Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Orient yourself south for eastern fare. By Mary Tutwiler

When the first sushi restaurant, Shangri-La, opened in Lafayette over a decade ago, it was rain in the desert for those who had been making the trek to New Orleans to get their sushi fix. Sushi fits a particular taste profile: salty soy, sharp and sweet rice vinegar, and umami, the Japanese word for savory, which raw fish satisfies. It’s a powerful combination on the palate, and at least for me, constituted cravings that had me hitting the highway about twice a month.

Some folks, years later, still think sushi is outlandish. “I don’t eat that weird stuff,” is a comment I hear from people who have just polished off a tray full of boiled mudbugs or softshell crabs, which resemble nothing so much as a plate of fried tarantulas. But lots of Cajuns eat their seafood in a multitude of modes — fried, boiled, smothered, barbecued, broiled, simmered, sauced and clearly, raw. This is evidenced by the plethora of successful sushi restaurants in the Hub City: Bonsai, Chung King, Dozo, Oishi, Osaka, Sakura, Samuri, Shangri-La, Shinto, Tokyo Live, Tsubaki and Tsunami, to name a dozen, and of course lots of the big Chinese buffets now include sushi along with the kung-po chicken and moo-shu pork.

For restaurants which mostly offer the same items, raw fish over rice balls, or rolls which combine fish with crab, shrimp, oysters, vegetables and either eel sauce or a chili-spiked mayonnaise, to have enough of a following in this city of 120,000 souls, and I’m including kids here, who tend to love sushi’s sweet notes given half a chance, speaks loudly to the popularity of sushi. Or look at it this way, there’s a sushi restaurant for every 10,00 people in Lafayette. I’m not sure I can count that many Cajun restaurants in town. It makes sense too, as a news story written about a decade ago when sushi first took off stated: “What’s not for Cajuns to like about sushi? It’s what they eat already, rice and fish.” (Wish I’d coined that, but it was another witty local writer.)

But while sushi is quite popular here in the populous center of the parish, you had to come to town to eat Japanese. Until now.

Photo by Robin May

Over the course of the past year, three sushi restaurants have opened within the corporate limits of Broussard. Samurai Sushi Bar Two and Saketini Sushi are located along Albertson Parkway, and Sushi Roxx is right off Hwy. 90 at the Morgan Street intersection. Why Broussard? The obvious answer is that’s where the population is going. South Lafayette Parish’s population has exploded over the last decade, as we’ll see when those census numbers come out next month.

Broussard Mayor Charlie Langlinais takes incidental credit for the restaurants as part of his long range plans for growing Broussard. “We always have urged blue collar job creation. Now that we’ve succeeded in that, the next step is retail, and the last step is to promote more new upscale residential.” Plans for the southward migration are on the table at Broussard City Hall. Langlinais says there are five new subdivisions in the planning stage, all to be built in 2011. That’s a lot of hungry mouths to feed.
As for why so many sushi restaurants, Langlinais’ analysis is the rise in ethnic diversity in the town named for Beausoleil Broussard, insurgent hero of the Acadian people who fought the British in Nova Scotia until 1762, before leading a group of Acadians toward Louisiana, where, on April 8, 1765, he was appointed militia captain and commander of the Acadians of the Attakapas.

The other demographic is youth. The Broussard mayor, who says he doesn’t eat sushi (“I don’t eat that raw sh*t”), thinks Japanese cuisine is the parvenue of the young and trendy.

I’m not so sure I agree with him. At each of the three new restaurants, there was the typical mixed age group you’d find at any restaurant on a Saturday night: families, older diners and young couples all enjoying themselves.
If there is a distinguishing factor in the clientele, I’d say Sushi Roxx, with its proximity to Michael’s men’s club, does draw the cowboy-boot crowd, a little loud, a little lit, hungry for raw flesh.

While all three restaurants are located in strip malls, Samurai Two garners the most authentic environment, with soshi screens dividing the restaurant into intimate spaces, and quiet music. Sakitini is clearly trending toward the cocktail crowd. As far as raw fish goes, the catch is to always ask what is freshest that day. That’s all you need to know.  

Samurai Two
201 Albertson Pkwy., Broussard, 839-0073

817 Albertson Pkwy., Broussard, 839-0044

Sushi Roxx
4016 Highway 90 E., Broussard, 330-2147

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