Friday, April 25, 2014

Battle of the All-You-Can-Eat Sushis - RuSan's and Pisces

One of my ultimate culinary obsessions is sushi. Unfortunately, I think Charlotte is a little lacking in the department of delicious sushi offerings. In my opinion, the Queen City sushi eater's best bet is to pick up whatever sushi grade fish is in stock at Clean Catch Fish Market (seriously, this place is mecca for fish lovers) and roll your own. Upstream also puts out some pretty tasty nigiri and roll options. However these labor/wallet-intensive options aren't always viable, and sometimes I've just got to get my fish on in mass quantities. Enter all-you-can-eat sushi. Charlotte has two lunchtime options that I've checked out: Pisces Sushi Bar in Midtown and Ru San's in Sedgefield. RuSan's is a traditional, buffet-style all-you-can-eat situation while Pisces offers a limited all-you-can-eat menu from which you order (and order, and order, and order...). Both can definitely satisfy my sushi tooth, but I decided that I needed to return to both in order to do a thorough eval. 

Pisces is my go-to whenever I have lunchtime dates with my friend Victoria. We always opt to get there on the early side, as the restaurant (and the whole Metropolitan shopping center in general) get pretty slammed around midday. Recently I visited Pisces with my friend Noora (shhh... don't tell Victoria that I've been cheating on her) and we did some serious damage together. The AYCE option costs $14 (plus another $2 if you want salad and miso soup), but you have to be careful about how much you order because the restaurant sacks you with an additional cost if you leave any food behind. Shockingly that's never been an issue for me. 

One of my favorite things on the Pisces AYCE menu is the garlic noodles off the "kitchen items" list. I realize this sounds incredibly lame and they also look incredibly lame (there's not a single piece of meat or chunk of veggie present in the entire dish), but they are everything but that. The noodles have a rich, garlicky flavor and are absolutely delicious, without a greasy Lo Mein feel. Noora agreed that they were pretty darn delicious and we easily polished off two orders. 

Noora is a big spring roll fan and we opted to split an order of those as well. They were a little greasier than a typical spring roll, but the veggies inside were tasty and crispy. While they're not on my "must order" list, I definitely won't complain if they get thrown in the mix on a future visit. 

While I can do work on the kitchen items, the sushi and nigiri options are where Pisces really shines. Of the seven nigiri options, my favorite is the sake (salmon). The salmon at Pisces is consistently outstanding. It's silky, incredibly fresh, and tastes out of this world. The fish is placed upon a tightly-packed bed of rice and a tiny dollop of wasabi. I usually start every order with a solid six pieces of nigiri, and have been known to pack away twice that many on a particularly hungry day. The fact that there are twenty five roll options on the Pisces menu sounds impressive, but a lot of the choices are pretty lame, like the asparagus roll, the cucumber roll, and the crunchy roll (which sounds thrilling until you discover that it consists of only rice and tempura flakes... whack). Regardless, they are tasty for being so basic and my three favorites are the spicy tuna, Philly, and shrimp tempura rolls. 

Pisces Sushi Bar and Lounge on Urbanspoon

Ru San's
Ru San's is a little bit more of an economical option, ringing in at $10.95 and lacking all the sneaky add-on costs (there's no wasted food fee or surcharge for soup/salad here). The restaurant sets up two buffet areas. On one buffet, there is soup, salad, appetizers, tempura'd veggies, desserts, and a few nigiri options. On the second, there are large platters of sushi rolls and bowls of sushi accompaniments (spicy mayo, wasabi, and pickled ginger). This place gets even more packed than Pisces at lunchtime, and the restaurant isn't exactly great at handling the crowds. The appetizer buffet is constantly low on at least a few items at a time and the sushi platters empty quickly and get pretty questionable-looking after they've been picked over by the ravaging hoards.

One of the best parts about a trip to Ru San's is their exceptionally tasty ginger dressing. It's extra sweet and less chunky than your normal variety, but it's really gingery and delicious. 

As far as nigiri goes, I've only ever seen salmon and shrimp on the Ru San's buffet, but fortunately it's pretty decent. The shrimp doesn't really do anything for me and the salmon is nowhere near as delicious and fresh as Pisces' nigiri, but it's definitely better than grocery store sushi. One of my biggest vices is fried calimari, so I'm a big fan that it's always available on the buffet at Ru San's. It's not particularly good... in fact, it was pretty rubbery and overcooked the last time I visited, but its existence is definitely appreciated (and I like that you have both ring and mini squid options). The rolls at Ru San's are pretty decent, but I find it a little annoying that there aren't any labels to let you know what you're eating.  The only fish I don't particularly care for is eel, so this isn't a huge issue for me, but it's still a little frustrating to have to hold up the line and leer at the platters while I try to figure out what I'm putting on my plate. The rolls are definitely more adventurous than the relatively plain ones put out by Pisces, and I like that I can be open to trying more things since there isn't any kind of financial penalty for wasted food. 

Ru Sans on Urbanspoon

All in all, both Ru San's and Pisces have something to offer to Charlotte's lunchtime sushi eaters. Ru San's definitely has a quantity over quality approach, while Pisces is a little less varied in options, but much more impressive on the quality front. Even though it's a little costlier, I definitely favor Pisces. Since I can live on salmon alone (and I can certainly live on salmon and garlic noodles alone), the lack of variety isn't a dealbreaker for me. Although I'm still on a mission to find really good sushi in Charlotte, I'm glad that I've got the massive quantities at Pisces to tide me over in the meantime. For sushi, Ru San's gets a 6.5/10 and Pisces gets an 8/10. 

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