Cast Away

W hen it comes to sushi joints in downtown New Haven, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Some appeal to value-seekers with high-quantity, low-cost rolls. Others cater to adventurous palates with wallets to match.

But those fishing for something new might consider casting a longer line. Dozo Asian Bistro & Sushi, which averages four and half stars across 56 reviews on Yelp, is a few miles outside the center of town, on Whalley Avenue. Last Saturday, it was a slow, slippery crawl through the snow to arrive at its doors for lunch. Once seated, however, my tablemate and I were greeted with aromatic hot towels and green tea, thawing us enough to peruse a menu of sushi and sashimi along with noodle entrees and bento boxes.

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Dozo’s eclectic decor is dramatic in its way. The few windows were shuttered, and small curios like a jade money tree and an intricate bird cage sat on high shelves in their own pools of light, secretive and intriguing. Venetian chamber music was playing. There was a large amethyst geode on display that wouldn’t be out of place at a natural history museum, and a long dimly lit sushi bar along one side. It’s not what you expect from a restaurant so far off the beaten path, situated in a strip mall.

We started with the tempura appetizer ($6), featuring broccoli, shrimp and seasonal acorn and butternut squash coated in airy tempura flakes and fried with a light hand. The shrimp and veggies retained their brightness and texture beneath the tempura’s lacey, crispy coating.

We tried one of the several lunch specials on the menu, the Sushi and Sashimi Lunch ($15), along with two special rolls. The lunch special, which came with thick slices of salmon, tuna and yellowtail was a good value for the cost, including a California roll and five pieces of nigiri—mackerel, salmon, yellowtail, white tuna and tuna.

The California offered a competent take on a classic standby. The sashimi, on the other hand, was particularly good. Fresh fish with an inviting sheen on it, the slices were well portioned and served not too cold.

Spicy Girl, the first of the special rolls, comes with spicy salmon, yellowtail, masago (roe) and crispy tempura flakes inside and spicy tuna on the outside. The spicy mayonnaise sauce didn’t overwhelm the fish, whose softness was rounded out by the crunch of the tempura.

The second special roll we tried was the Sweetheart Roll ($13), a heart-shaped tuna and kani (crab) concoction topped with orange dollops of spicy sauce. Here, form had a slight leg up on function—the roll was cute, but a little loose. The flavors were even sharper than the Spicy Girl, however—Dozo’s tuna was particularly fresh, and the kani was densely packed, rich and slightly sweet.

What makes Dozo stand out from other sushi offerings is a level of sophistication and restraint. From the tempura flakes to the spicy mayonnaise, none of the potential offenders were overplayed—the fish was always the focus. The flavor combinations aren’t ocean-shaking, but that’s not always what eaters are looking for. Sometimes, you just want confident, high-quality sushi and sashimi.

That Dozo offers as much is an open secret. You just have to be willing to seek it out.

Dozo Asian Bistro & Sushi
1450 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11:30am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm
(203) 387-4898

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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