Out of all of the things I crave often, sushi is the one thing I crave the most. I love the very methodical process of unwrapping and scraping the chopsticks, pouring the hot sake, and mixing together the perfect blend of soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. Sometimes I’ll even go to my neighborhood sushi restaurant to have dinner alone, using the time to chat with the chef, attempt to beat people at Words With Friends, or just sit quietly and reflect on the day. Eating sushi can be a very social or a very solitary thing for me, which is probably one of the reasons I like it so much.
If I lived closer to the riverbend, I would have my pick of not one, but two really great sushi places. Ninja, whose home has been Oak Street for more than a decade, and now Chiba, who has only been open on Oak for about a week or two. Rumored to serve more difficult to find fish and less of the commonplace “Americanized” sushi rolls, I was curious to see what the menu had in store.
To start, the White Tuna Tataki was a beautiful presentation of seared tuna atop a shaved ginger, carrot and cucumber salad with slices of jalapenos and something that resembled sliced maraschino cherries (?). Very good but I think I prefer my white tuna completely raw. The shaved root vegetable salad, however, refreshed my palate and awakened my senses.
While I’m certainly always interested in trying new things, raw fish can sometimes cause me to turn up my nose–especially if it’s really fishy. Tuna, salmon, yellowtail and white tuna are all safe bets but mackerel and sea urchin? Eh, probably not. My boyfriend is a little more adventurous than I am, so when the sushi guy suggested he order the Chutoro (fatty belly of the tuna), he went for it. I watched with minor horror as he ate the whole piece in one bite…and liked it.
Our rolls of choice were the Mardi Gras Roll (in the header picture) and the Black and Gold Roll. The MG roll came with fresh salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and white tuna (all of my favorites) with cucumber, lemon, tobiko, jalapeno, and spicy mayo. I can’t remember if we asked that they leave off the spicy mayo or not, but it was nowhere to be found and we didn’t complain. The tobiko, in a rainbow of colors and flavors, sat prettily on top of each piece of sushi. I particularly liked the squid’s ink (black) and the citrus (yellow) flavored tobiko–their subtle flavors coming through only slightly before leaving a mild salty aftertaste. The Black and Gold Roll featured more of what I like, with tuna, salmon, avocado, and cucumber covered in the black and yellow tobiko. Pretty, tasty, filling, and a good price at $12.
Chiba is a charming addition to the New Orleans sushi scene but it’s important to know that it isn’t like every other sushi place in the city. Their focus on a wide range of raw fish plus a limited and very pricey entree menu might be a deal breaker for some. Plain crunchy rolls are absent from the menu and the ever-popular shrimp tempura is going to cost you around twenty bucks. But perhaps that’s the appeal–a sushi place for real sushi lovers. I might not love all different types of raw fish, but I sure do like the sound of short rib tempura, pan-roasted mussels, and the Oak Street Bouillabaise with crawfish, shrimp, mussels, clams, salmon, bok choy, and mushrooms in a red miso shellfish broth. Chiba’s menu is a great representation of just how diverse Japanese cuisine can be, just be prepared to step out of your crunchy roll comfort zone and fork chopstick over a few extra bucks for dinner.