Eatery solid, but dine-in crowds are still sparse

Ye Asian Bistro offers a solidly executed, large and versatile menu, plus speedy service. It occupies a tidy, roomy and pleasant-enough space that resembles a banquet hall with durable red carpeting, wood-paneled walls, reproductions of lively Japanese artworks and a fanciful lighting feature in the center of a tall ceiling.

Ye Asian Bistro is situated in the Graceland Shopping Center — a population-rich but restaurant-needy area — meaning the perfectly fine eatery is a nice neighborhood dining option. So where are all the people?

During several recent visits, the place has been virtually empty. Because takeout orders were being filled during those meals, a dining companion wondered if Ye's lack of a liquor license was contributing to its seating vacancies.

Whatever the case, there's at least one good reason to dine in here: A daily special of unlimited courses that includes all-you-can-eat sushi ($21.99). This isn't a buffet spread, but a diner-selected, made-to-order progression of (approximate a la carte prices follow) soups and salads ($2.50 to $5); appetizers ($4.50 to $10); plus sushi by the piece ($2.75), “regular” rolls ($5 to $6.50) and “special” rolls ($11 and up).

“It's the best deal in town, but I'll probably have to raise the price to $25.99 soon,” owner Jason Ye said in early March.

Although not necessarily the best local dining deal in my book (it's hard to beat two-for-one — or $0.75 apiece — Los Guachos al pastor tacos every Monday), if you're famished, Ye's boundless bonanza of decent grub undeniably provides a big bang for your buck.

For a good start to the potentially unending feast, try the Pan-Fried Pork Gyoza. An onion-tinged, sausage-like filling is showcased in fairly delicate dumplings that are appealingly crisp on one side. Another strong opener is the Vegetable Tempura — puffy and crisp-battered broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, potatoes, eggplant, baby corn and more.

Options also include a simple-but-flavorful Avocado Salad and OK Chicken Teriyaki which, rather than the expected marinated-and-grilled meat, is a stir-fry of fresh vegetables and tender sliced chicken plopped onto a sweet, dominating sauce. If choosing soups, the above-average hot-and-sour outscores the mild miso.

Ye's large special rolls are the richest source of savings in its hog-out bargain, so I'd focus on those. In general, they're the kind of colorful, fusion-leaning constructions with names like "Rainbow" and "Buckeye" that arrive with sauces, fried bits and other bells and whistles that make them popular with diners not enamored with straightforward sushi. Another Ye's special roll bonus: Given their elaborate flourishes, you're less likely to notice — as I did with stripped-down pieces of mackerel and red snapper nigiri — that the overabundant sushi rice is underseasoned.

Among the special rolls I tried, the Holoda is a rice-on-the-outside cylinder (uramaki) filled with avocado and spicy tuna. This gets tempura-battered and fried, thinly sliced and detailed with stripes of chili-accented mayo and eel sauce. The crowd-pleasing result is zippy, sweet, rich and crispy.

For something more fish-forward and less flamboyant, try the Royal Roll. Another fun inside-out creation, it's a minced salmon-and-tuna roll draped with yellowtail and avocado and decorated with creamy squiggles.

The rest of the lengthy menu, like the menu at Jason Ye's other restaurant — Wild Ginger in Hilliard — is all over the Asian map. One winning entree is the Fire Wok ($20 with soup or salad).

A gurgling-hot stone pot loaded with vegetables (zucchini, shiitakes, pea pods and more) plus plentiful seafood — this includes two lobster tails, plump scallops and shrimp — arrives awash in a rich and flavorful but unusually mild Thai-style curry sauce. Like most items I tried here, if less than fantastic, it's good enough to warrant more in-house diners.