Fish Out of Water

W hen you order an omakase box from Rockfish Sushi at East Rock Market, you’re literally telling the chef, “I leave it up to you.”

By that point, East Rock Market has already told you the same thing. Its “food hall” approach, with shared tables in a large, open dining room, also offers pizza and pasta from Panicale; açaí bowls, salads and cold-pressed juice from Raw; and 12 flavors of gelato from Nicoll Street Gelato and Coffee. A taqueria, a sandwich shop and a bar should be open soon; until then, you can BYOB.

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So far, Rockfish, which has its own dining counter, seems to be the star of the show. Never having been a fan of raw fish, I brought along two friends who are. “Give me a chance to prove it to you,” said chef Jason Tay, sure he could convert me. He started my friends with a bowl of warm, salted edamame, then wowed them with several courses—bluefin tuna; albacore with ginger and wasabi on the side; Faroe Island salmon with a touch of sesame; sea bream (“flown in fresh from Japan”) with citrus salt on top; yellowtail with scallions; and two handrolls: one with rice and toro, a fatty tuna, and one with blue crab—that so thrilled them (“delicate!” “luscious!”) that, eventually, I couldn’t resist joining. I eased in with the cooked crab, crunching through the delicate seaweed wrapper into sweet, rich meat in a bed of what Tay called “old-school” rice—un-sticky and melt-in-your-mouth good—with a wasabi boost in the center. Even I could tell the difference between this wasabi, which tasted like fresh horseradish, and the powdered variety.

The grand finale was a tuna belly deliciously browned with a blowtorch on top and left smooth as silk on the bottom. Along the way, Tay taught us how to dip our fish without dipping the rice underneath and educated us on the qualities of each course. When we thanked him for the special treatment, he said he does the same for all of his customers whenever he can. If you choose not to dine at the counter in front of the chef, you can order takeaway omakase boxes in several sizes as well as smaller à la carte boxes.

The ambiance of East Rock Market is upscale but decidedly food court-ish, with stations arrayed around the edges of a large, concrete-floored space that would likely get quite noisy during busy times. Minimalist contemporary decor includes live-edge wood tables cut from a single golden acacia tree, the cross-section of which is featured in the first area, and a moss wall hanging. But what really steps it up is the food, which is far from your ordinary mall court fare. From Panicale, I sampled a bowl of delicious homemade pasta in a spicy, buttery sauce with crunchy sauteed greens and chunks of parmesan as well as a pizza topped with mild sausage, sweet orange peppers and a taste of ricotta. The thin crust sported a bit of New Haven-style char but with more bite and a puffier edge.

When the weather cooperates, you can make your choice at the market and take it next door to the patio at East Rock Brewing, pairing your food with German-style beer poured right from the source—just another trick up East Rock Market’s sleeve.

East Rock Market
285 Nicoll St, New Haven (map)
Wed-Thurs 11:30am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-10pm, Sun 11:30am-9pm
(203) 823-9148 | [email protected]

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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