Our area’s strong Catholic heritage and coastal traditions shift our attention to certain foods this time of year. Whether or not you observe Lent, you’re sure to notice many local restaurants catering toward those abstaining from meat, not that it’s ever difficult to find great seafood around here. We’ll be sharing these Lenten menus with you, but each week, we’d also like to highlight some tasty alternatives you should keep in mind until Easter.
Sushi is a great choice for a Friday meal during Lent because it provides you with such a wide variety of seafood and ways to enjoy it. The area has acquired several sushi restaurants over the years that have each managed to carve their own niche. These are my favorites and a look at what they do best.
Zen | Unique Rolls from “Fully Cooked” to “Eat it Raw”
Sushi is usually just one part of a Japanese restaurant’s larger menu, but Zen is first and foremost a sushi restaurant with a focus on rolls. Lent is a great time for people daunted by sushi to finally give it a try, and Zen is a great place to make that introduction. That’s because Zen divides the rolls on its menu based on the amount of raw ingredients. Diners can start with something from the “Fully Cooked” section like the Sunshine roll, which eats like a seafood jalapeno popper wrapped in fried calamari. Eating something so familiar with chopsticks alongside other rolls bridges the gap that some people struggle to get over when it comes to sushi.
The initiated will find Zen’s rolls are more inventive than most and often more beautiful. It’s clear a lot of effort has gone into making rolls the star at Zen and they shine for it.
Osaka | Intimate sushi bar with a full menu
Lent is also the perfect time to graduate from rolls to traditional nigiri (fish over rice) and sashimi (slices of fish) at the sushi bar. Osaka excels in this department with its excellent sushi bar tucked away in the back and featuring a full bar menu. It feels like dining in a totally different restaurant and makes for a unique food experience. The chefs are very friendly and reward your enthusiasm with recommendations and the occasional on-the-spot creation.
You can order rolls at the bar, but the raw stuff is the focus. If it’s your first time, go with some basic nigiri like shrimp, salmon, and yellowtail. The shrimp is already cooked so it makes for a comfortable introduction. Salmon is rich in flavor with no harsh fishy flavors. Yellowtail is the perfect balance of flavor and texture: Not too fishy or chewy, just delicious. Dip the sushi fish-side down in the tiniest bit of soy sauce.
Learn which fish you like and always be willing to try something new and interesting like uni (sea urchin roe) or sweet shrimp (you can eat the heads!)
Samurai Express | Sharing rolls off the conveyor belt
I’m a big supporter of sharing meals. It’s fun and you get to try more that way. Sushi is the perfect food for sharing as nigiri usually comes two pieces to an order and rolls six to eight. Samurai Express capitalizes upon this concept by literally having plates of rolls slide by your table on a magnetic conveyor belt. Most plates feature four pieces of a roll with the color of the plate dictating the price. You’re free to snatch up any plate as it glides by making for a fun group meal full of excitement and anticipation as each new roll rounds your corner.
If you’d rather not eat off the conveyor belt or don’t see something you like, Samurai Express features a full sushi menu you can order from. It’s one of the most unique restaurants of any sort in the area.
Geaux Fish | Tasty rolls on a budget
Menus are often divided between “special” and “regular” rolls. The former have interesting names and all sorts of ingredients, often combined into the same roll. The latter have boring names listing their main protein. Don’t let that steer you away from the regulars. A better name would be “value” rolls. That’s especially true at Geaux Fish. For most of its tenure as Thibodaux’s sole sushi spot, Geaux Fish has featured significantly cheaper (by as much as a dollar or two per order) traditional rolls than the alternatives in Houma.
When I still lived in Thibodaux, my usual order consisted of yellowtail, spicy salmon, shrimp tempura, and spider (soft-shelled crab) rolls. Ordering nothing but sushi makes for quick service, so going with the “regular” menu made Geaux Fish a quick and affordable meal for two.
Jinsan | Sushi finally makes it down the bayou
Growing up in South Lafourche, you get used to going up the bayou to eat anything beyond the usual seafood and fast food. Just a few years ago, Jinsan opened in Larose finally bringing sushi to the bayou. The sushi menu is surprisingly large and has introduced the cuisine to a modest population that may have never dared to try it. My focus when I’m there, however, is the assorted roll dinner featuring three rolls, soup, and salad for fourteen bucks. You can choose from among fourteen rolls, a wide selection compared to most combos.
Spicy salmon, tuna avocado, and shrimp avocado rolls are my go-to choices. Jinsan offers a great deal and plenty of options in an area with little to choose from.