A New Wave of Sushi

In Rosella KPT, a bold vision for ‘sustainable sushi’—as in, domestic and hyper-seasonal fish—has hit the shores of Kennebunk.
Words By Alexandra Hall
Photos By Heidi Kirn

I’d love to tell you to order the elegant, jewel-like bluefin crudo with pesto and pea shoots and pickled green strawberries at Rosella KPT. And I’d love to tell you to arrive early, order an apéritif (you should), and find a seat on the restaurant’s sun-dappled front porch (you definitely should), before wrapping your chopsticks around gleaming slabs of aged steelhead trout sashimi.

But I can’t do that. Not exactly, anyway. Because TJ Provenzano and Jeff Miller, who have just extended their novel concept of “sustainable sushi” from the widely celebrated original spot in New York City to Kennebunk—a previously sushi-impoverished town—have determined that those precise menu items may not be offered.

“No two days are alike,” explains TJ, adding that during his days making sustainable sushi, Jeff has served roughly 95 different species of fish, some of them only once. “We avoid overfished species and serve a lot of bycatch” —meaning species not targeted but inadvertently caught by fishermen that often perish as a result. “Which is an incredible way to serve fish sustainably, because it’s what the ocean provides.” So, for example, in something like the aforementioned bluefin pesto crudo, you may find striped bass standing in for bluefin. In other words, at Rosella, look forward to specific preparations rather than specific fish.

Overlooking downtown Kennebunk, origami-like sconces and walnut woods define the stylish space.

That said, look forward to exquisite fish in general. Because equal in the service of sustainability is Rosella’s dedication to domestic fish—as opposed to product flown in from far-flung locales. It’s an idea that Jeff and TJ came to separately before they met. TJ was buying fish for sushi pop-ups in New York when he was scolded away from buying Atlantic fish. He bought it anyway. “We bought some Montauk fluke and made crudo. It was amazing,” he recalls. “And then we did some research and found out that the species and the waters were just as good here. But the difference is in the handling of the product.”

Using meticulous handling methods for American fish, both Rosella locations are carving out a novel approach to sushi. But the Kennebunk outpost is adding another, even more local layer—courtesy of Maine shellfish plucked directly from our waters. Keep an eye out for fish wrapped in local seaweed, and if the plump and sweet-tart pickled mussel maki is available, nab some.

The wine list, assembled by co-owner TJ Provenzano, focuses on small U.S. winemakers and Japanese sakes.

That marriage of Japan and New England is also a happy one aesthetically, thanks to local talent like Douston Construction and Kennebunkport Resort Collection’s creative director Mark Cotto, who created the 28-seat room. With its warm walnut woods set against simple navy blues, Hurlbutt Designs lighting, and origami-like sconces, it feels like a fictional Ralph Lauren and Yohji Yamamoto seaside collab come to life.

And something else pervades the place, too: a very modern, slightly irreverent playfulness—a sensibility that only deepens the idea of this being domestic, or “American,” sushi. The acknowledgement of tradition, but also its reinvention, is evident in a ceviche of silken coconut milk, lime, mango—made with scallops one night or halibut another—and the cheeky crunch of, of all things, corn nuts. And then there’s the ease with which they flip the script on ubiquitous sushi-house staples like the usual one-note miso soup. Here that tired warhorse is made from Pennsylvanian farro miso, and the result is elevated to unrecognizable heights. It’s creamy, a little nutty, and revelatory.

“Jeff and I aren’t pretentious food people,” says TJ. “We love to experiment and have fun. And maybe open people’s minds a little.” ▪

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