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Food Porn: A tale of two sushis

Nigiri sushi at Horinoya include everything from fatty tuna belly to sea urchin and salmon roe.

Nigiri sushi at Horinoya include everything from fatty tuna belly to sea urchin and salmon roe.

 

The Crescent City is, of course, world-renowned for its culinary scene, and justly so.  We're home to dishes you simply cannot find anywhere else in the world, and if you do, they're often pale facsimiles of the items they attempt to reproduce (have you seen what the yankees at Esquire magazine are calling a po-boy these days?  I rest my case).   The problem, I've noticed, insomuch as you can find problems with food in this city, is one of variety rather than quality.  New Orleans does one thing exceptionally well -- New Orleans food -- but if you're looking for something a bit more exotic, your search might end in disappointment.  There are oodles of Vietnamese restaurants, thank goodness, but only one dedicated ramen shop, Noodle & Pie.  We have exactly two Ethiopian restaurants.  There's a resurgence in Mexican and Tex-Mex, which is great, and a killer new Filipino restaurant, but I'd kill for more Indian, Korean and Thai joints.  I suppose you can't have everything, right?

One thing the Big Easy does have, believe it or not, is fantastic sushi.  You need to go in search of it, however.  There are tons of spots that offer what some call "utility sushi" -- think spicy tuna maki and elaborate rainbow rolls slathered, Jackson Pollock-style, in mayo and Sriracha sauce -- which is fine in a pinch, but not if you're looking for the kind of quality and mastery that makes authentic sushi so wonderful, not to mention so incredibly difficult to make.  It takes an aspiring sushi chef in Japan five years of training before being allowed to cook the rice alone, and near a lifetime to perfect the curing, slicing and hand-molding the fish into those perfect, bite-sized morsels of ocean-y wonderment.  And then, of course, is hand grating the wasabi with a shark skin oroshigane, pickling the ginger and other fine points of this noble craft.  Its beauty is in its simplicity.

If you’re looking for the best sushi New Orleans has to offer, there are two notable options that rise far above “utility sushi.”  The first is Horinoya, on Poydras St. in the CBD.  This is the place to order nigiri sushi and sashimi a la carte, or, better still, have the chef arrange an omakase tasting at the sushi bar.  Every bit of sushi I’ve enjoyed here hits the bullseye dead on, from luscious salmon to exquisitely rich chu-toro (fatty tuna belly), toothsome octopus, tangy barbecued eel, and ikura (salmon roe) that pop between your teeth like miniature detonations of briny goodness.  There are also a couple of options on the menu for you, should you happen to be a more adventurous gastronome: monkfish liver, also known as the “foie gras of the sea,” and uni, or sea urchin.  I never enjoyed uni before I tasted it at Horinoya, mostly, I suspect, because I’ve never eaten sea urchin of this freshness and quality.  Glistening golden in the light of the sushi bar, pop that uni into your mouth whole, and you’ll be treated to a singularly wonderful experience, like the entire ocean just placed itself delicately on your tongue.

The "Godzilla roll" at Kanno features "colossal lump crabmeat."

The "Godzilla roll" at Kanno features "colossal lump crabmeat."

On the other end of the NOLA sushi spectrum is Kanno, a “California-style” restaurant nestled humbly -- I kid you not -- in a Fat City strip mall.  If you’d told me, years ago, that some of the most exciting Japanese food in New Orleans would be found between a forlorn, empty storefront and a shady Irish pub, I would have laughed in your face.  But it’s true.  Do not be fooled by Kanno’s modest location.  The food is exquisite.  It’s also brimming with personality, thanks to the owner and chef, a boisterous, Osaka-bred raconteur and sushi master who goes by “Elvis.”  Again, I promise I am not lying to you.  You can get traditional sushi and sashimi at Kanno, and it’s outstanding, but there are other items worth your attention as well, particularly the marvelous hot dishes.  Think seared tuna in a rich portobello sauce, and crispy salmon topped with mango, avocado, caviar and a luxurious Dijon mustard sauce.  Also pay heed to the over-the-top maki (rolls), which are bound by colorful soybean paper instead of seaweed, and incorporate shredded snow crab in place of rice.  There’s no filler here, as evidenced by the “Godzilla roll,” which is topped by “colossal lump crabmeat.”  You read that right: there’s a size of lump crabmeat that’s actually bigger than “jumbo,” and it is “colossal.”  As are the flavors at Kanno.

So, whether you’re downtown at Horinoya or out in Metry at Kanno, these are the places to hit to truly satisfy your sushi jones in the Crescent City.  I’ve never left either of these spots without being profoundly satisfied, smiling with the kind of contentment that makes your soul feel full.  How’s that for a recommendation?  But I warn you: once you learn what truly great sushi can be, you’ll never go back to “utility sushi” again.  It really is that good.

Crispy salmon topped with mango, avocado, caviar and a Dijon mustard sauce.

Crispy salmon topped with mango, caviar and a Dijon mustard sauce.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.