I first wrote about Tsunami Sushi’s move to open a fourth location in New Orleans back in November, 2015. Actually, the story appeared in the November issue of New Orleans Magazine, so I actually wrote that piece in early October. At the time, the restaurant was set to open in the first part of this year, but as sometimes happens, the project was delayed.
The original Tsunami opened in Lafayette in 2000, and at the time it was only the second sushi restaurant in town. A second location in Baton Rouge followed, then a third in the Cypress Casino, in Charenton. Each serves a similar menu, some variation, particularly in the selection of sushi rolls available. The restaurants also share a modern, sleek design.
The newest location will be in the Pan American building, at 601 Poydras St., though the entrance will face St. Charles Avenue. That building happens to be where my office is located, and so earlier this week, when Tsunami held a “popup” in the lobby during lunchtime, I took a few minutes to speak with Toon Nguyen and Fred Nonato, who are opening the restaurant with Tsunami owners Leah Simon and Michele and Sean Ezell.
Nonato is from New Orleans originally; he grew up on the West Bank (Best Bank, Brah) and graduated from the culinary program at Delgado in 1998. He told me that part of the impetus to open the New Orleans location was so he could return to his hometown, but the Ezell family has connections here as well.
If you dine at a lot of sushi restaurants, you’ll notice a lot of the menus are interchangeable. What distinguishes one from another are most often the rolls. When we think sushi, we most often picture nigiri, which are hand-formed, bite-sized oblongs of rice topped with, usually, raw fish. There’s not a lot of room for innovation in nigiri, but rolls are another matter. At Tsunami, several rolls are named for people influential in the Ezell’s life, such as the Father Calais, (tuna, salmon, crab stick, masago (fish eggs), avocado and cucumber), and the Michael Doumit, (fried softshell crab, avocado, cucumber, masago and Tsunami sauce). Father Calais was the Ezell family’s priest when they were growing up, and Doumit, an accomplished caterer in Lafayette, was something of a mentor when the original Tsunami opened.
Tsunami is also one of the only sushi restaurants I’m aware of to include alligator (cooked) on its menu. Nonato and Nguyen told me that several other dishes on the menu are the result of the diversity of the restaurant’s staff, which includes folks from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Korea in addition to Japan. You can see that influence in the Thai beef salad with Vietnamese dressing that shows up as an appetizer, and in the collard green kimchi that’s available as a side dish.
Tsunami’s New Orleans location should open in February, and they’re hoping to be operating by the time Carnival rolls around. There will be approximately 200 seats, including 20-30 under the oak trees that line the St. Charles side of the building, and 15-20 at the sushi bar. The space is still under construction at the moment, but Nonato told me it will be their most upscale to date. They’re still working out opening hours, but are already thinking of opening on Sundays during the Saints season.
Look for more about Tsunami in a few months, until then, let me know your favorite sushi restaurant in the comments.