When you walk into Horinoya (920 Poydras St., 561-8914), don't be surprised if you see two or three of New Orleans' top chefs in the dining room. Though their own menus may be more occidental, if you ask them, they'll probably tell you that some of their most consistently memorable local meals have been created by the skilled hands of the knife-wielding pros behind Horinoya's sushi bar. Chief among them is chef-owner Komei Horimoto, who lists the day's featured fish on a chalkboard behind the bar. You might see aji, kampachi or suzuki flown in from Japan, but he also uses snapper, grouper and yellowfin tuna caught locally. Known for seeking out the choicest cuts of the freshest fish available, Horimoto routinely flies in fish from Alaska, Europe and South America as well. Some customers say he serves the best toro (fatty tuna) in town.
But 'raw' isn't the only thing on the menu. Other Japanese dishes like dumplings -- the wasabi shumai, for example, a tasty, sinus-clearing rollercoaster ride of a dumpling -- along with tempura and teriyaki offerings assure that there's something for every taste. For the avid carnivore, there's Hot Rock Beef -- thin slices of tender steak flash-seared in a sizzle of butter over, as the name implies, a very hot ceramic "rock" right at your table and served with a sesame ponzu sauce with green onions and spicy radish shavings mixed in. No one will blame you for holding your chopsticks out in mouthwatering anticipation for the next slice, especially if you upgrade to the premium, melt-in-your-mouth Washu beef.
Regulars from the CBD lunch crowd who decide to venture in at night are usually pleased to find that Horinoya offers an expanded menu at dinner, with a long list of appetizer choices. And at night, more and more customers are discovering shochu, a distilled clean-tasting sake-like beverage (made from barley instead of rice) usually served with hot water or on the rocks with a splash of cold water. According to Horimoto, shochu has become increasingly popular in Japan, where it now outsells sake.
Behind Horinoya's long and narrow dining room is a special curtained-off area. For $20-$40, your party can sit in the tatami room, where low tables are placed over dug-out squares, so even the less-than-flexible diner can sit comfortably.
Horinoya is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and dinner only on Saturdays.
- A native of Japan, Komei Horimoto opened Horinoya with his wife Mie in 2001.