Usually at the end of the year as a food blogger, I’m trying to wrap up my visits to new restaurants to pull together my list of the best. And every now and then your plans get thrown awry by a new and excellent spot. This year it was Sushi Mon out on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. An invite to visit hits my email inbox and I had seen some very positive reviews for the place so who can resist? I head over on a chilly Thursday evening to see what this new Japanese restaurant is about.
Sushi Mon is conveniently located off of Hillsborough Street in Raleigh in the old Mama Jee space I was so fond of. For first-timers looking to visit, parking is not super obvious. The lot next to restaurant actually belongs to Zaxby’s so do NOT park there! You’ve got options around the corner, in the Stanhope building structure or do what I do, park over on Dixie Trail and walk over. The front to Sushi Mon is dark and subtle but it sits right at the corner. Inside you’ll find a super-cool and hip, urban oasis, perfect for a fun date or small dinner party. I’m met by the owner, Chris Lee who shows me around the place. He points out many of the unique pieces of decor at Sushi Mon, all sourced in-state!
From the tables made at Raleigh Reclaimed to a polished granite installation behind the sushi bar from Asheville, a lot of the exquisite decor at Sushi Mon was made right here in North Carolina. The piece de la resistance is the live moss wall-hanging on the side, very very cool! Overall the space has a very slick, West coast feel that would be good for an upscale dinner or date. Both Chris and Sushi Mon’s chef, Tom, have previously worked in the South Bay (CA) and Las Vegas which now makes more sense. But I’m sure you’re wondering, how about the food?
Sitting at the sushi bar, we start our meal with the miso soup. Now I don’t know about you but miso soup is usually not something to get excited about. A bit of broth with seaweed and tofu cubes usually just cleans the palate but not the miso soup at Sushi Mon. Their version (known as Mother’s miso) is a thick, cloudy broth laced with salmon, mushrooms and more, wow! Lots of flavor and umami in this little bowl so enjoy it.
Sushi Mon’s menu is small but focuses on cold and hot appetizers, sushi (nigiri) and rolls. For appetizers, we opened up with the oysters which are beautifully prepared with oriental salsa and chives. A fun and colorful play to these popular bivalves offering up more flavor then the typical mignonette! We move on to a seared salmon in lettuce wrap which is topped with thin strings of kataifi. A savory but clean presentation with warm and cool, savory and crunchy for the palate.
Next up is Sushi Mon’s Hokkaido scallop tiradito drizzled with balsamic! An artistic dish offering a bit of soft, supple scallop with the crunchy strings featured in the previous appetizer. There’s definitely a subtle contrast of flavors and textures here at Sushi Mon. We follow up with a seared Kama dish, grilled sea bream fish cheek with yuzu salt which is a simple but wonderful preparation of super tender, white fish with just a hit of salt. You work out the fish meat around the bone and it’s super-moist and tasty!
Next up is an array of nigiri ranging from sea bream, king shrimp, and salmon! Sushi Mon offers up its nigiri with all the extras. Either a soy sauce (home-made) lacquered on top, wasabi spread underneath or whatever else Chef Tom is inspired by. The nigiri is in the $6 to $7 range with custom toppings for an additional dollar which I’d recommend for some unique taste combinations. And while we are slowing down for dinner, Chef Tom offers up their version of the Caterpillar roll: tuna, salmon, yellowtail and avocado in a dense, sushi-rice spiked roll. A great finish to a long but indulgent dinner.
Sushi Mon surprises us with one last plate, a small slice of tiramisu with gold leaf to finish off the meal and I was impressed. I really had no idea what Sushi Mon was about and had expectations based upon the previous business in this space, a favorite of mine, Mama Jee’s. But I was very pleasantly blown away but what they are doing here at Sushi Mon. With an upgraded interior, excellent Japanese food and sushi, along with friendly service, they are really trying to upgrade the dining scene on Hillsborough Street and at NC State. And while I wouldn’t expect to get out of here for less then $40, the overall experience is worth it. Sushi Mon is also adding ramen for lunch along with an omakase (Chef’s choice) tasting menu soon which will give you some other dining options. So enjoy Sushi Mon for what it is, an upscale Japanese and sushi dining experience for Raleigh. And I promise you that once you find parking, you’re in for a culinary treat at this special restaurant!