On a roll

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Altamonte Drive near I-4 isn't exactly known as a dining hot spot, what with the never-ending strip of fast food, chain food and, well, almost-food lining the road. Still, there are a few shining moments in the otherwise ketchup-slathered landscape, such as Amira's and Sam Seltzer's nearby and, for a fairly decent meal just outside Altamonte Mall, Bahama Breeze.

Add to that list Hana Sushi, situated in the Renaissance Shopping Center on the west side of the mall. It's a plaza going through a transition, with many stores vacant or under construction, and I guess the Hana folks, who have been there since December, are hoping the changes will do them good, because right now it is an obscure place to eat sushi.

Like many of the town's new sushi bars, it's scantly decorated with light wood tables and some lovely brush prints on the walls. I felt sorry for the four fish in the corner tank and wondered if they knew what was going on right in front of them.

The restaurant's tables were practically empty when we were there, but the sushi bar was amazingly crowded with people who were obviously regulars, a surprising thing for such an odd location, with several people wagering who could eat the largest lump of wasabi. I guess nobody bets on football anymore.

The sushi menu is full of those specialty rolls that combine odd and usually cooked ingredients for those who don't think pristinely fresh tuna is inventive enough but haven't gotten the hang of raw fish yet. I ordered the rainbow roll ($6.95), which seemed interesting: tuna, carrot and cucumber wrapped with grilled eel, which is a weakness of mine. It would have been perfect if not for the inclusion of cream cheese (who came up with that?) that melded the tastes and textures into one schmear-laden blur.

It may not be the best Japanese food in town, but you sure get a lot of it. Along with the regular list of tempuras and grilled meats, the definitive choice has to be the $19.95 bento box dinner. It comes with a ginger-dressed salad, miso soup, tuna roll, four pieces of sushi, tempura veggies, fried spring roll and your choice of chicken teriyaki, or shrimp or chicken tempura. Unfortunately, one of the "sushi" used that fake crabmeat, which I just object to on principle. But the food just keeps coming, bowl followed by plate followed by a lovely red and black box stuffed with food.

Sushi bars were never meant to be the chic, reverent eateries that a lot of folks have elevated them to: They were probably the original fast-food joints. Hana Sushi, tucked into a shopping center, has the right attitude.

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