It seems like every sushi lover has a favorite spot outside of the general public, that sushi bar that is quietly doing something great and cultivating an indoor following. The dark does not diminish the attractiveness of aficionados.
This is the story of Daiwa for years. Tucked away well at the back of a Marrero mall, it’s a low-key find with local regulars and a handful of loyalists who don’t think of crossing parish borders and waterways for a solution.
Now, Daiwa has a second location at a more prominent address in Metairie. It opened in June at 4100 Veterans Blvd., right on Main Street, in what was previously a World of Beer tavern.
More than just an expansion across the city, for chef Ken Wong and his wife and partner Jay Hui, this new Daiwa is a big step forward, a more complete expression of the contemporary style that they have always strived to present. to the original. Here, they also build a niche with unusual fish and different preparations.
The couple are from Hong Kong, where culinary styles are heavily influenced by Japan, but also detached from tradition. This is where Wong learned his chef skills.
You can get the standards from Daiwa. The menu, bound and vividly illustrated like an upscale shopping catalog, features the usual rolls and many variations of udon noodles and hibachi rice.
But what always brought me back to the Marrero location is the technique and creativity that Wong puts into his sushi specialties – some playful, others elegant.
For example, Daiwa is the place to buy “Imperial Grilled Sushi”. Not quite raw, but less cooked than tataki, the fish receives just enough heat to tighten its surface texture. It’s a subtle alteration that gives the familiar nigiri a different edge.
The new restaurant reframes the possibilities. The Marrero spot, opened in 2011, has grown progressively and has been enriched with a bank of karaoke rooms. When you’re up for a sushi night and singing in a private room outfitted with Hello Kitty decor, this is your place (and I won’t deny the appeal).
The Metairie restaurant is more centered on the long sushi bar, bordered by a magnificent counter of cypress trees. Here, Wong can lead omakase (chef’s choice) dinners on request or just give advice on what to expect from the specials that night.
“I look at my memories and share them with my clients,” Wong said one afternoon during downtime. “I think back to what I tasted that marked me. Being able to share this experience in my new home is a beautiful thing.
This goal has spurred an increasingly ambitious approach to procurement. Wong wants to work with the house’s wider palette of flavors and raw materials, which is why he ships a small and diverse assortment of seafood from Japanese fishmongers every week.
He would like to source fish from the Gulf. But, like other local chefs, he struggles to find the local variety to match his ambitions.
I recently visited his kitchen the day his weekly shipment arrived and watched the chef unwrap a refrigerated box with the delicacy of an archaeological dig. There came out five types of whole fish, one or two of each. It’s a small start as Wong tries to build a following for fish that don’t normally appear on local menus. (The fish will run out in a day or two. Your best bet is to catch some, for now, on Wednesday or Thursday night.)
At his bar, I tried the tai-madai (aka sea bream), a glossy, meaty slice with a firm texture and rich flavor; a smooth and creamy Japanese striped jack; and shima aji, more delicate, and a bit like red snapper.
One evening, he served a Japanese sardine, or iwashi, a fish that is bigger and plumper than the sardines you usually see here. The entire body, about two inches long, was draped over rice, its shark-gray skin split open to reveal flesh as dark as it was rich. Tiny bones were present, but they disappeared on the tongue. Stuffed with grated horseradish, the flavor was full and a bit tangy, for a bold bite of fish.
Many Marrero specialties are also on the menu at the Métairie. This includes the royal salmon tartare, served on individual tablespoons, the shiny and extra-successive fine dice of fish with eggs and touches of champagne sauce. I love sizzling scallops, which always remind me more of something from a tapas bar than a sushi bar.
This new Daiwa is on the second floor of a new development (it is fully accessible by elevator). Part of the setting from the previous tavern remains, like glass-door refrigerator benches behind the bar, now stocked with a good selection of sakes, base wines, and plenty of beer.
There is also the deck, a covered and open outdoor area lined with televisions for streaming a game. The view from up there is a stretch of Veterans Boulevard. It’s not exactly scenic, but, with a passing breeze, it’s a rare outdoor perch around these parts and a nice change of pace.
Daiwa means “great harmony” in Japanese. This restaurant, however, seems to follow its own pace.
4100 boul. veterans, (504) 281-4646
Dinner, Wednesday to Monday (lunch hours from August 19)
5033, boulevard Lapalco, Marrero, (504) 875-4203
Lunch and dinner every day
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