When Horinoya closed last year, New Orleans lost one of its best, longest-standing traditional Japanese and sushi restaurants.
Tsunami Sushi, a new restaurant along the same Poydras Street corridor as Horinoya, is a Japanese restaurant of a different vein, but it will scratch the sushi itch in a neighborhood with limited options.
The Lafayette-based restaurant opened its New Orleans location earlier this year on the ground floor of the Pan American Life Center, and the sprawling space features muted modern accents that would feel at home in any cosmopolitan setting.
The restaurant's signature Tsunami sauce, essentially a soy-rich eel sauce, is found in abundance and lends a savory umami touch to many dishes. It's the "black" in the Black & Gold roll, a tightly wound coil packed with tempura-battered shrimp, crab stick and cucumber spears. The roll is covered in spicy mayonnaise, heated quickly in the oven and topped with more sauce, crawfish tails and scallions.
Tsunami serves several rolls with whimsical names and Louisiana inspirations, such as the Ragin' Cajun, filled with panko-crusted alligator and avocado.
The Don Tuan roll balances sweet, spicy and savory elements in its combination of minced tuna, crunchy bits of shrimp, cream cheese, snow crab and avocado. The final product is like a double-decker roll, with strips of avocado sprinkled with graham cracker crumbs and dots of Sriracha.
The kitchen is well-poised at wrangling the sweet and savory nuances of umami-rich dishes. A mound of crispy tempura-fried eggplant and shrimp is draped in a glistening miso glaze, and the velvety eggplant provides the perfect mix of sweet and salty.
The expansive front bar allows patrons to chat with the bartenders, but the long sushi bar offers a better view of the sushi chefs in action. There are standard nigiri and sashimi offerings as well as a creative list of raw items, including cobia drizzled with ponzu, lemon and jalapeno slivers. "Smoked salt escolar" features thin strips of the moist fish drizzled with white truffle oil and topped with smoked sea salt. Its explosion of flavors makes it one of the best dishes on the menu.
Also excellent is sea bass coated in a miso glaze and roasted until the exterior has a caramelized sheen. It's served with battered and fried "eggplant toast" and a medley of roasted summer squash, bok choy and shiitake mushrooms.
Some dishes fell short. An order of pork gyoza topped with onions was delivered cold on one outing, and edamame needed salt.
For dessert, the restaurant's signature Polynesian bread pudding hits the mark. It's like a coffee cake-pudding hybrid, and the spongy Hawaiian bread is topped with caramelized mango and creamy praline glaze. It's a decadent conclusion to a meal here and worth the caloric splurge.
The restaurant draws a business crowd at lunchtime and happy hour. But no matter the time of day, Tsunami Sushi will satisfy a sushi craving, and it's a welcome addition to the dining scene.