Fans of the late pop-up Yuji Ramen and Okonomi in Williamsburg have more of Yuji Haraguchi’s work to enjoy since the early August opening of his new fish shop Osakana, located a few blocks away from Okonomi on Graham Avenue.
By attaching the honorific “o” to the Japanese word for fish, sakana, Haraguchi has signaled his fish shop and education center’s mission and raison d’être: to honor local seafood ranging from the humble to the exalted and show customers how to prepare it at home.
Even before he launched his successful pop-up Yuji Ramen back in 2012, Yuji Haraguchi knew that he had a bigger calling: to do for fish what nose-to-tail butchers did for whole animal butchery and cookery. “There’s so much underutilized and underappreciated seafood in the U.S.,” he says, fish that would be considered “very precious in Japan.” In Japan, wasting good fish would be considered mottainai, or wanton wastefulness, and Haraguchi wants it to stop.
“Ramen was not really my focus or even my favorite food growing up,” explains Haraguchi, but more a means to an end. At the pop-up, he developed his all-fish “tuna-kotsu” broth, a gutsy pescatarian take on Fukuoka-style creamy tonkotsu broth, made by boiling down heaps of fish carcasses instead of pork bones. At Okonomi (where he does humble fish-centered fare by day, ramen by night) he showcases less familiar locally caught ocean eats like sea cucumber and sheepshead porgy.
Surprisingly Haraguchi’s mastery of both cooking and seafood didn’t come from his upbringing in Japan, but in the U.S. “on the job, and through customers,” he says. Working at Boston-based seafood wholesaler True World Foods, he saw the beauty and variety of what was available on the East Coast but also how little of it was actually consumed by American diners.
“Fulton [Fish Market in Hunts Point] works just like Tsukiji,” says Haraguchi, selling “amazing fish” from around the globe that rivals its Tokyo counterpart. The problem, he says, is not one of availability but more about Americans’ fear of cooking fish. They’ll order it in a restaurant but draw the line at facing a whole fish, or even a fileted fish, on their home cutting board.
So Haraguchi is offering hour-long classes in everything from fish butchery to how to make summer ramen topped with poke. Working closely and sourcing from Japanese seafood wholesaler Nishimaru—where many of his former colleagues at True World now work—Haraguchi is able to offer five sashimi selections daily and five uncooked, marinated or seasoned varieties. Everything he serves has been caught in local waters. The day I visited, there was miso-lemon dogfish, sake-kasu (sake-lees-marinated) bluefish and shioyaki (salt-cured) Spanish mackerel.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that netted him $57,000 in start-up money, Haraguchi designed the attractively minimalist shop himself, in a style that embodies his no-waste philosophy. The beautiful reclaimed wooden bench is from Big Reuse in Queens; the rustic Ooya stone, salvaged from a defunct Japanese restaurant, is from his hometown of Utsunomiya; and the ceramic-ware is made by Connecticut-based potter Jordan Colón. The glass fish display case was custom designed by an Italian maker of pastry display cases.
Although some might say his business model adds a middleman to the more direct dock-to-customer CSA model we’ve seen recently, Haraguchi believes that system has its own challenges. Though he’d one day like to source directly from local fishermen he knows personally, for now, he’s happy working with Nishimaru and the Fulton Fish Market. “I’m here to support local fishermen’s businesses,” he says, “not Fedex.”