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Fearless Critic restaurant review
New Haven
Upmarket restaurant

Sat 5:00pm–11:00pm
Sun 5:00pm–10:00pm

Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted

17 Turnpike Square
Milford, CT
(203) 877-7686
East Japanese Restaurant
Lonely strip-mall sushi and Japanese fusion that’s still the best in the area—by far

At our last visit to this excellent sushi and Japanese fusion restaurant along an unlikely stretch of Milford strip mall, its bland blond-wood interior felt lonelier than ever. There was the stale air of a restaurant in decline. What had gone wrong, we wondered? Where was the energy? Where were the customers?

We were surprised, thus, to find its kitchen and sushi bar firing on all cylinders, from bracingly fresh Washington State oysters on the half shell to jalapeño kampachi that’s as melty and fresh as ever, sprinkled with copious Osetra caviar (although we weren’t quite sure what a strawberry was doing on the plate). Sweet live scallop sits on a bed of lemon, with the muscles showing up in a separate pile, chewy but good, with an abalone-like texture, in a soy-vinegar dressing. Toro tartare in a salty, flavorful soy-wasabi sauce, at one visit, was accompanied by a syrupy bayberry, a rarely-encountered fruit. The combination simultaneously activated receptors sweet and salty, taste and touch; the crunch of the shallots amplified the ethereal softness of the toro. And almost flawless are the crispy, comforting duck spring rolls with citrus, oil, and soy sauce, like a brilliantly executed Peking duck—but with an edge.

Even the basic nigiri are excellent at East; they come at the proper room temperature, with sushi rice that’s beautifully vinegared, with ideal sweetness. You can’t find anything like this in New Haven. Try silky hiramasa (Australian golden amberjack), when available. Ask for yellowtail, and you might get a nice, oily belly piece with impeccable flavor and richness. King salmon is sometimes flown in from New Zealand, and bursts with freshness. Uni (sea urchin) is lovely and creamy, sweet, as good a specimen as we’ve had in the area.

In short, East still serves the best sushi in the area. But they need a new marketing pitch. The cafeteria-style tables and office-style ceilings aren’t really cutting it anymore. And prices are high. Good sea urchin is always expensive, but $18 for an uni appetizer (wrapped with fluke and served with lemon yuzu) probably prices out most customers. The $12 price tag on the plate of jalapeño kampachi is steep, too. Perhaps they should offer half-portions of such dishes for half the price. Lunches are much more reasonably priced, but don’t give you the chance to taste the kitchen at its best. Management has also been sending some mixed messages about discontinuing lunch and weekday hours; call ahead before you go.

The message is that get what you pay for. Here’s hoping people will come to see the value proposition here, even at the high end. If only they’d do something about the atmosphere.

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