Sushi or Hibachi? How ‘bout Both

06 Jun 2021

Where to enjoy legacy Asian plates in this area

By RAY LINVILLE  »  Photos by Brandon Williams

Love sushi or hibachi? Where to go is always the question, particularly when you have out-of-town guests.

The desire for superior sushi often takes my daughter to Fish Co. in Southern Pines, where in just over a year, it has created a loyal following for its distinctive sushi. Opening just days before the first coronavirus case in the Sandhills was discovered, the restaurant has endured the prolonged days of social distancing and restaurant restrictions because of one reason: its amazingly fresh fish.

It’s flown in overnight from Hawaii, which is fresher and quicker than can be obtained from the East Coast, says Scott Walcott, chef and owner (and yes, also owner of the eponymous restaurant next door on West Pennsylvania Ave.).

Popular selections of sushi components include salmon, ahi tuna, ono wahoo, walu, yellowtail, ebi shrimp (butterflied), kani crab, unagi eel, and scallop.

For its supplier, Fish Co. selected Honolulu Fish Company, a leading seafood distributor to top chefs in the United States and the only direct distributor of more than 14 species of sashimi-grade fish. The supplier is also noteworthy because it promotes sustainability in fishing practices. It does not condone net fishing; all fish are hook-caught. In addition, all fish caught have reached reproductive maturity.

One of the most popular international dishes in the few decades, sushi traces its origins to the rice fields of Asia. Although Japan is considered the sushi capital of the world, sushi actually traces its origins to a Chinese dish of fermented rice and salted fish 22 centuries ago, obviously well before refrigeration was available. Rice was fermented to preserve it; fish was salted to keep it fresh longer and to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Sushi technically refers to only seasoned or "pickled" rice, an ingredient used in many different preparations. However, the term has become synonymous with items that include it. Because Wolcott uses only premium short-grain rice and specially aged vinegar, his rice is significantly more appetizing than rice routinely served elsewhere.

The sushi options at Fish Co. include nigiri (on rice), sashimi (no rice), and maki roll (rice and nori wrapper). Nori, a dried edible seaweed used in Japanese cuisine, is used to wrap rolls of sushi.

Nigiri sushi is a slice of fresh fish, meat, or vegetable that tops a mound of vinegar-seasoned sushi rice. A thin ribbon of nori seaweed may be wrapped around both. Wolcott serves it with gari ginger, wasabi, and his shoyu (a Japanese-style soy sauce).

Sashimi is sliced, fresh fish that is not served in combination with rice (although sashimi may be served with a bowl of plain rice). With it, Fish Co. includes a small vegetable salad and its ponzu, a citrus-based sauce with a tart-tangy flavor.

Maki sushi is in the form of a roll. Sushi rice and complementary ingredients are rolled inside a sleeve of nori seaweed and garnished.

In addition to its sushi, Fish Co. also offers hot ramen bowls, cold poke bowls (with raw marinated fish), and salads. With a counter-service format, Fish Co. serves sake from Japan as well as the West Coast in addition to domestic and imported beer and wine.

My daughter fell in love with sushi when she was visiting a friend in Tokyo two decades ago. On the other hand, I fell in love with hibachi when Kung Fu Restaurant opened in the PineCroft Shopping Center in Taylortown four year ago.

Fortunately, both are specialties of Kung Fu, which is owned and operated by the husband-wife team of Dexiu and Tin Liu. Chef Dexiu, who has almost 30 years of restaurant experience, manages the food prep and kitchen activities, while his wife handles the front end of the restaurant. Both had previously worked in different restaurants in China, and the family also owns a restaurant by the same name in New York City. They moved from Winston-Salem to the Sandhills in early 2017 to open Kung Fu.

In addition to sushi and sashimi, Kung Fu’s menu offers a full range of hibachi dishes: salmon, shrimp, chicken, steak, scallop, filet mignon, lobster, vegetable as well as plates that combine two of them. Each order comes with soup, salad, vegetable, and rice. The Lius’ son Owen confirms that the most popular item on the menu is hibachi.

Hibachi, a grilling technique that originated in Japan, is a style of cooking meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes on high heat on a large, flat grill made of cast iron or sheet metal. Because hibachi cooking enhances the flavors of the food being prepared, seasonings are typically limited to soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

The best secret about Kung Fu is knowing that its lunch menu (available until 3 p.m.) is so reasonably priced that it’s hard to wait for dinner hour to visit. Although I recommend the hibachi chicken, my daughter can’t resist ordering sushi.

Think of Pinebluff as a destination for sushi or hibachi? You should. Southern Chopstix, owned and operated by the husband-wife team of Lisa and Tony Von, opened there on U.S. 1 about three years ago.

Chef of the sushi bar at the former Thai Basil in Olmstead Village as well as several other locations in the Sandhills, he has been a sushi chef since he was 15 (he’s now 37).

“Some locals like hibachi more,” she says, “but customers from Pinehurst, Carthage, Rockingham, all over are driving here
for sushi.”

The place where eastern cuisine meets Southern comfort, Southern Chopstix also offers a full range of hibachi dishes as well as many sushi choices. Because its extensive menu (six pages) offers many choices for family members not interested in sushi or hibachi, this Asian fusion restaurant has become a favorite of Moore County.

The Sandhills also has several other top choices for sushi and hibachi.

Maguro Hibachi Steakhouse in the  Southern Pines Village shopping center on Brucewood Rd. serves a full range of sushi and hibachi dishes as well as other Asian specialties.

On Turner St. in Southern Pines, Susa Sushi & Hibachi has many sushi options. In addition, each of its nine hibachi combinations is served with soup, salad, and rice and is accompanied with grilled onion, mushroom, zucchini, and broccoli.

The menu of Red Bowl Asian Bistro in Southern Pines on U.S. 15-501 offers many sushi and hibachi options in addition to several lunch specials.

In Carthage near the courthouse, Susa Hibachi Grill serves its hibachi lunches with grilled onion, mushroom, zucchini, and broccoli. They also come with fried rice and a choice of salad or soup. Its sushi bar includes ten choices.

Ten-Ya in Pinehurst was a destination for sushi and hibachi dishes before the pandemic temporarily closed it in December. Because it was the first sushi bar in the Sandhills when it opened in 2004, we hope it can reopen soon.

And take a drive to Laurinburg where sushi and hibachi are specialties of Miyako Japanese Cuisine.

In addition, are you interested in a creative combination of salmon and rice… for breakfast? The Samurai at Betsy’s Crepes in downtown Southern Pines might be what the sushi lover in you is looking for. Also with cucumber and wasabi mayo, this savory crepe is topped with soy sauce and sesame seeds.

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