Closed since Ida, a tiny Lakeview restaurant converts to a sushi lounge to return | Where NOLA Eats

Something a little different, a little extra, has been the norm at the tiny Lakeview sushi bar Lotus. It just reopened in late February, nearly six months after damage from Hurricane Ida forced a temporary closure. Dining here again revealed a big change.

Part of that is reflected in the name. Prior to the storm, this restaurant was called Lotus Bistro. Now it’s simply called Lotus, and it resembles a lounge built around a sushi bar.







The dining room at Lotus in Lakeview has been converted to more of a lounge built around the 8-seat sushi bar. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)


That small, eight-seat sushi bar is still in its customary spot, but the conventional restaurant tables have been replaced by groupings of sofas, low tables and lounge chairs.

The restaurant has also acquired a liquor license for the first time, so sushi with sake, specialty Japanese whiskeys, cocktails and wine or beer are on the table.

Lotus is a shoebox-sized spot tucked into the corner of a correspondingly small strip mall on West Harrison Avenue, the more chockablock extension of Lakeview’s main commercial street. It could be easily overlooked.







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The Masako Katsura roll with wasabi aioli, spicy tuna and fried green onions at Lotus Bistro in Lakeview. It’s named for a trailblazing billiards player from the 1950s and part of a theme honoring accomplished Japanese women.




But owner Betty Sun said she always envisioned her restaurant as a neighborhood spot, and she’s worked to make it a place her regulars frequently have in mind, rather than one that catches the eye of passersby.

The shift to sushi lounge is part of that intent, offering a place for dinner or just drinks and snacks that is also family-friendly.







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Chirashi sushi at Lotus Bistro in Lakeview.




Keeping Lotus in play has required Sun to make dramatic adjustments practically from the start. Lotus marked its ribbon-cutting early in 2020. A few weeks later, the pandemic shut down all restaurants.

Sun reopened only with outdoor service, and she kept it that way even as official restrictions eased. It was her way of taking every precaution to protect her family, especially her parents, through the health crisis.

A small parking lot was converted for temporary outdoor dining. Now open again after Ida, the parking lot is no longer used for dining.







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Betty Sun started her restaurant Lotus in early 2020, weeks before the pandemic shut restaurants down. She has changed it greatly to continue. Behind her is a mural of pioneering Japanese billiards player Masako Katsura, part of a theme honoring accomplished Japanese women through history. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)


Some past customers may be seeing the interior of Lotus for the first time. What stands out, apart from the new lounge look, are the murals that were here from the start.

These feature accomplished Japanese women through history, from Tomoe Gozen, an epic warrior from the feudal age, to Kimie Iwata, a modern corporate president. An image of Masako Katsura, a pioneer of women in professional billiards in the 1950s, is emblazoned behind the sushi bar, as if looking over Sun’s shoulder as she works on another order of rolls.







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The Masako Katsura roll with wasabi aioli, spicy tuna and fried green onions at Lotus Bistro in Lakeview. It’s named for a trailblazing billiards player from the 1950s and part of a theme honoring accomplished Japanese women.




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There are specialty rolls on the menu corresponding to these women. One named for Mineko Iwasaki, whose life helped inspire the novel “Memoirs of a Geisha,” is among the many lighter rolls on Sun’s menu that qualifies for the Ochsner Eat Fit NOLA program, promoting healthier restaurant choices. It starts with tuna, avocado and cucumber rolled in rice, with salmon on top, and gets its extra flavor not from cream cheese or tempura but from spicy snow crab, lots of roe and just a bit of crunchy panko.







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The Mineko Iwasaki roll is a lighter choice at Lotus restaurant in Lakeview. It is named for the woman whose life inspired the novel “Memoirs of a Geisha.” (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)


Another in the same healthier category is simply called the Lotus roll, and it’s a picture of fresh lightness, with tuna, salmon and yellowtail and a thin vein of cucumber bound in nori. I had mine with two sauces arrayed as dueling bursts of flavor. One, called fantasy sauce, is made from spicy mayo, eel sauce, and “burnt sake” (which has been flamed). It’s a blend of sour, tangy and subtly earthy flavors. The other sauce, made with blueberries and yogurt, is creamy and bright.







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The Lotus roll at the newly reopened Lotus restaurant in Lakeview is a picture of fresh lightness, with fish and cucumber bound by nori. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)


Sun was born in Taiwan to parents with a mix of Chinese and Japanese heritage. They ran restaurants before moving to the US, where they resumed the profession in southern California. Working at her parents’ side, Sun learned to make dumplings from an early age.

That’s why the gyoza at Lotus are a point of pride. Lusciously tender, their thin noodle wrappers are crisped on the grill and served with a ramekin of frothy, freshly made dipping sauce sparking with ginger.







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Gyzoa with a crisp, grilled bottom and fresh, frothy ginger dipping sauce The Lotus roll at Lotus restaurant in Lakeview. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)


For the new chapter of Lotus, Sun has been revising the menu. Some of the previous hits remain, like the magnificent chirashi sushi platter, arranged with mesmerizing detail, and the spicy edamame, charred in a wok and strewn with chile peppers, elevating a ubiquitous sushi bar standard.

Many of the former menus more entrée-style dishes — like udon and katsu — are off; more small plates, in the style of Japanese izakaya tavern food, will join the roster soon — better for lounge-style noshing, Sun reckons.







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Edamame with charred chiles at Lotus Bistro in Lakeview.




Sushi catering remains an important niche Sun has been building, as she finds ways for a small restaurant to get business beyond its four walls and limited seats.

It was touch and go for many restaurants after Hurricane Ida, which piled on hardships for businesses already battered by the pandemic. As the months went on and Lotus remained shuttered, I worried this one would join the too-long list of restaurants that closed permanently in the aftermath.

But now it’s back, changed yet again to keep going, with reminders of what kept drawing me here from the start.

Lotus

203 W. Harrison Ave., (504) 533-9879

Tue.-Sat., 4 pm to 9 pm

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