Williamsburg Japanese restaurant Okonomi — known for its fish-packed breakfast — is looking to help people buy their own fresh local fish with a new Japanese-style fish market. Okonomi owner Yuji Haraguchi says that ever since he started doing pop-ups in New York about three years ago, diners have asked where they can buy fish to cook at home. But Haraguchi, who worked in seafood wholesale for seven years, says he hasn't been able to confidently recommend a place. Now, he's trying to open his own market Osakana in Williamsburg with the help of a Kickstarter, which launched today. "I'm very excited," he says. "It's more about raising awareness of local seafood. Okonomi will be the entrance. Osakana will be deeper."
Okonomi, which also opened after a Kickstarter campaign, has become known for the local fish it offers, a selection that changes daily based on what's the freshest catch available. Similarly, Osakana would have a limited selection of fish for sale based on what's fresh, Haraguchi says. The market will offer about ten different varieties of fish but only one or two of each kind. If certain fish aren't available, Osakana staff will suggest a comparable option, helping to expose people to different kinds of wild local fish, he says. A wild tile fish, for example, could be used instead of halibut, which is usually farm raised in the U.S.
Unlike the typical fish market — where "grouchy guys" showcase whole, scaled fish in large piles — Osakana will be a minimalistic 200 to 300 square feet store with no overwhelming fish smell and no fish pile-ups, Haraguchi says. All the fish will already be cleaned and gutted, and professionals will cut up filets for customers who want it, a method that keeps the fish fresher for longer, he says. "It's just a higher level of fish cleaning and storage," he says.
And for people who are unfamiliar with cooking fish, Haraguchi plans to host classes. An open kitchen in the back will serve for both training young cooks and for public sessions, he says. "People are afraid of trying a different fish," he says. "It’s not written in the cookbook they have. [But] you don’t have to have salmon. If they’re not comfortable trying it for the first time, we can do it together at a class." When the kitchen's not being used for classes, he plans to have a fast casual lunch counter, possibly with ramen or rice bowls.
The most important part, though, is the fish market and fish cooking classes, he says. Haraguchi wants people to learn more about the local catches. He'll try other methods of opening Osakana if the Kickstarter campaign aiming to raise $50,000 doesn't work, he says, but the public reaction is important to him. "If a lot of people react to it, the store is a very needed concept," he says. "I never imagined myself to be a restaurant group. I'm just doing what people need."