in coconut milk to seafood species. Like Nobu when she appeared, Rosella makes you smile with pleasure and then make you feel good. question what you thought you knew about sushi.

Take the Rosella mussel nigiri. Mussels are some of the easiest mollusks to grow and, because they are filtering, they cleanse the water as they grow larger. Still, they’re rarely seen at sushi-yas in New York City, let alone Tokyo. Guess I’ve always vaguely assumed they just didn’t have what it takes to appear alongside elite nigiri toppings like the gizzard. Next, I ate two steamed Prince Edward Island mussels that were topped with lemongrass, ginger and other flavored sake, then layered over rice. They were soft and buttery like poached oysters – more like oysters, at least, than most mussels you come across.

Carefully bred rainbow trout can have a finer, leaner flavor than farmed salmon. It’s not completely unheard of at local sushi counters but I’ve never tasted Steelhead’s coral pink flesh-based sushi that’s as spellbinding as Rosella’s. Smoked over apple wood chips and cut diagonally for tenderness, it’s seasoned with a sharp tip of chopped shallot pickles.

The smoked rainbow trout also appears in an upside-down roll; Dill cream cheese, cucumber, and Japanese omelet are tucked inside the rice, which is sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. The roll, called Yoni’s Breakfast, is both a believable homage to the lox on a bagel and a welcome bit of humor in a restaurant that takes provenance seriously.

Yoni is Yoni Lang. He and a second owner, Jeff Miller, run the kitchen together. The two chefs met in Austin, Texas, while working at Uchiko, Tyson Cole’s sushi restaurant. Like them, Mr. Cole looks at the fishing figures when shopping for seafood and doesn’t just stick to the colors of the box of Japanese pencils. After leaving Texas, before going into business with Mr. Lang, Mr. Miller worked some of Rosella’s dishes and her sustainability program at Mayanoki, an omakase restaurant located a few blocks south.

There’s also an omakase option at Rosella, a $ 150 tasting you pay for in advance. It’s probably best suited for eating indoors at the counter, made of planks sawn from the trunk of a London plane that pushed through Red Hook, Brooklyn, until Hurricane Sandy blew it up. So far, all of my meals have been eaten under the roof of a solidly framed cabin on the sidewalk, between Lucy’s bar and the dark hull of Doc Holliday, who rests his scuffed cowboy boots until the saloons are again allowed to act as saloons.

Even with its subdued bars, Avenue A is alive at night with the usual nightcrawlers. A succession of 15 small plates might not be out of place on the sidewalk, but Rosella’s long a la carte menu lends itself to casual dining at your own pace.

A bowl of cold fish is almost mandatory. The ceviche is strange until you realize that it is a seafood salad with South Asian trends, and very interesting, a blend of green herbs, fried shallots, segments of citrus fruits and raw fish caught a few kilometers away. Most ceviche recipes call for mixing seafood with lime juice and chili peppers. Rosella makes a tangy pomegranate vinaigrette, with lime juice, Vietnamese fish sauce and homemade garum, the old condiment fermented from fish intestines.

Or you can start with the crudo. Again, ignore the name – Italy has nothing to do with this bowl of raw tuna and creamy champagne mango on a thick pool of lemongrass scented coconut milk, surrounded by a ring of oil peppery green made from Vietnamese rau ram herb.

This tuna could be bigeye tuna or bluefin tuna, as it was on my first outing to Rosella, when I also ate red tuna in a spicy tuna roll with jalapeño and crunchy with kimchi. Some nights there is more bluefin tuna on Rosella’s menu than you will see at any establishment not managed by Masa Takayama.

Hearing that a restaurant advertising sustainability is serving bluefin tuna in abundance will make some people squirt like they’ve sniffed lines of pure wasabi off Leonardo DiCaprio’s back. Almost everyone has heard at some point that the bluefin tuna is in danger. Fewer people know that the intensive management of the commercial tuna fishery has helped western Atlantic bluefin tuna species rebound to the point where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has classified it in recent years as a “fruit pick.” intelligent sea ”. Not all environmental groups agree. Citing a recent population decline, in March, the Monterey Bay Aquarium demoted the species from “good alternative” to “avoid.”

Lax enforcement and outlaw boats are threats to progress. Rosella’s decision, for now, is to reward good behavior. Chefs say they only buy bluefin tuna when it comes from fishing crews that use portable gear, meet catch limits and observe seasonal closures. It’s up to you to decide if you’re okay with it, but I think it’s worth talking about, as waiters will if you ask why bluefin tuna is on the menu, fishing practices that give it a chance. to come back.

And there are plenty of great fish in Rosella that aren’t bluefin tuna: hand-seared Gulf shrimp, brushed with a mind-opening oil made from dried peppers and juicy shrimp heads; smoked amberjack with walnuts under a crunchy armor of sunflower salt; firm bands of Rhode Island black bass.

If your appetite survives, the noodle soup should take care of it. The laksa suffers from a somewhat anemic broth, a charge that will never be made against fish ramen; its powerful broth is made by boiling the heads of all the fish whose bodies have gone to sushi. Those who don’t like fishy fish should stay away, and maybe even cross the avenue, while the rest of us happily drown in it.

With dessert, you can leave the coast behind you anyway. There’s a bittersweet chocolate crémeux with cotton cake cushions, which unfurl on a cloud-like continuum somewhere between the pain au lait and the cheesecake. But you probably shouldn’t leave without investigating Orange Cream Amazake, certainly the best fermented rice pudding in town.

Rosella’s third owner, TJ Provenzano, has assembled the wine list, which has his eye on small lots from small winemakers. Each bottle comes from the United States with the exception of a dozen Japanese sakes. With plenty to choose from by the glass, this is a list you can get lost in, which may help explain why one evening, sitting outside with my third or fourth orange wine, I found myself engaged in a contact. meaningful visual with a sheepdog.

The dog, who was out for a walk, pulled in my direction.

His walker asked our server, “Are you okay if my dog ​​joins you?”

“Is your dog cute?” she said.

The answer was obvious and she disappeared into the restaurant for a moment to have a box of goodies handy for occasions like this. After the dog entertained her with a trick or two, she handed him what looked like a long cigarette rolled in silver. It was dried fish skin.

Think about what you want from bluefin tuna. Any restaurant that saves fish skin for neighborhood dogs has its heart in the right place.

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