“Sushi is sexy, and we’re going with really sexy, visually beautiful, creative, yet simple and healthy fresh food at Café V Sushi,” says couture shoe designer, hotelier, and restaurateur Vanessa Noel of her newest venture. The island’s new year-round sushi hotspot opened under the radar and without any fanfare (not even a sign with the restaurant’s name outside) smack in the middle of tourist season this August. “We wanted to creep onto the scene,” Noel says. “We did absolutely no advertising for over a month.” Sure enough, the buzz caught on and people started making their way to the latest incarnation of the Chestnut Street spot that’s tucked into the tiny house adjacent to Noel’s shoe boutique and hotel.
Café V Sushi offers a classic array of sushi and sashimi made with high-quality fish at prices that year-rounders will appreciate. Local tuna and wild salmon are used when possible. Hot entrees include teriyaki, curry, and yakisoba dishes. Noel is already at work expanding the menu to include more local fish as well as winter specials such as Japanese hot-pot dishes like shabu shabu and sukiyaki, homemade dumplings, and Nantucket bay scallops with an Asian twist.
From the nerve center of her operations — a parlor floor office above her Vanessa Noel Shoes showroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan — Noel explains that much of the business for the restaurant, including the social media, the menus, and public relations, are done in New York. The designer sits back casually with her parrot, Mr. Peeps, perched on her shoulder, nuzzling up against her neck. Shoes from her collections are displayed artfully around the room like small sculptures in an exhibition. Noel, a lifelong seasonal Nantucketer, travels to the island regularly both for pleasure and to keep her finger on the pulse of her businesses there. In addition to being the sole designer for her shoe collection and the owner of two Nantucket hotels (Vanessa Noel Hotel and Hotel Green), she also acts as a creative director for Café V Sushi, ultimately overseeing everything from the interior design to the dishes on the menu and the way the food is visually presented on the plates.
She speaks excitedly about how she brought two Nepalese brothers-in-law, Bishnu Simkhada, Café V Sushi’s chef, and Bishnu Dhamala, the general manager, back together for this project. “The two had worked on Nantucket for fourteen years with stints at both Yoshi’s and Lola,” she says. Not surprisingly, there aren’t any traditional Japanese rice-paper lanterns or prints of koi fish on the walls when you walk in. Café V Sushi is an extension of the aesthetics Noel employs in her shoe designs and the interior designs of her boutiques and hotels, which feature sensual textures and natural earth tones accented with bright colors. What she describes as “nonpretentious glamour.”
Noel chose a brown paint for the interior “that looks delicious in the evening” and she hung bright orange-, pink-, and red-hued artworks by the late Peter Gee, a colorist and pop artist who was a contemporary of Warhol’s, on the walls. Long, sleek banquettes are upholstered in leopard-print haircalf, a type of leather made by the same tanner Noel works with for her shoes. “Obviously, it’s dyed,” she says, smiling, “because no cow looks like a leopard.” The banquettes are dot- ted with brightly shammed pillows in hot pink, topaz, teal, and royal blue that echo the colors in Gee’s prints.
The intimate space makes for cozy off- season dining. Tables are close enough that you don’t have to feel self-conscious about leaning over and asking your neighbors what they ordered when tableau after tableau of colorful fish, vegetables, meats, and noodles arrives. Indeed, like many of Vanessa Noel’s creations, Café V is Nantucket with flair.