Tsunami Sushi, popular in Lafayette and Baton Rouge, plans new restaurant in downtown New Orleans _lowres

Advocate file photo -- Sesame seeds and shredded coconut finish off a "green monster" roll at Tsunami Sushi in Baton Rouge.

The Lafayette-based restaurant company that turned alligator into a sushi bar staple has a new restaurant in the works for downtown New Orleans.

Tsunami Sushi plans to open inside the Pan American Life Center at 601 Poydras St. sometime in 2016. Tsunami will take over a corner spot in the ground floor of the CBD high rise, which was previously used as conference space.

“The menu will be the same, and we’re working on a design now that will have that modern, contemporary look with some Asian elements and natural touches, like we use at our other restaurants,” said Michelle Ezell, one of Tsunami’s managing partners.

Ezell and her family started Tsunami Sushi in downtown Lafayette in 2000. They opened the second location in Baton Rouge, in a dramatic rooftop space in the Shaw Center arts complex along the Mississippi River.

She and her husband Sean more recently brought on longtime employees Toon Nguyen and Fred Nonato as partners as part of a plan to grow the company further. Earlier this year they added a third location in Cypress Bayou Casino in St. Mary Parish. The forthcoming New Orleans expansion follows suit and, like their first two restaurants, its location was guided by the appeal of a downtown address.

“We want to attract more than just one type of customer, and in a downtown area you have that,” she said. “I think being downtown makes us feel like we’re more connected to the city than a place on the outskirts.”

While plans for the restaurant are still taking shape, it will have a dedicated sushi bar, full dining room and bar, while private tatami rooms for traditional Japanese service are a possibility. Ezell said they also plan to develop an outdoor patio facing the corner of Poydras Street and St. Charles Avenue, an addition that would fit a trend for more outdoor restaurant spaces in downtown New Orleans.

The Tsunami menu is extensive, with traditional Japanese dishes and sushi bar standards augmented by more signature flavors showing a Louisiana influence. For instance, there are fried oysters with wasabi tartar sauce, the Ragin’ Cajun roll with panko-crusted alligator and the John Breaux roll, named for the longtime U.S. Senator from Acadiana, filled with spicy crawfish.

“When we started, we tried to do things very traditional, but the menu was always driven by the customer,” said Ezell. “So we ended up with alligator, crawfish and soft shell crab on the menu and they’ve all become customer favorites.”

Soy-braised fish, short ribs over congee, pork belly ramen and calamari “fries” are other distinctive dishes from the Tsunami menu.

Tsunami Sushi

601 Poydras St. slated to open in 2016

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.