Even before its official start at 11:30 a.m., the first customer walked in to order a poke bowl.
“I usually have to go to Savannah for something like this,” said Brooks Davis, who lives in Rose Hill and works in Hardeeville.
Wasabi’s owner and chef, LingXian Chen, said his family owns a restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina, but he was drawn to the Lowcountry to be close to the ocean.
For three years starting in 2013, he operated a restaurant in Bridge Center along U.S. 278 near the bridges to Hilton Head Island, but since then he worked in restaurants in Charleston, as well as Georgia, Florida and New York and elsewhere, to gain more experience and add to his skills.
While his previous restaurant offered an assortment of Asian menu items like Thai and Chinese, “here ... we are small and we are more focused on the most traditional Japanese dishes,” Chen said.
Sushi and sashimi are the stars of the menu, with dozens of traditional and modern choices. Chen emphasized that the key is the freshest fish.
One of the appetizers is a nod to the Lowcountry that Chen loves: The dish called Hunting Island is half an avocado topped with fresh tuna or salmon.
There’s also bento boxes and habachi options, Japanese curry and a sizzling hot plate with tofu, chicken, seafood or steak.
Poke bowls should appeal to those who are looking for a healthy option.
Right now, customers can order beer, wine or saki served hot, cold or room temperature.
Lunch specials start around $10, and sushi starts around $5 for a more traditional roll, with most of the more elaborate ones, like the Buddah’s Belly roll that includes spicy tuna, salmon, avocado and cream cheese, falling in the $11-16 range.
Dinner choices range from about $13 to around $20.
Chen, who has two elementary school-age children, said he is looking forward to offering families in the area more of a dining experience instead of just takeout. He also is hoping that being open later will appeal to those customers who want to hang out and visit.
“You don’t want to hang out in a to-go restaurant,” he said.
Chen said he feels lucky to find the location along Buckwalter. “At least I hope I’ll be lucky,” he said with a laugh.
What: Wasabi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Where: 103 Buckwalter Place Boulevard, Suite 109, in Bluffton
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.