WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Declaring any sushi bar the best around is the fastest way to start an argument among lovers of Japanese cuisine. But my wife says I like to argue, so here goes: Ninja is my pick for the best Japanese menu and food in town. The sushi is exquisitely made–certainly in the flavor, temperature, freshness and texture departments. Lots of good specials every day.
Sushi is about fine details. The selection, cut, and temperature of the fish. The moisture content of the rice. The quantity of wasabi or other added ingredients. A little slip one way or another, and the final product slides down the ninety-nine percentile rapidly and far. They always get it right here–at least to my tastes. The owner herself leads the activities of the sushi chefs. Meanwhile, the kitchen turns out one of the largest and best menus of cooked dishes in the growing Japanese restaurant community.
It opened in 1993 in a converted cottage on Jeannette Street, premises that looked wrong for sushi. The quality could not be gainsaid, and the place attracted a large enough following to have people waiting for seats most of the time. In 2001, Ninja moved to its present, much larger location, causing upset among some of the less dedicated regulars, although they’ve gotten used to it. The waits have not entirely gone away.
Ninja rolled the dice by moving in 2001. The new dining room is on the second floor. Climbing stairs to eat is not popular in New Orleans. (If we liked altitude, we wouldn’t live here.) After doing time in the stark, basement-like bar, you’re eager to climb. By contrast, the dining room on the second floor is sleek and comfortable. Unlike the old place, it looks like a Japanese restaurant, with clean lines and bright light.
»Okra and asparagus tempura.
»Baked mussels or mixed seafood with egg sauce.
»Gyoza (fried dumplings).
Grilled yellowtail neck.
Beef tataki (seared rare, with ponzu).
»Cajun-style tuna tataki.
»Baby octopus salad.
»All sushi and sashimi, particularly the specials.
»Chirashizushi (like sashimi, scattered over a bed of rice).
»Uni (sea urchin) nigiri sushi.
Seafood platter (grilled and served on a hot platter).
Ninja dinner (a bit of all their specialties).
»Yakiniku (beef and vegetables with brown garlic sauce).
Teriyaki beef or chicken.
Soba noodles with beef.
»Tempura shrimp or squid.
FOR BEST RESULTS
Sit at the sushi bar and inquire with interest about the specials. They really do buy unusual items here, and they should not be missed.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The headphone-wearing downstairs host is a bit high-tech for my taste, but probably not for the large younger side of the clientele. It’s not a pleasant place to wait long–too dark.
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 +2
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +1
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Years ago, Ninja developed the city’s most vociferous group of partisans for its sushi bar offerings. Who would say things like this (a real quote): “If you don’t think that Ninja’s sushi is obviously vastly better than the junk everybody else serves, you must be stupid!” That’s going a little far. But in fact I can’t name a sushi bar whose work is better.
To quote a dyed-in-the-wool Ninja regular: “Look at this fish. The color. It glistens. It’s silky. The rice. Not too sticky, not too dry. Not too cold, not too warm. Always. It’s perfection.” Took the words out of my mouth.
At the sushi bar, your first strategy is to engage the sushi chef’s sympathies. Ask him what he has that’s especially good and unusual. He (or she) will tell you about the typical tuna and yellowtail and all that, but press further to learn about the offbeat, once-in-awhile items they get.
Although you save quite a bit of money by ordering the standard sushi assortments from the menu, you’ll get better quality and attention by ordering custom assortments. The sushi chef has his fun designing your platter. (Not all sushi restaurants are that way, but Ninja is.)
The service staff here is on the spot. Many members of the family that owns the place are in the dining room and elsewhere, and they keep everybody happy. Especially the regulars.