The current Freret Street story is about dramatic transformations, like the junk-filled former firehouse that became Cure and the derelict gas station made into Dat Dog. Even in such company, the appearance of Origami in the former location of Friar Tuck's Bar has been hard for some to accept. Some customers may have hazy memories of the assorted high jinks and regrettable hookups that once occurred there before the space featured delicate sushi rolls.
Creative reuse is a New Orleans strong point, so now we visit Origami for beautifully composed plates of sashimi, a solid repertoire of cooked dishes and a menu of rolls that range from reliable standards to house specials that go from very good to mystifyingly bad.
The names of the best rolls are familiar from other local sushi bars, like the funky margarita — a crawfish roll layered with tuna, salmon and guacamole, a specialty at Kyoto; or the burning man — pepper-crusted tuna and avocado layered over a tuna roll, again akin to a roll of the same name at Little Tokyo.
That's no surprise, since Origami is a project of veteran sushi chef Mitsuko Tanner, who once co-owned Kyoto and was most recently a sushi chef at the Little Tokyo location in Mid-City. With chefs Masayuki Tsukikawa and Thuan Vu, Tanner has made Origami into a bright, contemporary restaurant with high-backed booths, spindle chairs and a sushi bar joined to a short drinking bar, where sake is the norm.
The long menu has many hot dishes, including both the perfunctory (beef teriyaki), some less-common choices (buttery and strong-flavored grilled mackerel), kaarage (soy-soaked bits of fried chicken thighs) and some true oddities, like chicken dumplings, which are deboned drumettes stuffed with dumpling filling and lacquered with dark, thickened soy sauce. This proved as tasty as it was offbeat, as did the rice crispies — fried squares of sushi rice variously carrying crawfish salad, spicy tuna and crab and all elaborately sauced and garnished.
The fish is of reliably high quality, but beware of rolls that sound too far out. In particular, the Italian roll was described as being topped with prosciutto and broiled cheese. Could this be just weird enough to work? Well, the prosciutto was pale, deli-style ham, the cheese was American in all its yellow glory and a sweet sauce tipped the whole thing into a total wreck.
Next up was the unusual namesake Origami roll: with eel and mango inside and sticky fried banana with honey sauce outside, it seemed tame, if only by comparison. Lose the eel and it could be a dessert roll, but I wouldn't recommend it in its current form.
From generous chirashi sushi bowls to traditional noodle dishes, there's a lot to enjoy here. Just give a second thought if something that sounds outrageous strikes your fancy. Come to think of it, that was pretty good advice when the place was Friar Tuck's too.