Decisions at the sushi bar come easy for purists, who typically stick with sashimi or the more straightforward rolls. But purists alone cannot account for the quantity of Japanese restaurants in New Orleans. Take a look at the orders keeping the city's army of sushi chefs busy and you find as much crabstick fish product, crumbled tempura debris, cream cheese, cooked shrimp and avocado as you do pristine maguro and sea urchin.
From such ingredients are made the increasingly large, inventive and often delicious specialty rolls that fill so many tables at local sushi restaurants. The Uptown restaurant Sushi Brothers has put some interesting new entries into the fray. The restaurant was a franchise of Little Tokyo until Phoung and Houn Nguyen bought it a few years back and began evolving a new list of house special rolls.
Some are simple though still unusual, like a roll filled with tempura-fried calamari and the ethereally soft honey roll, with wads of crabstick and sweet barbecued eel inside a thin, translucent rice paper wrapper.
Others take a sports theme and weave in team colors, like the Saints black and gold roll, which is striped with yellow mango topped with black roe. Flavors in this color scheme happen to pair quite well with the roll's real payload: a long, torpedo-shaped package of coconut-crusted shrimp tempura.
The Tulane Greenwave roll is essentially a California roll with the added heft of raw tuna draped over the top and a topping of spicy green tobiko and lime slices to explain the name. Beware the inclusion of the lime's bitter rind, which is best picked off beforehand.
I never divined the naming inspiration behind the Levee Voice roll, though I'd order it again. A layer of blue crab is packed atop a dense, moist, burrito-sized roll of crawfish, avocado and asparagus with spicy mayonnaise sauce crunchy with tobiko.
Some of these creations go off the rails. The Geisha Girl roll is less like a roll and more like an ice cream sundae wrought in seafood, rice and mayonnaise. It begins with barbecued eel and avocado rolled in a soy paper wrapper, and arrayed in a circular, floral pattern, over which is piled a landslide of chopped shrimp and tempura bits. A spicy sriracha-based sauce, a mayonnaise sauce and some kind of sweet, sticky sauce surround it in concentric bands, which all eventually commingle. It's the only time sushi has made me wish for a spoon.
The simple asparagus tempura roll is a refreshing break, and the coils of sharply pickled ginger root packed into the mackerel and ginger roll can take your breath away before the strong fish flavor steps in.
The crowd at Sushi Brothers skews toward the college to immediately post-college set, and the restaurant can get busy to the point of frantic. But service is swift, and it is impressive to see the volume of takeout business the sushi chefs manage to fill while tending to the tables and sushi bar. Still, when the orders for Saints rolls start backing up, they must be relieved to see a ticket for some straight-up sashimi come through.