Insight at Asuka Sushi & Hibachi

A lot of folk claim there is one type of food that they know they could eat every day for the rest of their life. For me, that food was sushi. Since my first taste of salmon nigiri in a tiny, Japanese restaurant off 19th Avenue in San Francisco almost 20 years ago, I was hooked. My friends and I used to hit up Fuji Sukiyaki in San Mateo where we would literally gorge ourselves on the special rolls — from a simple Crunchy Roll to a Dragon Roll and everything in between. (*Note: Remind me to tell you about the time my friend Wilson was dared into eating a huge wad of wasabi.)

When I came to New Orleans and met John, I took him out for his first taste of sushi and he loved it as much, if not more, than I did. It got to the point where if we ever went out for lunch or dinner, more often than not, we’d end up at a sushi joint.

A few months back, John and I realized that it had been months since we indulged in our favorite food, so we went out to try one of the newest Japanese restaurants in our area, Asuka Sushi & Hibachi.  You know that weird triangle between Short Street and Fern on Earhart Blvd., the one with a jeep that looks like it crash-landed into a fake palm tree? That’s where you’ll find Asuka, right in front of the Daiquiri Island Sports Bar. 
When we arrived, the restaurant was empty and kind of dark, but a server quickly came out from the kitchen and offered us a seat at one of the booths. We browsed the menu, ordered several items and sipped iced green tea while we waited.
Since we only ordered rolls and nigiri, everything came out at once. We got a Crazy Roll with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, avocado and masago (roe) in a soybean wrap and topped with eel sauce, and a Louisiana Roll (the whole thing was battered and fried) with tempura shrimp, snow crab, crawfish, avocado, masago and cream cheese topped with their own “special sauce.” We also got a Crunchy Roll, a Tuna Avocado Roll and Tuna Tataki Nigiri.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of the rolls were delicious and for people who love the big, extravagant, Westernized rolls, they were perfect. But, when it came down to it, John and I enjoyed the Tuna Tataki the most, just simple, seared tuna with green onion and ponzu sauce. Perhaps it was because our palates had developed since our last sushi extravaganza, but the big showy rolls no longer held any fascination for us. In fact, they all started to taste the same. 
In our subsequent sushi adventures, we’ve stuck to simple rolls (like tuna and avocado), nigiri and sashimi, enjoying them as much as we did the elaborate rolls. Why mess with a good thing? We have Asuka to thank for that revelation.

Asuka Sushi & Hibachi on Urbanspoon

Crunchin’ rolls at Chiba

Since our unfortunate sushi experience a few weeks back, John and I have been aching for a few good rolls. Although we’ve frequented Ninja hundreds of times before, Chiba had just opened right around the corner and we thought we’d give the new guy on the block a try. Have I mentioned how much I love my neighborhood?

We arrived hungry when they opened at 4PM, hoping to catch what was left of daylight, essential for good food porn. With only a few other patrons in the clean, modern dining room, the servers were extra-attentive and ready to take our order almost as soon as we sat down. There were many items we wanted to try, but we narrowed down our selection (as much as we could stand), ordered and set ourselves to wait while sipping a couple of iced green teas. 
The first dish to arrive was the Crawfish Tempura served tossed with a pile of arugula, wasabi aioli and citrus mayonnaise. After gobbling a few bites, I began to realize that the combined flavor of the crispy fried crawfish and the orange/mandarin mayo reminded me of something very familiar and John and I looked at each other quizzically until he suddenly burst out “It’s Fruit Loops!” It’s strange what memories your taste buds can evoke…
We giggled like kids as our next plate arrived, the Pork Belly Steamed Buns with a Japanese slaw and pickled onions. The buns were sweet, fluffy pillows of yum filled with thick, delectable, fatty slices of pork belly that were just delightful, but I wouldn’t necessarily call a few yellow leaves of head lettuce and some carrot threads a “Japanese slaw.” Workin’ out the kinks still? Probably. I enjoyed these much more than John claimed to, but I didn’t see him slow down at all when he polished his off in two large bites. 
Next came what we had been pining for, our rolls. We got a Crunchy Spicy Salmon, Rock Shrimp Avocado and one of their specialties, the Gulf Coast Roll. The first two were our “safe” choices while the last was a risk and I am pleased to say, they were all delicious. In fact, I think I enjoyed the specialty one the most! Crispy fried snapper, spicy crab, jalapeno and cilantro were rolled up on the inside with layers of raw snapper on the outside dressed with lime, ponzu and bright, orange-red tobiko.
We finished the whole lovely dinner off with a light dessert of Green Tea Mochi sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. In all honesty, I think if they lowered their specialty roll prices just a tad, Chiba might just give Ninja a run for their money…
Welcome to my ‘hood!

Chiba on Urbanspoon

Sushi and a movie: Kyoto 2

Ever since its release in November, I’ve been dying to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Unfortunately, there was always something holding me back…if it wasn’t one thing, it was something else. At long last, John and I planned to see Harry Potter at the Elmwood Theater in Harahan and we decided to hit up a restaurant before the show. For my 67th cheat we opted for Kyoto 2 on Citrus Boulevard and I am back down to a grand loss of 77 pounds.

We arrived at the restaurant almost two hours before the show was to start, giving ourselves plenty of time to enjoy our dinner. In general, dining on sushi never really seemed unhealthy to me. I mean, how bad can it be to eat raw fish? To ensure I got my “cheat-on” properly, we selected some of the big, “fattier” rolls that were fried, loaded with avocado or smothered in eel sauce.
Our start was on the light side, a couple of bowls of steaming Miso Soup and a tangy Squid Salad. The soup warmed us while the salad, loaded with chunks of deliciously pickled squid, just whetted our appetite for more.
Although it took a little while (it was a busy night), our rolls started to pour out.  First to arrive was the Desiree Roll loaded with crispy, tempura shrimp, tempura crawfish, crabstick, spicy tuna and rice wrapped in seaweed and then tempura fried again! Served on the side was a spicy, sweet Cajun sauce for dipping that was so tasty, we wiped the serving dish clean.
The other three rolls we ordered all came out together on one giant dish. My favorite, the Rainbow Roll, looked and tasted so fresh with thick slabs of raw tuna, white tuna, salmon and avocado adorning a seaweed roll packed with a spicy snow crab maki. 
One of John’s favorites, the Yum Yum Roll, is similar to the Rainbow, but instead of raw fish, it is loaded with strips of barbecued eel and smothered in that dark, sweet eel sauce. We demolished it in seconds! The last roll, the “Steve Roll”, was a little on the lighter side stuffed with tuna, snow crab maki and avocado and topped with a healthy helping of roe.
Everything was wonderful and we left Kyoto 2 stuffed to the gills and ready to watch Harry Potter. Unfortunately, while we were standing in line to buy tickets, the show sold out. What luck? It seems I am doomed to wait for DVD. Instead of hanging out for two hours to see the next show, we headed back home and stopped at Walgreens for some movie candy (purchased at a far cheaper price than what is available at the theater) and watched How to Tame Your Dragon.  I still was able to enjoy my favorite movie candy for dessert (Whoppers) while getting my fantasy fix! 

Ninja Restaurant & Sushi Bar

After the devastatingly delicious dinner at Le Meritage last week, I thought I would try some lighter fare for this week’s cheat by going for sushi at Ninja Restaurant.   I love Japanese cuisine and was spoiled by the variety and authenticity of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I have found some Japanese gems in New Orleans and Ninja is one of my favorites.  This is the fourth week and fourth cheat and I am down 26 pounds.

The first time I tried sushi or raw fish was around ten years ago. My father cooked everything well done and my mother put the fear of salmonella into me young, so I had a reasonable reaction to trying raw fish…”You’re kidding, right?”  A co-worker finally convinced me to try it when she took me to a tiny Japanese sushi bar in San Francisco, right off of 19th Avenue, close to Golden Gate Park.  She ordered salmon nigiri and from the moment the fresh salmon flavor hit my tongue, I was hooked.

My boyfriend and I chose Ninja for several reasons.  First and foremost, Ninja has some of the freshest sushi in town.  I have been to almost every sushi restaurant in New Orleans, and the quality of ingredients at Ninja is truly superb.  Secondly, Ninja offers this quality cuisine in good-sized portions at a very reasonable price.  Third, Ninja is only steps away from my apartment, literally around the corner…you can’t get more convenient than that unless you order delivery, which Ninja offers!

I was reading some other reviews of Ninja and noticed that some people were put off by the strange set up in the restaurant.  When you first walk in, there is a bar downstairs.  The person working the bar will alert the servers in the dining room above that there are new patrons waiting to dine.  Then he/she either tells you to go on up or to wait if the dining room is full.  It is kind of odd, but it definitely wouldn’t steer me away from dining at Ninja.

We strolled to the restaurant at around 6:30 and were seated immediately.  A bit too early for the normal dinner rush, we entered a dining room at the top of the stairs that was mostly vacant.  Our server offered us warm, moist towels to clean our hands and we ordered our favorite drink, Iced Green Tea. If last night were not my “cheat night”, I would have considered ordering sashimi or simpler sushi like nigiri in order to stick to my plan.  But, I thought it would be fun (and truly delicious) to order a few of the special rolls filled with fried goodies and mayonnaise/wasabi mixtures.  I wanted some fat in my rolls and Ninja didn’t disappoint.

We ordered a Rainbow Roll, a Special Crunchy Roll, the Volcano Roll, and after checking out the specials board, an Eggplant Tempura Roll.  We also thought it would be fun to try the Tiger’s Eye appetizer which is squid stuffed with salmon and asparagus.  Our server told us that the Tiger’s Eye would take 30 minutes to prepare, but we didn’t mind and requested the dish be served after our sushi order.  We had a little wait, but we expected it.  If you want to be served your rolls right away at Ninja, I suggest you sit at the sushi bar where the chefs will serve your rolls as each one is ready.  Since John and I chose to sit at a table, the chefs prepare all of our rolls first and serve them at once so it takes a little bit longer.

First, we were served a small bowl of Miso Soup with a small amount of tofu and seaweed at the bottom of the bowl.  Our sushi plate came out next with our beautifully presented rolls lined up along a hefty helpings of wasabi and ginger.  I tried the Eggplant Tempura roll first, it was a rice and seaweed roll filled with eggplant tempura, cream cheese and avocado.  The tempura was still warm and crispy and the perfect bite-sized piece was delicious.  I never thought eggplant and cream cheese would taste so good together!

I had to have a piece of the Rainbow Roll next and my particular slice included fresh tuna on top and a spicy snow crab mixture inside.  This roll is popular in many sushi restaurants but I think Ninja does it best with added lemon slices between each piece and sliced avocado on alternating pieces.  The lemon is key to adding a clean flavor to the already immaculately fresh fish (the Rainbow Roll also has fresh salmon and yellowtail on top).
In every sushi restaurant I have been to, there is a Crunchy Roll, but Ninja’s Special Crunchy Roll is quite delicious and it is always included in my order. It consists of crab mix, crunchy asparagus, egg sauce, eel sauce, chili sauce, pink sauce and crunchy bits of fried tempura batter.

Finally, we were served the Volcano Roll; fresh tuna, shrimp, crab-stick, eel, cream cheese, avocado, asparagus, cucumber, smelt roe, pink sauce, spicy chili and tempura on top.  This roll is huge and the presentation makes it look like a volcano waiting to erupt!  Each slice is at least twice the diameter of a regular slice of sushi and requires two bites!  It was very tasty and spicy and I couldn’t stop eating the cruchies scattered all over the plate.

Our server brought out the Tiger’s Eye appetizer at the end and it was refreshingly simple after some of the heavily spiced rolls we had already eaten.  It looked like the salmon and squid were steamed together and served with a light Teriyaki sauce.  The coolest thing about this dish was the presentation…each slice actually looked like an eye!

Even though I was fully stuffed, I actually considered ordering the Banana Tempura with Vanilla Ice Cream, but John and I were both ready to go home, so we rolled out of the door, our faces numbed into satisfied smiles and spent the rest of the evening in a hazy food coma.