Beyond Sushi

As our comfort with eating uncooked seafood grows, Mexican, Peruvian, Italian, French, New American, and especially Hawaiian cuisines have sunk their hooks into the possibilities. In Westchester, diners are welcoming a more multicultural take on raw seafood — from crudo, tartare, and tataki to carpaccio, tiradito, and ceviche. And especially poké. 

When Chef Salvatore “Sal” Cucullo Jr. took a research trip to California early last summer, he noticed poké was popping up everywhere. So, when Cucullo opened 808 Social in Scarsdale in August, he created his own version.

Poké is “gaining steam here, and I wanted to be ahead of the curve,” Cucullo says. “It has that freshness value…and people want healthier options.” 

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Black truffles are shaved over X2O’s scallop tartare.

Poké (pronounced POH-KAY, meaning “to slice or cut”) is a Hawaiian dish of marinated raw fish, usually tuna or salmon, chopped into thick chunks. It’s most often sold with vegetables and rice in a bowl, but it can be served with tortilla chips, wrapped, or on salad.  

At 808 Social, the tuna poké bowl has fresh bluefin tuna marinated in a soy-sesame dressing with a Seville blood-orange glaze, garnished with scallions and cucumber and weighted with crispy quinoa. “The crispy quinoa and tenderness of the tuna balance each other out,” Cucullo says. 

It makes sense that Inno Sushi at Exit 4 Food Hall in Mount Kisco has poké on its menu, because the place already handles large quantities of high-quality fresh fish for its sushi. Diners choose their base of white rice, brown rice, or vegetables and then one of seven poké varieties, such as spicy yuzu salmon with yuzu kosho sauce, edamame, and lime.

Nationwide chain Yard House debuted its poké nachos in June at its 65 US locations, including Yonkers. Executive Chef Carlito Jocson calls the creation his “elevated nachos,” which have the texture of ceviche. The dish features marinated ahi, avocado, cilantro, serrano peppers, green onions, sesame seeds, and nori served with a sweet soy and sriracha aioli, along with white truffle sauce and crispy wontons.

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Chef Constantine Kalandranis plays with raw seafood in all sorts of ways at his restaurants. At 273 Kitchen in Harrison, he serves a raw yellowfin tuna and Mediterranean egg salad with capers, anchovies, and bacon. “Sounds funny, but it’s awesome,” Kalandranis says. 

Every Monday on Taco Night, 273 Kitchen creates one raw-fish taco among others. Almost always dressed in a bit of lime juice, olive oil, and cilantro, the fish changes according whatever is the freshest, grade-A fish at the market, from Arctic char or salmon to snapper, fluke, or Spanish mackerel. And at 251 Lex in Mount Kisco, Kalandranis serves a tzatziki-style crudo scallop with fresh dill, cucumber, red onion, mint, and a tangy sheep’s milk yogurt vinaigrette.

“When you’re using raw, you really can’t fake it. It has to be fresh from that day or not long before,” Kalandranis says. 

Restaurants of all kinds offer ceviche, the darling of Peruvian cuisine that is also claimed by neighboring South and Central American cultures. In ceviche, raw seafood marinates in lime or lemon juice until the citric acid weakens the flesh’s proteins in almost the same way heating does. The final product is raw fish with the opaque look and firm texture of cooked fish. 

There’s more to The Taco Project than just tacos, like this rock shrimp ceviche tostada.

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Nick Mesce, co-owner of The Taco Project in Tarrytown, believes in the comeback of ceviche enough to put a seasonal ceviche — such as a rock shrimp with avocado, red onion, lemon, lime, roasted corn, cabbage, radish, and cilantro on a corn tostada — on his mostly Mexican-inspired menu. He plans to add a tuna or salmon poké bowl with a tostada, too.

While Hawaii has poké, and Latin countries love their ceviche, French restaurants still offer tartare, and high-end Italian eateries serve crudo, which just means “raw” in Italian. Executive Chef Andy Nusser at Tarry Lodge in Tarrytown expresses his raw love with an Atlantic salmon crudo flavored with Meyer lemons, Capezzana olive oil, and crushed Sicilian pistachios.

“The level of simplicity is really refreshing when you represent fish this way,” Nusser says. “There’s no reason not to eat it raw in the way of another culture or ethnicity, whether it’s Spanish or Italian.”

Chef Peter Kelly borrows from many cultures with his contemporary takes on raw fish at X20 Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers and Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar in Congers.

Kelly transforms raw ahi in several ways: into a ceviche with coconut milk and sambal; into a tartare with an avocado and cucumber salad; and into a yellowfin tuna crudo draped over lightly pickled fennel with a compote of anchovies, capers, garlic, and sundried tomatoes. His hand-harvested scallop tartare is tossed with fava beans, shaved black truffles, Hawaiian red salt, and extra-virgin olive oil. And his “virtually raw” wild-caught salmon fillets are sandwiched together to cure for three days with sugar, salt, fennel, coriander seeds, and orange. The salmon is served atop a corn or zucchini cake. 

“I’m happy to see more people eating raw fish; I’m a huge fan. There’s a depth of flavor you can’t achieve when you cook it,” Kelly says. “I think that the Japanese model has brought us as far as we can go there, so it’s nice to see other ideas being done. That’s not to take anything away from that Japanese model — there’s just more to choose from.”  

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