A new omakase restaurant has opened in New Orleans’s Central Business District, after a year in the making and a debut paused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yo Nashi is from owner Kyle Payer and chef Mackenzie Broquet, now serving eight-to-ten course tasting menus in the Japanese dining style of omakase Thursday through Monday evenings.
Omakase means the menu is determined by the chef, though a meal at Yo Nashi will progress with a set structure and highlight Gulf Coast ingredients. It starts with one or two plated appetizers — for example, a Kombu-cured scallop with beet vinaigrette, black sesame tōgarashi cracker, purple radish, and crab roe bottarga. The starter course is followed by a round of five nigiri, like a lightly-torched chūtoro nigiri with seared foie gras, laid out by the chef on oblong slate plates for diners to transfer to their respective slate rounds.
Next, one or two savory courses with proteins like New York strip or pork belly, and then dessert — a recent dish combined candied pineapple and mango, brown butter streusel, Chantilly cream, and mango crème anglaise, topped with a smoldering cinnamon stick. Payer told Eater that the menu will change slightly every day, with big changes happening weekly. “Chef Mack” speaks to each party when they sit to go over preferences, dislikes, and any allergies.
Yo Nashi, located at 419 Carondelet Street, means pear in Japanese. The name is a nod to a family symbol of Payer’s, and it’s woven into the design of the restaurant’s locally-crafted wall sconces and the hanging sign outside. The former are made by New Orleans sculptor David Rockhold, and the latter by NOLA Sign Shop using shou sugi ban, a Japanese technique of preserving wood by charring it with fire. Payer tapped local designer Curtis Herring for the sleek, vibrantly-hued interior, which mixes shades of blue and orange with metallic-dipped decor modeled after natural elements like leaves, stones, shells, and sticks; motifs also reflected in the plateware.
Payer left his job as bar manager at the James Beard award-winning Restaurant August last summer after finding the downtown space. It was a few years after shifting from the pharmaceutical world to restaurants, which has also included stints in the front of house at Shaya and the kitchen at Domenica. Chef Mack was a perfect fit for Payer’s long-formed concept, with experience manning the chef’s table at Commander’s Palace and at a hunting and fishing lodge in Southeast Louisiana, where he was tasked with butchering and cooking whole tuna or wild boar brought back by guests.
Construction on Yo Nashi started in December of last year. It was completed in April — weeks into New Orleans’s stay-at-home order. Payer delayed plans and waited until the city entered its second phase of reopening, which allowed restaurants to serve at 50 percent capacity. Half of Yo Nashi’s capacity based on square footage is 24 people, but with an 18-seat sushi bar, there aren’t close to that many people in the space at one time. With two staggered, spaced-out seatings, Yo Nashi has been serving an average of about 14 customers per night. Payer, Broquet, and one server (for now) are the only staff. Luckily, Payer says his business model never included having to “fill every seat for three turns a night.”
Yo Nashi, at 419 Carondelet Street, Suite 101, is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Monday.
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