Asia Aquarius

One sushi, two sushi, great sushi, boo sushi

One evening's special of red snapper is remarkable, too, given the quality of the mild fish, and its skillful sauté in a rich, deeply spicy wasabi-infused beurre blanc sauce tossed over Asian vegetables.

Chile citrus chicken may be more Chinese than Asian, but it's a great dish nonetheless, dipping small bits of breast in feathery batter, then tumbling in diced mushrooms moistened with a heady, red pepper-powerful orange sauce over rice (centerpieces of chicken, shrimp or veggies are available in all entrees).

Asian pan noodles are an excellent option for summertime snacking, as well, delivering a mound of stir-fried yakisoba (ramen-style noodles) tossed with medium-size sweet shrimp, bok choy and carrot glistening with red pepper-dusted sake-soy.

Sushi Brokers brings some bold dishes to the table.
Erik Guzowski
Sushi Brokers brings some bold dishes to the table.

Details

Sushi Brokers, 17025 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 480-515-5000. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, daily, 5 to 11 p.m.

Appetizers:
Lettuce cups: $6
Tuna tataki: $9

Entrees:
Tempura noodles (chicken)$10
Chile citrus (chicken): $10
Hamachi sushi: $5

Hang on Sushi, 15111 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale, 480-905-3984. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.

Appetizers:
Baked mussels: $5.25 Beef tataki: $7.25

Entrees:
Favorite combo, lunch: $8.75 Favorite combo, dinner: $15.75 Hang On dinner: $19.50 Tuna sushi: $4

Sushi Brokers may sound like a discount operation, but meals here are high class all the way.

Hang on Sushi

Superficial as it is, I've got to admit that Hang on Sushi's name has kept me away from this new place, too. It hardly sounds serious, and as I've driven by its bright blue exterior capped with red awnings, I've been reminded too much of a Sushi R Us enterprise to want to stop in.

After several meals, I've decided to just keep on driving. While Hang on Sushi doesn't do anything spectacularly wrong, it doesn't do anything remarkably right, either. This is just another ho-hum stop on the step-above-fast-food sushi circle.

It looks dull. Gray-sponged and murky blue walls are sleepy against charcoal-blue carpet and a black wraparound sushi bar. Tables are double draped in white and black, but are paired with too-casual patio-style chairs. There's an odd little room off to the side, with a full bar, some coffee-style tables and what looks like a TV borrowed from the owner's home. The only visual distraction comes from a few Kirin Beer bar mirrors, a couple of Southwestern prints and a few silk trees.

Its menu reads dull. There are no surprises in yakitori (grilled chicken), tempura, grilled New York steak, broiled salmon or teriyaki chicken and beef. The most interesting things are some selected appetizers and an extensive sushi menu (authentic tastes like sticky-bean roll, pickled-radish roll, spicy-octopus roll, and, I love this spelling, a "vegetalian" roll combining asparagus, pickle, avocado and cucumber). Sushi specials can be compelling sometimes, including one visit's attractive blue-fin tuna sashimi.

Too often, Hang on Sushi eats dull. Combination dinners scrape the bottom of the predictability barrel. Chicken teriyaki with California roll? Tempura and California roll? And the house favorite -- a wild and wacky mix of California roll, tempura and chicken teriyaki? Zzzzz.

Combos come with the usual standbys of miso soup (fine enough) and green salad (good, actually, with a terrific ginger dressing). Tempura, in all cases, is superb, competently fried to airy lightness and pleasingly grease-free, with hefty whole shrimp and full-flavored vegetables like yam, eggplant, onion and zucchini. It comes with The Hang On dinner, a bento box offering of baked fish and sashimi plus sides of white rice, orange rounds and Japanese pickles -- and it's the best thing about the meal. While the tiny fillet of salty-edged baked fish is expertly cooked, it's distressingly sweet after the first few bites. Sashimi is outright awful, the tormented and flabby ahi crushing any virtue in mediocre salmon and yellowtail.

The Favorite combo is better -- the California roll tiny but tasty, and chicken breast cut in a generous portion then finished with a nicely restrained drizzle of sauce (at lunch, the combo features teriyaki sauce; at dinner, it's amiyaki, which is basically teriyaki but thinner, sweeter and tinged with ginger).

A few items stand out. A dinner appetizer of beef tataki is wonderful, the thinly sliced, high-grade steak seared just so with a sensational, salty dipping sauce, all served prettily in a slender boat and topped with scallions. Mussels make it, too, the juicy New Zealand creatures baked to golden brown -- two dressed in garlic butter, two draped in a gooey mayo sauce. Instead of the usual bed of rock salt, they're served on white gravel that looks like it belongs in a fish tank, but what the hey. Tataki is another rewarding choice, featuring albacore instead of ahi, and joyously moist under its sprinkle of scallions and sesame seeds.

The real crippler: Hang On's biggest hang-ups come with its most important showing: sushi. On one visit, salmon is gorgeous, both plain and smoked (see above when it comes with my combo, though). Kanpyo maki (dried gourd) is as it should be, if you like that kind of thing -- rubbery, sweet, fruity -- but negihama (yellowtail with scallions) is past its prime. The fish is off, as is our requested coating of smelt eggs. There's no way a sushi restaurant that can't guarantee primo fish can succeed.

(On a side note, there's a quote I've heard about restaurant food: The food was terrible, and the portions were too small as well. So goes the teeny-tiny sushi at this place.)

Traditional Japanese dining is all about flavor and artistry; at Hang On Sushi, the tradition hasn't made the international transition.

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