When Chef Jackie Chen moved to Charlotte seven years ago, he brought with him a distinguished palate of flavors that stem from his extensive travels. From New Zealand to Japan, Chen has experienced a world of culinary influences, which clearly shows in his vast and colorful menu at New Zealand Café on Sardis Road North. Chef Chen is co-owner and the restaurant's executive sushi chef, where his masterful sushi creations have brought about perhaps the most loyal and consistent collection of diners and sushi connoisseurs in Charlotte.
Creative Loafing: Where did the name, New Zealand Café, originate? When did you open here in Charlotte?
Jackie Chen: My partner, David Zhou and I met and worked together in New Zealand, where he owns many restaurants, all called "New Zealand Café." When we decided to open one in the United States, we really liked the prospect of Charlotte because it is a growing city and there is a lot of opportunity here. We opened New Zealand Café at the Sardis Crossing Shopping Center here in South Charlotte, in April of 2004.
How would you best describe your cuisine, and what is one of your favorite dishes to create for your customers?
We have an extensive sushi bar menu that we are always adding to, but we are also a seafood grille that serves everything from Malaysian Butter Shrimp and Grilled Tilapia to BBQ Salmon and New Zealand's Crispy Scallops. We also offer dishes that are an eclectic fusion of culinary influences that range from New Zealand all the way to Thailand. I very much enjoy being a sushi chef, and so creating new and different rolls for my customers are always a treat for me. Perhaps my favorite would be the Sweet Dragon Roll, which consists of fried jumbo shrimp, cucumber and mayo topped with eel and avocado. Another popular roll is the Lobster King Roll, which is made up of lobster tempura, cucumber, snow crab, shrimp and avocado.
During a normal weekday dinner rush, all nine tables are completely full, and on a weekend there is almost always a guaranteed line at the door. What sets you apart from all the other sushi restaurants in Charlotte?
Simply put, good food and good service. We try to be very creative with our menu, and while our staple dishes are always available, we are also always creating new rolls and dishes for our customers to try out. People who come to eat at New Zealand Café are professional sushi eaters and they appreciate the food above all. We are a small, family-oriented establishment and our first goal is always to provide our clients with a really enjoyable culinary experience. We love to take good care of our regulars, and we also love to introduce our restaurant to new customers. I think we take a lot of pride in our restaurant, and people recognize that.