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Pisces is a sign of the times



The urban bridge (Pearl Park Way) over Little Sugar Creek Greenway, connecting South Kings Drive to Kenilworth Avenue, as well as the surrounding sculptural and landscape features of this newly developed portion of the 15-mile Greenway, spans a "waterfront" park. Beside this charming bridge is The Metropolitan, a mixed use complex. Not all restaurants in this development overlook the park and water side. One restaurant located on the interior Metropolitan Avenue is the 100-seat Pisces Sushi Bar and Lounge, which opened in early April.

I know what you're thinking: another sushi place. I did, too.

But we live in a place with a higher than national average and a statewide average unemployment rate. So taking chances by offering a new cuisine or a new idea that may not work seems to be off the table. So, yes, another sushi spot.

Pisces is the work of Brian Li and Jason Cheung. Li is a second generation restaurateur whose father Wing Li owns the Tin Tin in the Independence Building in downtown Charlotte. Li is a product of the Business College of UNCC, which has produced a number of restaurateurs in Charlotte. Cheung is Pisces' head chef.

Like quite a number of recently established sushi restaurants, the snug room soars vertically and is punctuated with earth-friendly design features. Pisces boasts a large wall of washed river rocks, a detail repeated on the countertop at the sushi bar. Oddly enough, though, the seats at the sushi bar are too low to allow the diners to watch and talk to the Itamae. Near the back of the dining area is a short hallway with separate circular entrances to six booths, an area for intrigue or romance.

What's being offered at Pisces, a neighborhood-styled eatery, is a fairly standard roundup of typical sushi eatery items with one exception. This particular standout is on the starter list: the Okonomiyaki Japanese pancake. "This is the only dish of its kind served in Charlotte. You'll have to go to New York to find it," I was told by a server. In fact, Okonomiyaki is a very popular Japanese comfort dish, usually inexpensive; here, over nine bucks. Okonomiyaki means "grilled as you like it" and in Japan -- particularly Osaka -- this savory dish presents itself with the inventiveness of pizza toppings. The base is a mix of flour and eggs and the toppings at Pisces include bits of shrimp, cabbage, nagaimo, a heavy smear of okonomiyaki sauce, and large tangles of delicate bonito (fish) flakes. It's a little messy to eat, but it does have that mac-and-cheese comfort-food mouth feel to it.

Also on the starter list is a series of yakitori (skewers), which are well-matched with the offerings from the bar. The seafood, especially the bacon-wrapped scallops, tends to be better than the steak. Pisces is all about cocktails, which means, of course, that the wine list is sparse, unless you count saki: The bar features specials like a cucumber saketini.

According to Li, Itamae Nick-San was head chef at Nikko on South Boulevard before taking a break to return to his native Japan, and now he has joined the crew at Pisces.

The sushi roster price point seems to dictate the quality of the dishes. The ami-ebi and maguro sashimi do not sparkle. Some of the traditional rolls -- like the spicy shrimp -- are on the meager side. Perhaps the low prices -- most rolls are around four bucks -- contribute to the scantiness. Other rolls like the spider are perfunctory. The Hawaiian Poki roll, on the other hand, doesn't work. Thin slices of avocado and imitation crab are folded into a roll heavily speckled with cubes of tomato and salmon, then flooded with sauce. Maybe I just missed the traditional ahi tuna which has a denser flavor, or a lighter hand is needed on the sauce.

Pisces is located in this great new urban area, close to the park everyone wants to be near. The Metropolitan is sponsoring an "Alive after Five" event on Thursdays through June and will feature a live band. Pisces will offer specials each Thursday, and they have a few tables outside, too.

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