WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Chiba made a splash, if not a wave when it opened two doors down from Jacques-Imo’s. Its press releases were so hip they were hard to understand. The USP was about lifting standards (and prices) to levels well beyond what we sushi lovers were used to. It’s not all that, but it is something. The sushi chef, after welcoming you with an ample amuse-bouche, asks you things like whether you’d like real wasabi with your the sashimi. (The pale green sauce you mix with soy sauce is not often made from actual wasabi root.) They make distinctions like that throughout the menu, resulting in a variety of foodstuffs much wider than average.
I’ve eaten more offbeat fish at Chiba than anywhere else lately. Bonito, for example–an underrated small tuna mostly known in its dried-flake form. Fresh and great here. Kampachi is a variant of hamachi (yellowtail) worth trying. A roll in which fried and raw snapper both figure strongly is brilliant. They make more ceviche here than in most places, a nice flavor contrast with the standard sushi and sashimi. The menu includes a few dishes from other parts of Asia, notably the lemongrass hot and sour soup.
Chiba is the name of a city outside Tokyo, and means “a thousand leaves.” Keith Dusko, who worked with sushi restaurants in New York for some ten years, opened Chiba on Oak Street in early 2012. He took a liking to New Orleans on a visit, and thought he saw a niche for an upscale, creative sushi place.
The dim, wide-open space seems to have four dining communities at the same time. The people sitting along the windows or out on the sidewalk always seem to be on dates. More casual friends hang either at the liquor bar or the big group of tables along the walls. The sushi bar is all the way in the back. Almost wherever you are you will be tortured mildly by what I find to be the most uncomfortable chairs of any local restaurant. Don’t lean back.
White miso soup
»Lemongrass hot & sour soup
»Sunomono (salad of salmon, tuna, shrimp, octopus, cucumber & rice vinegar)
Salmon, tuna, or yellowtail tartare
»Subtle salmon salad (blackberries, arugula, tobiko, miso)
Grand Chiba platter (lobster, king crab, oysters, shrimp, octopus ceviche, Thai basil mignonette)
»Tuna ceviche, green apple, avocado, red onion, blood orange
Octopus ceviche, shrimp, cucumber, avocado, jalapeno
»Yellowtail ceviche, blueberries, jalapenos, green onions
»Red or white tuna tataki, jalapeno, namasu, lemon-soy vinaigrette
Gyoza with crawfish, pork, or mushroom .
Simple green salad, ginger-carrot dressing
Seaweed or cucumber salad, sesame vinaigrette
Tempura calamari salad, radish and green vinaigrette
Crawfish fried rice
Pan-roasted mussels, white miso, ginger, garlic, green onions
Crispy chicken, barbecue sauce, peanuts, green onions
»Steamed buns (choice of duck, foie gras, pork belly, short rib, oyster, crawfish, shrimp, or grouper)
Short rib tempura
Grouper, shrimp or steak yakitori
Vegetable, shrimp, chicken, grouper, or lobster tempura
Kobe beef tataki
Black & Gold roll (black and gold tobiko, salmon, avocado, tuna and cucumber)
Crescent City roll (fried oysters, lettuce, tomato, pickles, wasabi aioli)
Rainbow roll (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, shrimp wrapped around a California roll)
Jazz roll (sauteed crawfish & shrimp, pico de gallo)
St. Charles Avenue roll (salmon, avocado, mango, yellowtail, black tobiko, spicy mayo)
Voodoo roll (striped bass, avocado, spicy ponzu, green onions, masago)
Satsuma strawberry roll (scallop, yellowtail, wasabi tobiko, strawberry, mango, jalaperio, spicy sauce & satsuma ponzu
»»Gulf Coast roll (fried snapper, spicy crab, cilantro, jalapeno, fresh snapper, onion, lime juice, tobiko
»Mardi Gras roll (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, white tuna, cucumber)
Black Widow roll (tempura soft shell crab tempura, lettuce, cucumber, black tobiko, sriracha
»Eskimo Popper roll (salmon, cream cheese, jalapeno)
Audubon Park roll (cucumber, mango, eel, masago, asparagus)
Crispy skin salmon, peanut sauce
Mixed tempura (shrimp & vegetables)
Teriyaki chicken, bon shimeji mushrooms
Wine-glazed New York strip steak
»Oak street bouillabaisse (crawfish, shrimp, salmon, mussels, clams, red miso shellfish broth)
White chocolate bread pudding
»Bananas Foster roll (in flaky pastry)
FOR BEST RESULTS
The sushi chef is more engaging than most, and ready with good advice, so the bar is even better a place than usual.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The idea of giving customers one oversized piece of nigiri sushi to the order makes the prices less obviously higher than average. But in the long run, this will bite them back, so they ought to reconsider that gambit. The tacos don’t work.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +1
- Sidewalk tables
- Early-evening specials
- Open Monday lunch
- Open all afternoon
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
On my first visit, the chef asked me twice whether I wanted to try his foie gras. It was actual duck liver, not the monkfish liver that’s sometimes called “Japanese foie gras. I succumbed the second time. What came out was not what I expected. Two sizeable pieces of duck liver were strapped to a bed of sushi rice with a sash of seaweed. At $12, not unreasonable. That sort of thing happened on every subsequent visit. Not just to me, but to others at the bar, too.