Friday night and Aji 53 is pulsating. Waitresses scurry past bearing artfully composed platters of fish, raw and cooked. Behind the sushi bar, a team of chefs works to an insistent techno beat, the scene bathed in the glow of pastel neon. I survey the room, and it appears there isn't a seat to be had.

But we are promptly led to a table in the back. On it is a little placard that says "reserved." I am glad my friend called ahead to book a table and happier yet our reservation was honored.

Owner Barry Huang, a 30- year-old who looks like a teenager, knows what he wants his restaurant to be. Having worked for a brief time at Nobu 57 inManhattan, he has incorporated some of the signature dishes from that restaurant empire into the menu he helped chefs Leo Wang and Ken Zheng compose.

I tasted the results of that collaboration in a fragrant, subtly fiery bowl of lemongrass hot and sour soup, rife with plump, perfectly cooked shrimp and scallops. Rock shrimp tempura, a Nobu classic, featured shellfish that was batter-fried then lightly coated with a spicy mayonnaise that played well against the warm crunch. Crispy duck, a dish with Chinese overtones, translated into shards of crisp hacked grilled poultry glazed with hoisin sauce and served over shredded cucumber.

I had no regrets about allowing our waitress to talk us into a special that featured slices of sumptuous raw toro (fatty tuna) drizzled with a chili sauce both piquant and refined. From the sushi bar, the "Valentine" roll, made of spicy crunchy tuna wrapped with fresh tuna, was fashioned into a clever heart shape. Another rococo success was the "Fire Island" roll -- shrimp tempura topped with spicy tuna and wasabi tobiko, served with a wasabi olive sauce.

Also from the sushi bar came a winning entree called "tri color three way." It was comprised of immaculately cut pristine tuna, salmon and yellowtail presented as sashimi and sushi as well as a tri-colored maki roll in a spicy Cajun sauce. A salmon teriyaki bento box (actually a compartmentalized ceramic plate) was the only letdown. The fish was overcooked, accompanied by unremarkable chicken yakitori plus slices of Japanese spring roll. Boring.

But the Nobu standard, miso black cod, was a marvel here, lighter and more buttery than any I'd had in recent memory. Sesame-crusted tuna steak, rare as ordered, was drizzled with a lively soy-lime grass sauce and served alongside a lush truffle-scented sesame risotto. Just as impressive was grilled Scottish salmon with vegetables in a chili sauce hot enough to make me reach for a water glass. Milder but no less appealing was a lovely steamed Chilean sea bass with chives and black bean sauce.

Dessert veered off course with choices such as ice cream tempura or fried bananas, both spritzed with aerosol whipped cream. I preferred mochi, the popular Japanese ice cream treat coated in rice cake dough.

Even so, it wasn't remotely in the league of what had come before, the kind of fare that defines Aji 53 as a major player in Bay Shore's burgeoning restaurant scene.  --Joan Reminick (11/26/07)

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