There was no lack of sushi bars around New Orleans when Horinoya first opened in the CBD in 2001. But this restaurant immediately set a new standard for the city with its fidelity to Japanese tradition and with the adventurous menu it offered those ready to venture beyond the basics.
On Friday, May 13, however, Horinoya will serve its last sushi.
Chef Komei Horimoto said the lease is up at his restaurant’s longtime home at 920 Poydras St. And after a half-century of work, he said, he is finally ready for a break.
“Next month is 50 years that I have been working,” said Horimoto, who is 65. “Half of that, 25 years, here in New Orleans.”
Still, while he says he looks forward to time off and visiting family back home in Japan, he did not rule out the possibility of returning to the sushi bar elsewhere sometime in the future.
Horimoto is from a small town outside of Fukoshima (his family, he said, made it through the infamous tsunami and nuclear disaster alright). As a young man in the 1970s, he moved to the US and in the decades that followed worked in many hotels and restaurants, first in San Francisco and later Los Angeles and New York.
A friend in New Orleans encouraged him to move here to start his own business, and eventually he would be a partner in the original Little Tokyo in the Lower Garden District (the same St. Charles Avenue restaurant that is now called Sushi Brothers). He and his wife Mie branched off on their own in 2001 to open Horinoya, giving it a name that translates roughly to “Horimoto’s house.”
Behind the façade of a historic CBD townhouse, the restaurant kept a modern style, with blond wood, a long banquette and blue neon trimming the sushi bar. The goal from the start, the chef said, was to serve the most authentic Japanese cuisine possible in New Orleans.
Their menu would prove a revelation for many New Orleanians, who might have found here their first taste of ankimo, or monkfish liver (sometimes dubbed the foie gras of the sea); or tara kasuzuke, a fatty, sake-soaked broiled black cod; or ochazuki, a palate-cleansing, rejuvenating soup of rice and green tea broth.
To really do it up, Horinoya offered private tatami rooms in the back, where parties would remove their shoes and gather around low tables for chef-guided omakse dinners.
But even if you stuck rolls and sashimi, the fundamentals were pristine and the specials board was dappled with delights that remain hard to find elsewhere.
Through it all, Horinoya always functioned as a family restaurant, with Horimoto behind the sushi bar in immaculate robe and Mie working the floor, cautioning about the truly acquired tastes on the menu (see the maguro yamakake, a gooey, frothy yam porridge with tuna) but also heartily encouraging those who wanted to explore.
“People have been coming here for years, and so they trusted us,” said Mie Horimoto. “They said, ‘if you showed us then it must be good.’”
As New Orleans learned more of the true depth of Japanese cuisine, we were lucky to have them as our guides.
920 Poydras St., 504-561-8914
Friday, May 13, 2016, is scheduled as the last day of business.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.