Long Beach is not starved for sushi. From Orange Grill Teriyaki House in North Long Beach to Sushi Mafia in Downtown to Sushi on Fire in Belmont Shore, the city is happily saturated with dozens of iterations of the popular Japanese cuisine. It’s nice, but arguably, a little tired.
But soon, Long Beach will be home to a unique taste of Japanese gastronomy, one that fuses the flavors of Peru with the culinary traditions of Japan, known as Nikkei (pronounced “nee-kay”). If the name doesn’t ring any bells, that’s likely because the cuisine’s popularity has only exploded into mainstream popularity in recent years, though Nikkei is rooted in hundreds of years of Peruvian culinary history. And Sushi Nikkei is here to show Long Beach what it’s all about.
Owned by husband-and-wife team Eduardo Chang Ogata and Daiwa Wong Olano, Sushi Nikkei will be taking over La Casita Rivera on Atlantic Avenue and Bixby Road, marking the end of the Mexican restaurant’s almost seven-year run in Bixby Knolls.
Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, who announced the news online earlier this month, said La Casita Rivera’s owners decided to retire, in some part pushed by pandemic-related pains, but also a desire to have more time to spend with their grandchildren.
Interior construction is nearing completion and Sushi Nikkei’s menu almost finalized, Wong Olano said. Should the restaurant get the green light from the city’s health department in time, Sushi Nikkei will welcome its first patrons by late January 2022.
“We’re excited to see what they’re about and to be a part of the community,” Cohn said of the new business.
As owner Wong Olano explained over a phone call, Sushi Nikkei is “….fusion food, it’s Peruvian style sushi.” But this explanation is merely an elevator pitch, as Nikkei is a cuisine born out of cultural adaptation, a necessity that was less about experimentation than a longing for the familiar taste of home.
The word “Nikkei” is a Japanese term for the Japanese diaspora, it means “Japanese outside of Japan,” but only later did the term come to include the cuisine. It’s estimated that between the late 19th and mid-20th century two major waves of Asian migrants—many Chinese and Japanese—emigrated to Peru as its new labor work force. Seeking a taste of home, Japanese workers embarked on recreating their cuisine, making do with abundant local ingredients such as tropical fish, quinoa, and aji amarillo peppers—all characteristic ingredients in Nikkei today.
Nikkei has also made a lasting impact on Peruvian’s approach to food. Modern application to the country’s national dish, ceviche, point to Nikkei influence. Previously the raw fish would be marinated for hours, before Japanese immigrants taught Peruvians to handle the fish more simply and lightly cook it before adding the desired sauce or seasoning—and to great effect.
Though Chinese descendants are more populous in Peru than the Japanese, the Japanese population within Peru is the second largest in all Latin America (Brazil takes first) and their mark on Peru’s gastronomy is well established and today, highly acclaimed. Lima’s fine-dining Nikkei restaurant, Maido, made No. 10 in the 2019 World’s 50 Best Restaurant’s List, the 2020 list has been postponed.
Wong Olano and Chang Ogata know and understand Nikkei’s prominence firsthand. Both were born and raised in Lima, Peru to parents with Asian ancestry. The couple’s fathers share Chinese ancestry, while Wong Olano’s mother is Peruvian, and Chang Ogata’s is Japanese.
Wong Olano and Chang Ogata, both 36, were friends in high school, but their friendship didn’t turn romantic until 2015. It was a long-distance relationship for a while, Wong Olano had been living in Long Beach since 2014 as a registered nurse. Once they married in 2018, Chang Ogata joined her in Rose Park and he currently works as a chef at Kihon Sushi in Naples.
Though Sushi Nikkei is the shared vision of the couple, Chang Ogata is at the helm of its culinary design. His career as a Nikkei chef spans well over a decade, with a passion instilled while very young.
“My maternal grandmother used to delight us with homemade Japanese dishes and my paternal grandfather had a great Peruvian seasoning flavor, but my mother was the one that influenced [me] a lot. We always went out to eat and try new restaurants. I learned to taste and not to be afraid of trying new dishes,” Chang Ogata said in a personal biography provided via email.
He received a formal education at Cordontec, a Le Cordon Bleu tech school in Lima. While studying there, he took up part-time work as an Itame (Japanese sushi chef) at Edo Sushi Bar, a well respected sushi Nikkei chain in Peru. For seven years he honed the craft of Nikkei and in 2016, launched his own restaurant, Yume, with his brother and two high school friends and just October launched their second brick-and-mortar in Peru. Chang Ogata flies a lot these days.
Seeing success of Nikkei restaurants in Los Angeles, but finding none in Long Beach, Chang Ogata and Wong Olano believe Long Beach is ready for its own slice—or roll—whatever your preference.
A glimpse at Sushi Nikkei’s menu (which is not complete and has not been released yet) reveals a tempting array of familiar Nikkei dishes. The tirados, a hallmark plate with sashimi cut slices of raw fish, slathered with a spicy sauce, come in five variations (yellowtail jalapeno, red shoyu, tako chalaco, tuna acebichada and aji amarillo). The “aji amarillo” is comprised of sea bream fish plated with aji amarillo and olive oil.
The sushi, Nikkei style, also comes in five variations. Again we see aji amarillo peppers, in the “tuna power,” but this time as an aioli, and with parrillera sauce (akin to a chimichurri sauce) and topped with a Peruvian chalaquita, which is commonly a medley of red onion, tomatoes, cilantro and lime juice.
But it is with the Nikkei specialties we see Chang Ogata’s playfulness. Four types of tacos—salmon, ebi, tuna cono and nori—topped with avocado, or an avocado aioli, an “Asian sauce,” a “ninja sauce,” and kiuri, or Japanese cucumber.
In the “conchas brasa,” grilled scallops are topped with butter, limo macha (a type of Mexican salsa), and quinoa pop, cradled on an open-faced shell. The “conchas a la parmesana” is decidedly less spicy, but bright and topped with parmesan, butter and lemon.
Without compromising on quality or flavor, Wong Olano said their restaurant will be fine-casual with price points reflecting that. Appetizers, such as the steamed edamame start at $4. It’s spicier version, sautéed with garlic and togarashi is $6. Entrees and specials are between $14-$16, and the sushi Nikkei a flat $8.
Sushi Nikkei will be at 3819 Atlantic Ave. Owners anticipate opening sometime in January 2022, hopefully early, but more likely late. Follow the new restaurant on Instagram for the latest updates.
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