In the heart of Dilworth, on the upper dog-leg of Park Road and across from the American Red Cross building is the Park Square shopping center. At the far end of the strip is Ru San’s Japanese Sushi and Cuisine. I have noticed the place many times with a busy patio on the weekend and thought a dining spot that has been around for several years deserved to be checked out.
This is a nice sized establishment, with the kitchen down the middle, a sushi bar running down both sides and tables and chairs beyond to the walls. There are several tables on the patio to dine outside, as most of us love to do from time to time. The walls depict large Japanese art prints and there are a few television monitors to watch the game du jour.
On a busy Saturday evening, you may have a wait for a table and you may even find the bar seating full. Wait a few minutes and something will become available. An obvious draw, like any eatery, is the menu. In this case, for two reasons; first, the menu is extensive. You’ll find Appetizers; Ru San’s Original Sushi Rolls; Sushi; Sashimi, Temaki, Yakitori and Tempura; there are Chef’s Dinner Specials, Fried Rice; Yaki Sakana, Traditional Dinners and Noodles; there’s also a lunch-time sushi buffet. The second reason is prices even a college student would adore. Long before the term “dollar menu” was part of everyday fast-food marketing, Ru San’s was offering multiple menu items at two or three pieces starting at a buck.
I want to highlight several of the items that I tasted, as several were worthy of ordering again. I am separating the food from the service, as the two are more divergent than most any other dining establishment I know. A big part of the draw is a menu chock full of items for less than two bucks. For instance, under Tempura, you can get two pieces of crab stick or chicken for $1; oysters, scallops or shitake mushrooms for $1.50; and tuna, sea bass or swordfish for $2. Cool little sides or starters or whatever you want them to be. The appetizers range from $5.95 to $9.25; except for the Grilled Teriyaki Rice Ball at $2; and it’s pretty tasty. There’s a nice Calamari Tempura maki roll with six pieces for just $3.50. All of the nigiri, a single piece of fish over rice, goes for one dollar each. It’s like ordering just one meatball at the Italian place, only here you can do just that – Oriental style.
The Angry Spider, one of the ‘original sushi rolls,’ was very good: fried soft shell crab, avocado, green leaf and sprinkled with seven spices and topped with spicy crab. Ru San’s created some very interesting items in the sushi listings. I was especially pleased with the Gone with the Wind: tuna, salmon, crab stick, cream cheese, cucumber, carrot and avocado. They take several small rolls and bind them together in a rectangular shape, like a thick piece of bread; it’s lightly fried and sliced like bread twice to create three beautiful pieces. It tastes as good as it looks, dipped in the accompanying spicy aioli sauce. The food wasn’t spectacular, but it was consistently good; unfortunately, the service is very inconsistent.
On the initial visit on a weekend evening, we were seated fairly quickly and ordered glasses of wine, which took several minutes longer than we thought it should take. We immediately ordered sushi rolls and after about 15 minutes passed, I asked our server how our order was doing. She politely informed us that it takes about 25 minutes for an order. All I could think of was that in all the restaurants I have experienced over the last few years for sushi rolls, I do not recall ever waiting 20 minutes or more. We did this time. The next round of sushi arrived in less time, but still more time than we thought acceptable.
Having worked in restaurants for 15 years, including my own for several of those years, I understand that a kitchen can get overwhelmed, a cook or a server doesn’t show up or cuts themselves and suddenly you are “in the weeds.” So I return for another visit and again my party is seated right away. On this occasion the service was better. It felt like it still took a little too long for our selections to arrive for each item ordered, compared to what we were used to at so many other sushi eateries. We enjoyed our selections even more than on the previous visit, especially Gone with the Wind.
The adage ‘third time’s the charm’ doesn’t always hold true. Again, on a weekend evening, we stopped in after 8 p.m. as the evening rush was ending. We decided to sit at the sushi bar in hopes service might be a bit faster; we were hungry. In short order, the server arrived and we ordered wine, beer, tempura and sushi. A few minutes later wine arrived. Five minutes later I asked about the Sapporo beer; he looked surprised and came right back with it. I was hoping for a glass as the bottle is 20 ounces; a bit large to drink from.
Several more minutes pass and I finally have a glass. A few minutes later, about 15 minutes after ordering, the tempura and one roll arrived. The restaurant had really quieted down by now. After 30 minutes passed I asked about our other sushi order and a few minutes later it finally arrived.
Unfortunately, we were not the only patrons experiencing a less than ideal dining experiences that evening. A guest sitting next to me had ordered a roll and shrimp fried rice. She finished the roll and after about 20 minutes of sitting there she began telling the sushi cooks standing before her to forget the order, it was taking too long. The server came over and she kept saying she didn’t want it; a couple of minutes later it arrived. I was hopeful a manager would stop to apologize, appease, maybe even ‘comp’ the item and not charge the guest. None of that happened.
Ru San’s appears to be a prime example of what can happen to a restaurant that has been open for several years and the business has stayed pretty busy. One word comes to mind: complacent. It is easy to believe that ‘… the patrons will continue to come in because they always have and we’ve been open so long…’ Personally, I do not ascribe to that philosophy. I think a great restaurateur treats every day they are open like it is the first day and the most important day; that every guest deserves the very best and to leave wanting to return soon and tell everyone they know what a great dining experience they had. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hot dog stand or you’re serving prime filet mignon. The guest deserves the best meal possible.
In all the time I spent at Ru San’s, not once did I see a manager or anyone going around to check on guests, an essential element to running a good restaurant. I called and left a voice message to speak with a manger to answer some basic questions, like how long they have been open. No one returned my call. Although the food was good – not great – and the prices are very reasonable, the lack of service would keep me from returning. There are just too many other very good dining spots in south Charlotte, especially for sushi. I would recommend Cowfish, Jade, 18 Asian, Yama Asian Fusion; or the new How Do You Roll in Ballantyne that will create you a custom roll in about three minutes. Enjoy sushi on your time!
Ru San’s Japanese Sushi and Cuisine
Two of four stars
2440 Park Road
Hours: Lunch – Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 3 p.m.
Dinner – Monday to Thursday, 4:30 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Sunday 3 to 11 p.m.
Details: Patio dining; take out.
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