Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars.
The best sushi restaurant in downtown Raleigh, Sono Japanese Restaurant will not disappoint!
Our initial experience at Sono was in December of 2009, having been invited by one of Monique’s coworkers and we were so glad that she turned us on to this Japanese Restaurant. It is situated within the tall buildings in downtown Raleigh on Fayetteville Street and a few short blocks south of the museum district and just two blocks north of the performing arts center. Sono is a perfect pre-event dinner before our engagement with the North Carolina Symphony date at 8:00 pm.
The restaurant opens to the bar with its evening vibrancy about it, facing the glass wall adjacent the front sidewalk. The evening joie de vivre reminds me of the nightlife in larger cities such as New York, or the vitality of the New Orleans French Quarter, animated, and alive.
Walking into the dining room, I notice a large mural on the left, and the sushi bar at the back, the bustling sushi chefs working the line in dedicated fashion. Heads down and hands working their magic on seafood, sushi rice, sauces, and garnish. Several flat panel screens offer up sports and news television with captioning for those requiring the occasional update. Steelers are behind Ravens in the second quarter, and someone is a brawling bloody mess in a vapid reality show on the other screen.
In a booth the setting is subdued with muted lighting, casting dark shadows from the menus and water glasses. The menu changes on occasion, as it seems the pork belly on grits that I enjoyed as an appetizer in 2009 has been replaced with seafood fare. When available, the pork belly is a sublime meltingly delicious braising served on a bed of creamy grits and a light broth that pulls it all together in a piece that transcends stimulation.
The restaurant offers a Fresh Fish List including at least once a week delivery of exotic and imported fish and seafood, the week we visited they had included the following fruits of the sea: Giant Clam – Mirugai, Pacific Blue Prawns – Hawaii, Red Snapper (Madai) – Japan, Big Eye Tuna – Hawaii, Hamachi (Yellowtail) – Japan, Uni (Sea Urchin) – California.
For starters, the Firecracker Shrimp (9) are surrounded by a mousse and all wrapped in a wonton skin then deep fried to perfection, served with a citron chili glaze and shiso, the spicy chili sauce is where the heat is obtained, and these are an explosion of taste like dynamite in your mouth. Crispy on the outside and tender moist on the inside, the shrimp with a drizzle of the chili sauce makes for a detonated taste, and the highlight of the starts portion of the meal. The shiso is a captivating herb that’s sort of cinnamon like, sort of basil-like, and kind of anise-like. You might catch a note of cumin or curry leaf, along with a hint of citrus.
The Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura (9) were good, but your typical fare for that dish, nothing out of the box in the panko breadcrumb staple of fried shrimp, onion rings, sweet potato, and yellow squash, along with a dandashi dipping sauce.
For our entrees, I enjoyed a bowl of Sono Ramen (16), which includes assorted seafood and vegetables in Nagasaki champon style broth. The sushi is artfully presented, fresh, and always tasty. The Sono Ramen is to die for seafood extravaganza. The noodles, broth, and mixture of vegetables and seafood include scallops, mussels, shrimp, squid, and octopus, delights of the sea. It was like fishing in the Atlantic and capturing a new bite every time, the chop stick hook bursting with prizes from the sea.
Monique and Ben ordered rolls including the Piano (9.95), White Tiger (12.95), and Ebi Maki (9.95). The Ebi Maki roll is blue crab mixture, cucumber slices, avocado slices, and asparagus inside, wrapped with shrimp, topped with wasabi dressing and seafood sauce. The Piano roll is tempura shrimp and spicy crab salad inside, wrapped with thinly sliced avocado, and topped with sweet sauce and wasabi sauce. The White Tiger roll is sweet crab salad and soft shell crab inside with seared white tuna and avocado on the outside, topped with crunch, white sauce, and eel sauce. All rolls are garnished including a fresh orchid flower along with the pickled ginger slices and wasabi paste.
And for dessert Ben ordered the Warmed Brownie a la Mode, served with ice cream, Monique had the Green Tea Cheesecake and I the Ice Cream Trio, consisting of green tea, red bean, and mango. The green tea ice cream was not up to par, so they used vanilla in place on our most recent visit.
Service: Very Good
Fit for Foodies
Good for Groups
Vibrant Bar Scene
Would I recommend Sono Japanese Restaurant? Yes
The only advice I would give to the restaurant would be to make sure the service staff is more attentive to the tables; the servers seem to hide in the kitchen somewhat & are not as present in the dining room as we would like. We had to ask for refills in our beverages once and this was our only complaint, still the service is very good. We tipped our server well.
Sono Japanese Restaurant
319 Fayetteville St.#101
Raleigh, NC 27601
See TriangleBlvd’s video on Sono Restaurant in Downtown Raleigh
Apologies for the poor quality of the images, the cell phone camera is not the best!