Venue Review: Mai Japanese Restaurant
The Charlotte Observer
7731 Colony Rd. #F3, Charlotte
More info about this restaurant
Shiramine Masanori is being smart now with his Mai at Colony Place.
Since taking over the former Yotto, then renaming it after his last place in Charlotte (the well-known and missed Mai on South Boulevard), Masanori crafted a longer and more diverse Japanese menu. He's included enough explanation to soothe the uninitiated, without insulting the aficionado.
The lineup doesn't break much ground, though there are more nonseafood/nonmeat dishes than usual – from hiyayako (tofu and ginger sauce) to kiriboshi (dried radish with fried bean curd) to agedashi (fried tofu with mushroom sauce). Specials include salmon and yellowtail cheeks, wonderful additions, but straightforward dishes are executed well, too. And sushi chef Yoshi may look familiar to you; he used to work at Nakato in Charlotte.
One night, we sat at the sushi bar and happily worked through much of the nigiri sushi menu: tamago (egg); maguro (no toro tuna, sadly, so we went with the cheaper form); sake (salmon); hamachi (yellowtail); amaebi (sweet shrimp, its deep-fried head served separately); unagi (freshwater eel); saba (mackeral).
We were delighted to find uni (sea urchin) – which isn't offered at many sushi places around town – and crisp nori (the seaweed wrappers): good rice and a dab of wasabi on each pad of rice beneath the seafood. Several places I've been recently have left this traditional seasoning off altogether – I'm guessing because diners who don't want it have complained.
(If you don't want the spicy wasabi paste on your sushi, just say, “Sabi-nuki kudasai” (sah-bee noo-kee koo-da-sah-ee), which means “No wasabi, please.” Maybe then itamae – sushi chefs – can return to tradition. We even won't get into the whole real wasabi vs. wasabi paste argument, OK?)
Another night, we tried an assortment of dishes. A slab of black cod marinated in miso arrived with lovely magenta pickles and rice, while a bento box dinner proved quite filling: a big piece of salmon over onions, four fat pork dumplings, two pieces of shrimp tempura with a piece each of zucchini, squash and broccoli, and a bit of refreshing seaweed salad. Tekkadon brings a bowl of sushi rice topped with lots and lots of maguro slices; you can season as you like. Miso soup accompanies this entrée, as it does with chirashi (a chef's choice of sashimi over the same amount of rice) or unadon (unagi atop the rice).
Hibachi dinners, udon and soba noodle entrees and the meat-topped rice bowls called donburi all share space on the menu. “Set meals” – tei shoku – include main dishes of salted fresh fish, stir-fried beef or tempura, each served with rice, miso soup and salad.
Small orange pendants light a line of tables along the faux-paned windows, overlooking the parking lot, with sconces over a banquette. The sushi bar is also brightly lit, and while I love being able to really watch knifework, dimming that light a bit would soften the place. (So would tucking away some of the less-attractive bins of recyclables and cleaning cloths by the bar.)
White-shirted servers in black pants are quick and coolly competent, and – if you show real interest in the food – they become downright enthusiastic.
With strong basics like these, that feeling is likely to come over you, too.