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Citarella Is The Gourmet Grocery Store Where You Can Find The Freshest Fish In NYC

A trip to any one of Citarella's seven New York locations (plus one in Connecticut) fills a discerning foodie with an unshakeable sense of "I can't wait to go home and cook something awesome." Wild-caught flounder, fluke, shad, whole arctic char, grouper, eel, and striped bass glisten on ice. Regional fare from Nova Scotia lobsters to PEI oysters, wild swordfish steaks, Florida stone crab claws, Tasmanian trout, New Zealand Ora King salmon, and more are all laid out, representing the best of the best from pole to pole. Need grated bottarga? How about sea urchins, cuttlefish ink, and lobster stock? Citarella has it — and also carries Tuscan Branzino, the only retailer in America to sell it. It's on display less than 24 hours after it's caught in Italy.

Some things money alone cannot buy, let alone perpetuate into a one-of-a-kind gourmet business. Indeed, founder Joe Gurrera knows this and has spent his over-40-year career focusing on people and relationships at the heart of his craft (even, perhaps, over the fish). As Gurrera recently shared with Tasting Table, "I've spent nearly my entire life learning and studying the very subtle differences between the flavors and textures of dozens of varieties of seafood, but sourcing quality seafood expands way beyond just knowing these differences. It all starts with the source itself — who they are and what practices they engage in."

Fish, family, and lasting friendships are at the heart of the Citarella business model

New York City's original Fulton Fish Market pre-dates the Brooklyn Bridge by six decades. As the Market's website puts it, "For nearly 200 years, this bounty was only available to the world's best restaurants and the brave few willing to shop the market at 3 a.m." Among those brave few was Gurrera. Back when 12-hour workdays were common industry practice, he would personally be among the first fishmongers to arrive at Fulton when it opened before dawn to get the first pick, then work late into the evening.

This passionate dedication is why Gurrera is the heart of Citarella, a now-sprawling gourmet grocery that serves the city's top restaurants and roughly five million intrepid home cooks alike every single year. But Gurrera first cut his teeth working alongside his father at the family fish shop in Greenwich Village as a teenager. And when he bought the first Citarella location in 1983, it was still a neighborhood seafood shop in Manhattan's Upper West Side, where it had been serving the community since 1912. In just a few years, he became a supplier for local restaurants, broadening his net (pun intended) and laying the bricks of the Citarella empire. He even published a book of his collected 40+ years of career wisdom in 2018 called "Joe Knows Fish: Taking the Intimidation Out of Cooking Seafood."

Bringing international seafood to the New York community

In the time since, Joe Gurrera has spent decades forming connections and building bonds with fishermen from the local New England waters and across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean — many of whom also own multi-generational family businesses. As Gurrera told Tasting Table, "To me, one of the most important elements of sourcing seafood is understanding how the seafood I'm buying is handled during all stages, from the water to the docks to the market ... Understanding this will set you up for consistent success. We have relationships with fishermen and purveyors from just about everywhere — Europe to Brazil." Relationships like these are why all of Citarella's seafood is shipped overnight and never frozen. Fish are hand-cut, hand-shucked, and deboned by in-store expert fishmongers with samurai-esque knife skills.

Today, the market also sells store-made pasta, baked goods, cheeses, breads, deli sandwiches, elaborate cakes and tarts, and more, plus a selection of international produce and wine. According to Gurrera, the top sellers are salmon, local bass, shrimp, and the exclusive Branzino. Citarella has been serving New York City for over 100 years and its seafood display totes world-class fare that can only be acquired through years of building friendships. Keeping it small-scale is also a key part of Citarella's commitment to sustainable fishing practices. "Sustainability has definitely taken center stage," explains the owner. "People want to know that what they're eating isn't doing harm or damage to the ecosystem."