At Hikari, food is prepared with care


service is quick


Strip malls and sushi restaurants. They seem to go together, like, well, pickled ginger and wasabi paste. And Hikari Sushi, a Japanese and Korean restaurant that opened this summer in the Carney Village Shopping Center, is a fine example of the breed.

From the outside, the former card and gift shop, squeezed between a Mars supermarket and a Chinese restaurant, looks rather dingy, and the handwritten sign on the door urging patrons to bring their own alcohol doesn't help. (Owner Se Joon An has applied for a beer and wine license.)

But inside, Hikari is spacious and bright, even soothing, with a simple blond-wood-and-white color palette and music playing at low decibels. The food is prepared with care, and service is quick and attentive.

In addition to sushi, Hikari offers hot Japanese and Korean fare, including teriyaki, tempura and bul kogi, the beloved Korean beef dish. Appetizers include edamame ($3.50), seaweed salad ($3.50) and a refreshingly tart oshinko salad ($3.50), with tiny mounds of pickled vegetables, including cucumber, carrots and radish.

But one of the restaurant's main selling points is its all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, set out from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays ($9.95 for adults, $7.95 for children 8 and younger) and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. ($15.95 for adults, $7.95 for kids).

The dread words "all you can eat" imply - at least to me - a messy free-for-all, with patrons pushing each other out of the way for a shot at chafing dishes filled with cold, greasy food. A sushi buffet can be even worse, with boring, rubbery rolls and vats of limp side dishes.

But the buffet at Hikari, laid out in a neat row in front of the sushi chef station and continually supplemented, boasts sushi that is both just-made and creative.

It includes all the standards, such as fat pink slabs of raw tuna on rice and California rolls with avocado and cucumber, but these are interspersed with more inventive choices, with ingredients such as crisp crab tempura and cooked eel. An, the owner, says Hikari sells about 55 different kinds of sushi.

During a recent mid-day visit, the Hikari staff did a kind of dance to make sure the food stayed as fresh as possible - standing on either end of the buffet with a long sheet of cling wrap, and laying it gently over the food between visits from patrons.

The buffet offers nothing but sushi - no miso soup, no noodle dishes - so patrons who want more variety would do well to choose one of the bento boxes ($8.95-$12.95). These are TV-dinner-style portioned plates holding a salad, several sushi rolls and a main course. A bowl of warm, tofu-flecked miso soup is included as a starter.

The bul kogi box ($9.95) features a generous portion of the warm Korean beef dish with slices of onions and tender, gingery slices of meat, as well as a crisp, lightly dressed salad, six California rolls and a mound of pickled ginger.

Another entree, the shrimp yakisoba ($7.95), turned out to be a warm everything-but-the-kitchen-sink noodle salad in a salty soy and sesame coating. Loaded with thin-sliced vegetables and smallish tail-on shrimp, it was tasty, but greasy. And it would have been better had the shrimp been larger and less rubbery.

Dessert, as in many Asian restaurants, is limited to ice cream. Green-tea mozie balls ($3.50) are sliced in half and served on toothpicks. With mild green-tea ice cream and a chewy rice-flour coating, they made a refreshing and uncomplicated finale to a better-than-expected meal.

Hikari Sushi

Where: 9613 Harford Road, Carney Village Shopping Center

Call: 410-882-5554

Open: Daily for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $3.50-$9.95; entrees, $6.95-$18.95

Credit cards: All major

Food: *** (3 STARS)

Service: *** (3 STARS)

Atmosphere: ** 1/2 (TWO 1/2 STARS)

[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *

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