Much of the sushi-grade fish we eat in restaurants travels Odyssey-level lengths in order to make it onto our plates. Upscale spots fly in otoro on Wednesdays from Tokyo Bay, and Hokkaido scallops rack up an impressive number of airline miles. On the off chance your neighborhood sushi place is selling something from America, it’s going to be uni from Santa Barbara or maybe even Philadelphia Cream Cheese, confusingly manufactured in Lowville, New York. Rosella on Avenue A is trying a different sourcing model, one that focuses on fish who swim closer to the East Village than they do to Tokyo, and eating here will change the way you crave and think about sushi.
photo credit: David A. Lee
This restaurant almost exclusively uses ingredients found within the United States. They dole out bigeye tuna from North Carolina, striper grown in Bushwick, and incredible fluke sashimi that was caught so close to Rosella it could have taken the afternoon train from Montauk while enjoying a tallboy in a brown paper bag. If you’re a sushi snob, you might be thinking, “Is striped bass from Texas actually delicious?” We get it. But we wouldn’t be emphatically recommending Rosella if the fish didn’t taste just as (if not more) luxurious than what’s being served at your favorite sushi spot.
An à la carte meal at Rosella will be the highlight of your week (and run you around $50), but the $150 omakase is particularly impressive as it paces through 15-18 dishes. Some, like the Maine oyster doused in Thai fish sauce, are served in tiny shooter glasses, and others arrive in shallow bowls that you’ll want to pick up and slurp from. (A lightly-cooked British Columbia spot prawn in a butter dashi comes to mind.) The chefs also curate five or six nigiri with the best fish they have on hand, often topped with yuzu zest, soy sauce, or finger lime beads. If you’re lucky, you’ll be handed a warm mug of broth to drink before dessert. It’s made from the restaurant’s fish leftovers, and each slurp drinks cloudy and rich. This soup is a little like Rosella’s version of a musical finale, reprising all of the fish that made the show possible.
photo credit: David A. Lee
As you eat each piece of dolled-up American sea creature, you might overhear the cooks tease the head chef about a playlist best described as Enthusiastic Dad Rock or notice a pair of commemorative Beavis and Butt-Head socks hanging among the cookbooks on the wall. Rosella’s space is high-brow and low-brow all at once, and, given the fact that you can go weeknight-á-la-carte or full-on-special-occasion here, that just makes sense.
If you’re anxious about how soon mama earth is going to cross her arms and declare “It’s time to leave, humans,” you probably already know that we’re late in questioning our transcontinental sushi-sourcing practices. But Rosella makes the future of sushi significantly easier to swallow. So if you’ve been carrying around the misconception that American fish isn’t good enough to enjoy raw, come to Rosella and be proven wrong.
A tip: Reservations can be hard to come by, but Rosella keeps the bar by the window open for walk-ins. So arrive around six, and put your name in if you’re determined to eat here tonight.
Rosella’s chirashi bowl remains the most expedient way to try their fish greatest hits in one swoop. It comes with a substantial amount of sushi rice underneath a mound of assorted sashimi—we’ve had arctic char, bass, bluefin tuna, and salmon in ours before. There are also crispy shallots, tamago, creamy avocado slices, and shiso leaves that give the whole bowl a clean, fresh finish. This, plus a few pieces of nigiri or a roll, could be your whole meal.
A La Carte Sushi & Sashimi
Choosing which nigiri or sashimi to eat at Rosella feels a little like looking at a departures board and picking your destination. Want to check out Louisiana ebi? How about Applewood-smoked steelhead trout from upstate New York? There’s always a mix of East Coast and West Coast fish, and we’d suggest trying at least one fatty option (like char belly) as well as one that’s smoked in house. Our favorites are the Washington State Arctic Char and the bluefin tuna from Massachusetts that arrives just slightly colder than room temperature and softens on your tongue like margarine melting on toast.
Rosella offers “big” and “little” rolls, and the difference between the two options has to do with how many ingredients the chefs incorporate into the maki (and therefore how petite or colossal the roll ends up). The little spicy avocado roll might sound uninspired, but it’s far from boring. Each piece is stuffed with creamy avocado, with a funky, acidic sauce that takes direct inspiration from the ingredients used in kimchi.
Very few sushi restaurants in this city add heat to their sushi. If anything, you might see an eager little jalapeño in the mix, but there’s usually nothing fierier than that. Rosella takes a different approach. We were worried that the fresno chilis in the big Arctic Char roll might overshadow the delicate fish—and we were very wrong. The shiso and avocado temper the pepper’s flames, and the result tastes equally salty, creamy, and herbaceous, with spice coming through on the finish.
If you bring a friend or a date for an à la carte meal, expect to spend at least $50 each on food. Think of this as the highlight-of-the-week route, whereas Rosella’s $150 omakase would be more accurately categorized as a highlight of the quarter. The kitchen changes the omakase slightly every day (at the end of the meal, you’ll get that night’s menu with the date at the top) and does an overhaul every season. Reservations for their two nightly seatings go quickly, so plan ahead.
Rosella approaches their beverage program in a way that’s similar to how they source their food. (The only international drinks come in the form of sake from Japan.) There’s an $80 drink pairing with the omakase that’s worth if if you’re someone who cares about trying interesting (but delicious) wine, cider, and sake. If you’d rather just order a drink or two, you should know that we’ve had some truly delicious red wine at Rosella. When was the last time you drank red wine at a sushi restaurant? Try it.