A temaki and seafood-driven restaurant from Jacqueline Blanchard, founder of culinary shop Coutelier, opened on Oak Street in late July. The simple, sleek restaurant with 22 seats, 16 of them at the bar, is modeled after a traditional Japanese izakaya and serves a succinct menu of hand rolls, traditional izakaya sides, like Japanese potato salad and ohitashi, and a selection of Japanese whisky, beer, and sake.
Coutelier specializes in high-end chef knives made in Japan, so, along with travel for pleasure, Blanchard has traveled to Japan “incessantly throughout the last decade,” she tells Eater. It was her experience of traditional Japanese izakayas that inspired a similar model for her own restaurant: a fast-casual, minimalist space that focuses on a small number of high-quality, well-executed staples.
Blanchard is a native of South Louisiana (Assumption Parish specifically) and a 10th-generation Cajun. She has worked as sous chef at local restaurant August, cooked at Blue Hill At Stone Barns in New York, worked for Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and with Corey Lee at Benu in San Francisco. She credits Lee in particular for her culinary education and inspiration. (Benu was awarded three Michelin stars while she was sous chef.)
Blanchard is aware that she might face skepticism as a white, American woman cooking Japanese cuisine. “You can respect and be an ambassador for a culture that’s not your own with diligence and ultimate reverence,” she says. “I don’t think I’m trying to take something that’s not my own, I think I’m trying to bring the experience I’ve been lucky enough to have to our city.”
There are at least three parallels between South Louisiana and Japan, she says: the seafood culture, the rice culture, and the drinking culture. “I was always particularly interested in rice — the different kinds, what you can do with it — and seafood. That’s a huge part of what I wanted to represent at Sukeban.” She’s in the process of working with a small Southeast Louisiana farm (Cicada Callings Farms) to grow soybeans for edamame and hopes to one day develop a sushi rice with the Louisiana State University Agriculture Department, similar to the kind she currently uses from one of California’s oldest rice mills, Koda Farms.
Sukeban serves seven to eight temaki, or hand rolls, filled with the likes of uni and pink salmon roe; bluefin tuna toro and daikon; and shiitake mushrooms, shiso, avocado, and cucumber. There’s one vegan roll on the menu and usually a vegan special, in addition to a special hand roll and sashimi special (New Zealand Ōra king salmon sashimi, a fish Blanchard says tastes like butter, has been a big hit). Customers can add uni, avocado, caviar, or bluefin to rolls; “That’s been fun for people,” Blanchard says. And then there are the sides, Blanchard’s ode to the simple, traditional accompaniments that can be found at Japanese izakayas.
The restaurant’s 16-seat bar is walk-in only, with one booth that’s available to reserve in three seatings per night, Tuesday through Saturday. It means a wait is likely, at least so far, but with Ale on Oak next door, folks have been happy to have a drink and wait to receive a text when their seat is ready. “With the bar, some people are going to spend 30 minutes and some are going to spend three hours. We wanted to allow for that,” says Blanchard.
Sukeban’s name pays tribute to Japan’s school girl gangs of the 1970s known as the “sukeban,” which translates to “boss girl” or “delinquent girl.” To Blanchard, Japanese cuisine represents a simplicity, diligence, and focus on technique that is unparalleled. She says she’s not trying to reinvent the izakaya. “I was just tired of not having something like that here.”
“I wanted to open a restaurant that is representative of the food I want to eat, like to cook, and feel most passionately about,” Blanchard says. “I think I can do that with reverence and respect.”
Blanched spinach marinated in dashi broth with sesame and bonito flakes.
Izakaya potato salad
A traditional izakaya snack, creamy Japanese potato salad made with pickled cucumbers, carrots, and crispy niboshi.
Lafitte blue crab temaki
Higgins blue crab, cucumber, chives, and katsuo furikake (a mix of bonito and nori).
Local cucumbers and radish and black sesame with Shiro miso made by Bob Florence at Moromi Shoyu in Mystic, Connecticut.