Richard Beckel wisely kept his ambitions modest when he opened Hooked in Sterling. Though his résumé includes stints at Le Bernardin, Citronelle, and the Caucus Room, when he decided to venture out on his own, he and partner Doug Palley opened a small sushi bar and takeout. A few months in, customers demanded more, so Hooked was transformed into a snug 50-seat restaurant with blue swag lamps and a backdrop of shimmery silver beads.

Hooked’s wraparound sushi bar still dominates the dining room, and sampling sushi and rolls—such as the Dragon, with layers of crab, avocado, and eel—and sipping artisanal sake or boutique beer is the routine for many regulars. Others go for a hybrid meal—starting, say, with rectangles of white tuna with fiery green jalapeño sauce or flaky miso-glazed sea bass before moving on to more Western-style plates.

The best of the big fish plates is the halibut piccata, a twist on the Italian classic made with veal. Lemon and capers give it a bracing sharpness. Crab lovers go for the crab cocktail with its parfaitlike layering of lump crab and mustard. The crab cake has the same big lumps of crab but needs a slathering of the great house rémoulade to come alive.

A couple of sides could easily go solo as a main meal: a mound of cumin-and-lime-spiked seafood-fried rice and a pielike wedge of mac ’n’ cheese jazzed up with pico de gallo and bits of chipotle.

Palley is eyeing Arlington and Bethesda for bigger versions of Hooked. The trick will be to re-create the intimacy and attention to detail that make the original such a charmer.

This review appeared in the July, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.