Friday, September 11, 2009

Ninja Restaurant & Sushi Bar

After the devastatingly delicious dinner at Le Meritage last week, I thought I would try some lighter fare for this week’s cheat by going for sushi at Ninja Restaurant.   I love Japanese cuisine and was spoiled by the variety and authenticity of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I have found some Japanese gems in New Orleans and Ninja is one of my favorites.  This is the fourth week and fourth cheat and I am down 26 pounds.

The first time I tried sushi or raw fish was around ten years ago. My father cooked everything well done and my mother put the fear of salmonella into me young, so I had a reasonable reaction to trying raw fish…”You’re kidding, right?”  A co-worker finally convinced me to try it when she took me to a tiny Japanese sushi bar in San Francisco, right off of 19th Avenue, close to Golden Gate Park.  She ordered salmon nigiri and from the moment the fresh salmon flavor hit my tongue, I was hooked.

My boyfriend and I chose Ninja for several reasons.  First and foremost, Ninja has some of the freshest sushi in town.  I have been to almost every sushi restaurant in New Orleans, and the quality of ingredients at Ninja is truly superb.  Secondly, Ninja offers this quality cuisine in good-sized portions at a very reasonable price.  Third, Ninja is only steps away from my apartment, literally around the corner…you can’t get more convenient than that unless you order delivery, which Ninja offers!

I was reading some other reviews of Ninja and noticed that some people were put off by the strange set up in the restaurant.  When you first walk in, there is a bar downstairs.  The person working the bar will alert the servers in the dining room above that there are new patrons waiting to dine.  Then he/she either tells you to go on up or to wait if the dining room is full.  It is kind of odd, but it definitely wouldn’t steer me away from dining at Ninja.

We strolled to the restaurant at around 6:30 and were seated immediately.  A bit too early for the normal dinner rush, we entered a dining room at the top of the stairs that was mostly vacant.  Our server offered us warm, moist towels to clean our hands and we ordered our favorite drink, Iced Green Tea. If last night were not my “cheat night”, I would have considered ordering sashimi or simpler sushi like nigiri in order to stick to my plan.  But, I thought it would be fun (and truly delicious) to order a few of the special rolls filled with fried goodies and mayonnaise/wasabi mixtures.  I wanted some fat in my rolls and Ninja didn’t disappoint.

We ordered a Rainbow Roll, a Special Crunchy Roll, the Volcano Roll, and after checking out the specials board, an Eggplant Tempura Roll.  We also thought it would be fun to try the Tiger’s Eye appetizer which is squid stuffed with salmon and asparagus.  Our server told us that the Tiger’s Eye would take 30 minutes to prepare, but we didn’t mind and requested the dish be served after our sushi order.  We had a little wait, but we expected it.  If you want to be served your rolls right away at Ninja, I suggest you sit at the sushi bar where the chefs will serve your rolls as each one is ready.  Since John and I chose to sit at a table, the chefs prepare all of our rolls first and serve them at once so it takes a little bit longer.

First, we were served a small bowl of Miso Soup with a small amount of tofu and seaweed at the bottom of the bowl.  Our sushi plate came out next with our beautifully presented rolls lined up along a hefty helpings of wasabi and ginger.  I tried the Eggplant Tempura roll first, it was a rice and seaweed roll filled with eggplant tempura, cream cheese and avocado.  The tempura was still warm and crispy and the perfect bite-sized piece was delicious.  I never thought eggplant and cream cheese would taste so good together!

I had to have a piece of the Rainbow Roll next and my particular slice included fresh tuna on top and a spicy snow crab mixture inside.  This roll is popular in many sushi restaurants but I think Ninja does it best with added lemon slices between each piece and sliced avocado on alternating pieces.  The lemon is key to adding a clean flavor to the already immaculately fresh fish (the Rainbow Roll also has fresh salmon and yellowtail on top).
In every sushi restaurant I have been to, there is a Crunchy Roll, but Ninja’s Special Crunchy Roll is quite delicious and it is always included in my order. It consists of crab mix, crunchy asparagus, egg sauce, eel sauce, chili sauce, pink sauce and crunchy bits of fried tempura batter.

Finally, we were served the Volcano Roll; fresh tuna, shrimp, crab-stick, eel, cream cheese, avocado, asparagus, cucumber, smelt roe, pink sauce, spicy chili and tempura on top.  This roll is huge and the presentation makes it look like a volcano waiting to erupt!  Each slice is at least twice the diameter of a regular slice of sushi and requires two bites!  It was very tasty and spicy and I couldn’t stop eating the cruchies scattered all over the plate.

Our server brought out the Tiger’s Eye appetizer at the end and it was refreshingly simple after some of the heavily spiced rolls we had already eaten.  It looked like the salmon and squid were steamed together and served with a light Teriyaki sauce.  The coolest thing about this dish was the presentation…each slice actually looked like an eye!

Even though I was fully stuffed, I actually considered ordering the Banana Tempura with Vanilla Ice Cream, but John and I were both ready to go home, so we rolled out of the door, our faces numbed into satisfied smiles and spent the rest of the evening in a hazy food coma.

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