The old adage that food doesn’t have to be complicated to be good springs to life at Sukeban, a new Izakaya on Oak Street where the quality of its foundational ingredients lifts it above the noise of most other Japanese places around town. The name ‘Sukeban’ translates (approximately) to “Girl Boss,” referring to the subversive leaders of Tokyo’s girl street gangs in the 1970s. It’s a tongue-in-cheek call out by owner and executive Chef Jacqueline Blanchard and sets the tone of the operational ethos underscoring her first foray into restaurant ownership (Blanchard also owns the nearby high-end culinary boutique Coutelier). Her restaurant has landed focused, fully formed and on-point, and I can’t wait to return to it again soon.

The Izakaya is the Japanese take on the small bar / watering hole places common across all cultures. “Traveling in Japan for Coutelier, we’d always duck into these cool little bars,” Blanchard said. “After experiencing that so much of that there, I longed for it here.” Oak Street, with its eclectic aggregation of bars, music clubs and independently owned shops, seemed the perfect home.

Everything on the brief menu is worthy of your attention. But the specialties here are the Temaki hand-rolls, which bear as much similarity to the chewy conical staples of sushi bars everywhere as a well-executed coq au vin does to a Costco Rotisserie chicken. It all comes down to the exceptional core ingredients. The Nori arrives from the Japan’s Ariake sea in vacuum-packed bags, sheets held at the ready for service in a dehumidifier. The rice comes from highly regarded Koda Farms in California. (Blanchard, who hails from a Cajun family, knows her rice.) “The rice and nori are the most important parts of the entire operation,” Blanchard pointed out. “Ask a sushi chef in Japan what the most important part is and they will say it’s the rice, every time. 

The makeup of the rolls change depending on availability and the season. For her recent “Spicy Gulf Shrimp Roll,” the shrimp is first blanched in dashi broth then peeled, deveined and chopped into chunks. It gets tumbled with tobiko, some S&B Chili Crunch, and kewpie mayo. For the crawfish roll, locally sourced tails and tail fat get mixed with uni, which contributes a depth of marine flavor and exceptional unctuousness. Both are finished with tamari. Soy sauce is applied via a clever little spritzer, which prevents users from tackily dunking their rolls into a messy ramekin of shoyu. 

Small plates include “Moromi Miso Cucumber”, made with a small-batch miso from a startup in Mystic, Connecticut that is simultaneously chunky, sweet and umami-rich. “There is a funkiness to it,” Blanchard said. “It is just alive and beautiful.” A side of the Yamitsuki Spicy Cabbage is nice to have handy, with its acidity helping to slice through the richness of many of the roll’s proteins. A compelling list of roe and caviar add-ons tempt as well, including smoked trout roe from France and Osetra Caviar from Poland. Selections for local favorite Cajun Caviar are also offered. “We’ve found a lot of guests order the roe to eat with a side of the sushi rice,” Blanchard said. “I love to see that.”

Drinks are an essential part of Izakaya experience. Here you will find a selection of sakes, beer and plenty of non-Alcoholic options as well, including a crisp, citrus-y Yuzu soda. Seating at the counter is on a first-come-first-served basis, though guests are welcome to pass the time at Ale next door, in true community Izakaya fashion. A single six-top is available by reservation. Sukeban is a cashless restaurant, so bring your card. 

Raising the Bar

About the Chef

Chef Jacqueline Blanchard has deep Cajun roots in Bayou Lafourche and graduated from Nicholls State’s excellent culinary program. After that she was off to the races, with a Michelin Star-studded CV that includes tours of duty at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in the middle aughts as well as San Francisco’s Benu. Closer to home, she was executive sous at Restaurant August for many years. In addition to her new Izakaya, she owns and operates the culinary boutique Coutelier with locations in both New Orleans and Nashville. Guests there can purchase artisan Japanese knives as well as a high-quality, hard to find specialty ingredients – some of which you will find on the menu at Sukeban. 

Sukeban, 8126 Oak Street, Carrollton. (504) 345-2367.