At Rock-n-Sake (823 Fulton St., 504-581-7253; www.rocknsake.com), the sushi restaurant known for its inventive rolls and pulsing, clubby ambience on Saturday nights, co-owner Tisbee Dantin knows a thing or two about space. Though the Warehouse District dining room retains some of its original industrial parameters, a recent refresh adds light and color.
On the walls, a series of rice paper parallelograms in corals and blues mimics the flickering shimmer of a school of tropical fish. Designed by artist Kaki Foley of Tattered Design, the geometric shapes alternate between matte and glossy finishes, which adds to the marine effect. Foley hand-dyed each sheet to add dimension.
"We've always had neon artwork, so we've tried to play with the neon light and colors, because it gives you energy, that extra vibrance," Dantin says.
The touch-ups at the restaurant weren't just aesthetic. In a renovation coordinated by Ferrand Design and DNA Architects, a redesigned sushi bar has functional lightboxes filled with ceramic plates and chef's tools, moving more utilitarian equipment offstage. Designers adjusted the space between the sushi bar and dining room to avoid what Dantin calls a "pinch point," or an area that once caused congestion among servers and patrons.
"When you're building a restaurant, it's moving so fast you don't get to think it all out," she says. "When you've been in it, you know what you need operationally."
With a two-decade run under its belt, the restaurant's team has improved its operations and is looking toward its 20th anniversary. Dantin joined the crew, which includes her husband Dirk, Tanya Hailey and Duke Nelson, a year after the restaurant opened in 1998. The foursome built a reputation on the restaurant's chic atmosphere and a menu that modernizes typical sushi offerings with both fresh and cooked rolls.
A favorite at the restaurant is the salmon zest roll, which is a fresh salmon and snow crab roll in soy paper, topped with salmon and lemon zest. Standout appetizers include sea scallops sauteed in garlic butter and sushi deviled eggs, which are truffle and spicy sesame deviled eggs topped with tuna tartare, black tobiko and sesame ponzu sauce.
The new menu attracts a lively crowd during the restaurant's busy fall season. Regular diners from Warehouse District condos and the nearby Garden District keep tables filled, while others are attracted to the restaurant's reputation as a post-game hotspot for New Orleans Saints players and fans.
Rock-n-Sake also caters weddings and celebrations with a personal sushi chef, and the restaurant offers delivery to downtown offices for lunch on Fridays.
Dantin is proud to be part of the thriving New Orleans restaurant scene.
"It does astound you, when you go into [restaurants] and you see the beauty and the creativity in the atmosphere. ... The food is the No. 1 thing," she says. "It's a good time to be in the city."