Seas the day at Velvet Belly
Coastal fare sails into the Public Market, Photos by Tomas Flint
3 Public Market
Joshua Miles nearly called his restaurant Blue Boy.
That was the name of his grandfather Grady’s offshore fishing boat, which he rode countless times growing up in South Carolina. He remembers sailing over to Little River, a coastal town in the state, where his grandparents would cook for him. “I got my love of cuisine from them,” says the owner, who also operates the Revelry,
Branca Midtown, and Bitter Honey.“That’s where it all started.”
While, ultimately, he and his team opted to name their newest concept in the Public Market area Velvet Belly—after the deepwater Atlantic lantern shark—his seaside upbringing is very present in the restaurant.
“It really stems from our love of the ocean,” he says.
More evidence of Miles’s family’s influence is the rich color inside the space. The painted shiplap bears a deeper hue of the blue from his grandfather’s boat. Co-owner Chelsea Felton worked tirelessly to transform the former Union Street Bakery building into a glamorous, nautical paradise, and she succeeded.
Its tall ceilings are offset by diffused milk glass lamps, which give the dining room a pearl-like glow. Secluded booths, painted in the restaurant’s signature blue, provide a sense of privacy in the massive space. Each features an old photograph of Miles and his family by the water—a thoughtful touch that makes this polished place feel more grounded.
The globally inspired menu spans everything from raw shellfish and sashimi to brothy fishermen’s stews and wood-grilled meats. Everything is shareable, and the portions are generous, so come hungry. Since their opening, I’d seen a barrage of Instagram posts about their sushi rolls smothered in creamy miso sauce and their ruby-sliced ahi tuna. While they received high praise for their Japanese-inspired fare, I was dying to know how their rustic seafood dishes measured up. I’m pleased to report they didn’t disappoint.
For one, you’ll find options here you won’t find anywhere else, including a firm yet buttery Opah from the Pacific Coast served with lemon caper butter. Or a flaky Red Drum, Red Snapper’s flavor doppelganger, dressed in smoky Calabrian chile butter.
The restaurant receives fresh shipments daily. It also makes an effort to purchase lesser-known fish, often called by-catch, that are unintentionally netted while attempting to catch other types of fish.
It’s just another way Grandpa Grady’s respect for the ocean rubbed off on the restaurant.
“The name of our game is staying on the phone with people,” Miles says. “I don’t care if I’m only getting four pounds of it. I want the freshest and quickest sent to us.”
The seafood platter ($60 for small and $120 for large) beautifully showcases the quality and regional diversity of the shellfish. It comes with raw East Coast oysters on the half shell; jumbo prawns; and chilled, steamed Alaskan king crab legs. It’s so much fun to sample the best each coast has to offer, all from one plate.
The freshness of the provisions also allows chef Jeremy Nucelli, the former chef at the Strathallan, to show off different techniques of preparing it. We ordered wood-grilled calamari in romesco sauce ($16), and it was impossibly tender—a far cry from the chewy, breaded rings you find at other restaurants.
Another highlight was the spicy Livorno fish and shellfish stew ($45). It’s similar to a cioppino or bouillabaisse, brimming with scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, and their daily fish—salmon, in my case. It comes with a few toasted slices of salt bread, but I highly recommend ordering more to sop up the rich, tomatoey broth.
I felt as if I were enjoying the daily catch in some Italian coastal village, not shivering my buns off in Western New York. I can’t wait to come back later in the season and try different iterations of their cozy seafood offerings.
And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the bar, another crown jewel of this establishment. Similar to the restaurant group’s other spots, cocktails are just as carefully considered as the food.
Bar manager Becca Pesce, a Fairport native who spent time working at Angel’s Envy and the Dead Rabbit in New York City, developed the beverage menu with a focus on tropical and Japanese-inspired flavors.
If you’re in the mood to get noticed, order the electric blue Little Fishes ($13). It combines curaçao, white rum, pineapple juice, and coconut water, and it tastes like a grown-up piña colada.
Many drinks have a non-alcoholic version—a huge plus for those not drinking, whatever the reason. I was impressed to find the Bait and Switch ($7), made with passionfruit juice, vanilla, lime, and Japanese togarashi chile, to be deliciously complex and not overly sweet. This time of year, our city can be the farthest thing from a coastal vacation. But with a bit of imagination—and a couple of tiki drinks—Velvet Belly makes the Public Market feel a little closer to the sea.