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The soy next door: Hasaki Grill & Sushi 

Casual sushi in arts district

Hasaki Grill & Sushi

440 S. Church St., Suite 104. 980-819-9580. Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. www.hasakigrill.com.

Entrepreneur Chang Ha shrewdly timed his opening of Hasaki Grill & Sushi in the burgeoning Arts/Energy "district" (which in truth is a three-block area) at the end of August, preceding a phalanx of neighboring competitors which either opened this fall or will open in early 2012. The city's shift toward South Tryon may be prescient. But for Ha, opening a casual sushi eatery fits into today's economic climate and the growing residential community in that part of the city. After all, a successful tactic by area restaurateurs has been to make menus accessible, which is code for burgers, tacos and sushi. While Ha is a veteran small-business owner, Hasaki is his first restaurant.

Too many of the buildings along Church Street still have that pre-2000, back-to-the-street look devoid of street level windows and entrances. But the 80-seat Hasaki shines from the corner of the Ally building and a small side street. Designed to perform a daily transformation, Hasaki goes from fast casual in the morning to just casual at night. During the day, customers rely on the menu suspended over the center counter and jam into the oversized eight-seat booths lining one wall. The quickness and simplicity of the menu makes Hasaki a convenient lunch spot. During the evening, the cushy chairs at the smaller tables, with Japanese images peering out from the coated tabletops, have more appeal. The dining room is framed in black and red. Tables are set with both forks and chopsticks, and into the evening, napkins are paper and some sauces are served in plastic containers.

Last week, the business secured a liquor license. A small range of wines (by the glass or bottle) and beers is now offered. Manning the kitchen is Chef Phu Ung, with 15 years of kitchen experience in the Charlotte area. The menu here is finely edited and predictable: miso, edamae, dumplings, hibachi steak and sushi. Ha used a local restaurateur familiar with the proclivities of the Charlotte palate as a consultant. Thus, choices are limited, but not expensive. Combo plates are less than $11, entrées less than $9. With only a four-seat sushi bar, this is not the kind of spot to get to know the Itamae.

The sushi is fairly rudimentary, with the bright visual exception of the Cherry Blossom roll. Ung's artfully plated rolls extend to the pork dumplings, though these are not made in-house. Yet not all dishes work. On one night, the nori of the spicy scallop hand roll was too chewy. Good rolls use either high quality wrappers or ones quickly toasted to make them crispy yet pliable.

Tender morsels of eel nigiri are dotted with sweet sauce while finfish nigiri have the faint hint of the sea. A spider roll distinguished itself well enough with crispy crab. However, all items from the fryer cannot be counted on. Tempura shrimp is fettered with batter.

The rolls are smaller here, but that may be a reaction to the increasing largesse of sushi rolls (and their prices) elsewhere. Soup-noodle lovers, take note: During the winter, Ha, a native Vietnamese, will add Vietnamese pho.

At this early date, Hasaki has the trappings of an office neighborhood joint, but with alcohol available, dinner is now an option. Hasaki appeals to a city crowd, a transient crowd. You'll find what you expect, which, presumably, is just the way Ha likes it and a concept which seems to work.

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