I have a very difficult time answering the question, “what’s your favorite restaurant?” I certainly don’t mind being asked, which is good because it happens a lot, but my favorite restaurant depends on my mood, what I ate the day before and probably two dozen other factors I don’t even consciously consider.
Ask me my favorite sushi restaurant, though, and I won’t hesitate: Kanno.
I read many years ago that the best way to learn about and enjoy sushi is to find a restaurant you like and go regularly. Sit at the bar and ask the chef to suggest what you should eat, goes the advice, and before long you won’t need a menu. All you’ll need is to sit down and ask to be fed. As the chef gets to know your tastes, he may offer you items you wouldn’t have ordered on your own, or sometimes things you’ve never heard of.
There was a time a couple of years ago that I only missed a Saturday lunch at Kanno for emergencies and during the month that chef/owner Hide Suzuki and his wife Lin spend in Japan each year. I’ve gotten to know Hide and Lin well enough to call them friends, so I felt a little guilty that it took me more than two months to visit Kanno’s new location.
I associate the small red and yellow shack at 3517 20th St. that now houses Kanno with Taco San Miguel, a Mexican restaurant I liked a lot that once called it home (slogan: Hecho en Metairie). Apparently it has also been a Honduran joint and a pizzeria named Don Fortunato’s in recent memory.
Before the move Kanno was located in a strip mall with an address on Edenborn, wedged between a dive bar and a lingerie shop. If that doesn’t say “Fat City before Jefferson Parish decided to clean it up a bit” to you, then you probably didn’t know Fat City before Jefferson Parish decided to clean it up a bit. The inside was cozy, but the few parking spaces in the lot seemed to have been designed for two-dimensional cars and the odor from other businesses in the area wasn’t always the best. I wasn’t really fond of the location, is what I’m saying, but at the end of the day I had some of the best food experiences of my life in that joint so I suppose a little nostalgia is in order.
The new spot looks bigger, but Hide told me he actually lost square footage when he moved. I think it feels more expansive because the dining room no longer features the sort of paneled drop ceiling you’d otherwise encounter in an industrial office park, and because there are now windows on two sides of the dining room letting in natural light. Hide said he’d wanted a smaller spot anyway, and I believe him. He’s got the tables spaced pretty far apart as it stands; he could definitely squeeze another couple of four-top tables into the place if he wanted to.
The food didn’t differ from what I expected. I sat down and ate things Hide put in front of me until I said I’d had enough. The highlight was probably the high-grade Japanese beef he served sliced thinly over sushi rice. When people say something was “meltingly tender” in the future, that beef is going to come to mind. Hide has had excellent beef in the restaurant before, but not often from Japan; he showed me the whole cut from which he’d taken the slices, and it was so richly veined with fat it looked like a spiderweb.
I was disappointed he was out of sea urchin; Hide’s been trying to get me to come around to the stuff for a long time, and for some odd reason I’ve finally decided that the taste and texture are appealing. I’m looking forward to tasting what Hide does with it, particularly since he said he thinks Restaurant Depot has them live.
I’m going to give you one more anecdote about Kanno to give you an idea why I like the place, and why if you like sushi you should pick a similar spot and get to know the folks with the knives. One day for lunch Hide had some live scallops in the kitchen. He opened one for me and with the point of his knife pointed out all of the various organs, muscles and whatever else comprises a scallop. Then he served the edible bits to me in a few different preparations; some raw, some cooked. The meal ended with scallop liver, I believe, mixed into rice with salmon roe.
That’s not my experience every time I go, but every now and again Hide will have something unusual and the patience to explain it to me. But if he never got another aji mackerel in the cooler, I’d go because Hide is a talented and inventive cook. He’s come up with a number of dishes over the years that could appear on any fine-dining restaurant menu in the city. One that comes to mine includes cubes of beet-red tuna with avocado and a little sauce made from whole mustard seed and balsamic vinegar. It’s a beautiful preparation and more importantly, delicious.
Kanno California Sushi Bar is located at 3517 20th St., in Metairie. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 to 2 and again from 5 to 9. Those are the same hours on Friday and Saturday, except they’re open until 10 for dinner and on Saturday they start lunch at 11:30. Call 455-5730 (or visit the website http://www.kannosushi.com/ ) to find out more.