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Clever culinary twists at Cyros Sushi and Sake Bar 

You're a sushi chef in a hypercompetitive sushi town with a cultishly devoted customer base. For a few years, you've been supplying in-house made sushi to wine bars and other establishments, and to professional sporting events ­-- golf, football, basketball -- through the cushy catering arm of your not quite 3-year-old but red hot company. What do you add to this lineup?

You produce your own eatery, of course. Partners Cy Santos and Ro Lawsin opened Cyros Sushi and Sake Bar (the addition of their first names: Cy plus Ro) on the backside of a small enclosed shopping center (which also houses Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen ) in SouthPark last January. There are no sushi boats, or loud greetings, or tatami rooms. If they wanted a place for the locals to hang out, they got it right. Lawsin says, "On Friday and Saturday nights, a disco ball doesn't drop out of the ceiling. We're only about sushi here."

The small 49-seat space at Cyros is divided into the 8-seat sushi bar area and a second small dining room. Don't expect design pyrotechnics: Both rooms are minimally dressed. The back beige dining room has a series of large drum shaded pendant lights while tables are equipped with a soy mister and a very small glass cube containing a beta fish (not all were alive) and a votive candle. While I like the idea of swimming fish, I worry about their lack of space. (Confession: Two years ago, I rescued a group of goldfish from a sushi display after an event. Most have survived.)

But don't let the austere setting take your focus off the food. Gorgeousness and good food don't always mix and sometimes it's better to keep it simple. While many places aim wide, Cyros' view is razor sharp with a straightforward, yet inventive, sushi menu with only a few starters and salads.

In the U.S., we have a nasty habit of transforming culinary imports into bland -- not better -- bulky versions of their former selves. Instead of going for the "primary colors" of our taste buds -- sweet, salty, sour, bitter, piquance, and unami -- we have a tendency to indulge just one and convert dishes to this end. So it's rare to find chefs willing to stake out an adventurous claim by rewiring the expected into dishes that are distinctly delicious.

This is what you find at Cyros. Why resist their summery cerviche salad with Ahi tuna, salmon, octopus, shrimp, and more, perfectly "cooked" in a yuzu vinaigrette, or Cy's signature roll, the Avante Garde, with Ahi, crab, avocado sprinkled with crispy microplaned bits of shallots and garlic?

Many of their specialty rolls pack heat, like the Hamachi Jalapeño roll and the Fiery Tuna roll with aji panca -- a Peruvian chile pepper. Perhaps this reflects the Filipino backgrounds of the owners: Cy was born there, Ro is American of Filipino descent. The Philippines is one Asian culture which supports the addition of piquance (heat) to the taste palate. But none of the rolls here are so powerful as to be brutish.

Sauces are prime ingredients of most of the Cyros signature rolls, thus precluding the traditional dunking into soy and wasabi. Garlic aïoli is used on the lobster and beef roll, masago aïoli on a baked roll, wasabi crème fraiche on the double tempura roll with shrimp and tuna, and a spicy sweet kabayaki on the Nobu Fire roll.

Where is the line between enjoyably inventive and mindlessly novel? If it tastes good, it works. Sure, you can get traditional rolls like a spider roll or a California roll. But would you want to? Pristine tastes are offered though their sparkling nigiri and sashimi (which can be flamed seared, if you shun raw). Prices range from $5 for a traditional salmon roll to $18 Surf and Turf -- lobster and beef. The lunch menu includes bento boxes for $10 and $12 (these are not available in the evening) and chirashi don ($12).

Lawsin said they have extended their hours to serve until 2 a.m. on the weekends, hoping to catch the restaurant crowd -- chefs and owners grabbing a bite on the way home after their establishments have closed. If Cyros is looking to capture the local chefs, you know they are on top of their game.

Know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, and new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? To be included in our online blog, Eat My Charlotte, send information to Tricia via e-mail (no attachments, please): tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com.

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