Venue Review: AZN Azian Cuizine
The Charlotte Observer
4620 Piedmont Row Drive; 980-819-9189
HITS: Tuna with seaweed/sesame crust; tender duck; attentive, warm service and smart setting.
MISSES: Tempura-fried cheesecake, which is exactly what you think – but I wouldn’t opt for the candy apple for dessert, either. Crème brulee maybe.
PRICES: Lunch entrees about $9-$16; dinner $10-$33.
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays; dinner 4-9:30 Sunday-Thursday, to 10 Friday-Saturday.
AZN Azian Cuizine isn’t what you might expect from its z-ridden name.
It’s elegantly appointed, for one thing. Wide-ranging, for another.
And while it does nod to the contemporary in both décor and menu (as the name AZN, a texting abbreviation for Asian, suggests), it also executes classics with aplomb.
Take the Thai red curry shrimp, delicate steamed Chinese dumplings, and tuna tataki, a handsome (handzome?) version of the Japanese dish of sliced, seared tuna: Each is a straightforward, beautifully rendered traditional offering. So too the chicken satay, tender meat on a skewer, beside the Indonesian peanut sauce it’s most often accompanied by. And lettuce wraps – served in many Asian cuisines – are here done Hong Kong style (think water chestnut crunch and more delicate flavorings).
There’s an achingly tender Cantonese-style duck, sliced and splayed and served with cilantro and cucumber, with flour tortillas (a la moo shu pork) and ume sauce (employing the pickled plums called umeboshi). There’s Korean short rib, Malaysian panang curry chicken and Szechuan string beans.
And yes, there’s a General Tsu’s Chicken.
Then you have sushi from Tsuyoshi Ono, bridging tradition and funk. Sushi and sashimi combos (the boat for two is quite popular, says manager Christine Sjostrom), traditional rolls and classic nigiri (tuna to eel) share space with “specialty” rolls, such as beef carpaccio with shiso leaves and “firecracker krabmix.”
Then you have a contemporary array, starting with Crispy Asian Fish Bites. These are panko-breaded, crispy outside and tender within, served with a chile-lime-fish sauce for dipping, and much better than you’d guess. The description says it’s basa, which fans of Southern salt-and-pepper cats will be excited to know is a Southeast Asian type of catfish.
There’s a version of Hawaiian poke (poe-keh) tarted up pleasantly with pineapple and avocado, and something dubbed Japanese ceviche that uses a citrus dressing on tuna, salmon, escolar, yellowtail, octopus and shrimp.
There’s black and blue tuna, sporting a seaweed/sesame crust and a drizzle of Thai basil sauce, and Chilean sea bass with a thick red beet vinaigrette.
Nearly all of what we had was bright, fresh, flavorful and lovely, with the occasional finely crafted garnish, like a tiny carrot bird amid a nest of beet strands. Corporate chef Alex Chiu is based in Charlotte – this is the second AZN for owners Anna and Raymond Hsu, who began more than three decades ago and have two places in Georgia and another AZN (the first) in Naples, Fla. Now they shuttle among the three places, says Sjostrom, and plan more AZNs.
The Charlotte site isn’t simple to find – it’s behind the main-drag circle at Piedmont Town Center, which poses a challenge, and weekday lunch diners have found it more quickly than others, says Sjostrom.
A shimmering water wall uses warm-colored tiles to great effect, and texture and shape are key throughout the restaurant. Sinewy soffits enhance the bar area and entrance, while more tiles show up over the sushi bar along one side of the dining room. Wood in different finishes and thin tiles are juxtaposed in places, while lighting emphasizes the place’s curves. An upstairs dining area, directly over the sushi bar, overlooks the main floor.
Plates, glassware and silver show an appreciation for clean, simple lines. AZN offers both those and some twists, a nice addition to the SouthPark area lineup.