Just Roll With It

In Eat, February 2021 by Raleigh MagazineLeave a Comment

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Rachel Simon

The best omakase spots in Raleigh for sushi aficionados

At Ajisai Japanese Fusion, sushi is a family affair. The Cameron Village eatery is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Wen and Joy Zheng, former New Yorkers who, after successfully building two Ajisai outposts in the city, moved to Raleigh in 2014 in order to raise their family and open a new location. “We wanted to raise kids in a small city, and that’s why we chose Raleigh,” Joy explains. “And it’s been so good—I love the people down here. It’s so much nicer!”

In the years since Ajisai’s arrival on the Triangle scene, the restaurant has earned attention for its flavorful dishes like tuna hand rolls and shrimp tempura, but also for a special offering diners might not expect: a name-your-price omakase experience not listed on the menu. A Japanese phrase that translates to, “I’ll leave it up to you,” omakase involves a sushi chef deciding what to serve based on both which fish are in season and their personal preferences. For open-minded eaters who appreciate the value of a fresh bite of toro or yellowtail nigiri, the dinner, which typically goes for anywhere from $50 to $150 per person, is often worth the cost—and at Ajisai (where, for an average of $99, the chef will create an elaborate selection for you; or for your named price limit, you can have a meal prepared accordingly), it’s practically impossible to resist.

For my $50, I was presented with a bounty of food: first, several small plates, including yellowtail in a jalapeno salsa puree and gold-flaked tuna dumplings filled with wasabi salad; followed by a towering platter of sashimi; plus an equally strong serving of nigiri with one of the restaurant’s famed Amazing rolls. The sashimi, presented in one of Ajisai’s trademark ice sculpture-adorned bowls, had everything from thick cuts of salmon to buttery uni, while the sushi featured fresh fish like toro and king crab. A hot and heavenly slice of fried cheesecake topped off the meal—but, sadly, I only made it a few forkfuls in before calling it quits. But it was a fittingly unexpected conclusion to a meal that surprised with every bite. Of course, Ajisai isn’t the only Triangle restaurant offering omakase. Here are a few other spots worth checking out.

City Market Sushi

What They Offer: Five options: two nigiri plates; two sashimi plates; and one plate with chirashi, a variety of sashimi over a bed of rice.
How to Get It: All options are on the menu. The nigiri is $22 for eight pieces, or $34 for 12 pieces; the sashimi is $35 for 15 pieces, or $70 for 30 pieces; and the chirashi is $37 for 18 pieces.
Worth Mentioning: “The fish we serve is extremely fresh because we get deliveries every day,” says the management team.

M Sushi (Durham)

What They Offer: Grand Omakase—a decadent meal including lobster tempura, squid ink pasta, wagyu, black truffle and more.
How to Get It: It’s on the menu for $97 per person.
Worth Mentioning: M Sushi comes from renownedsushi chef Mike Lee. To order from the omakase menu, everyone at your table must participate, and there’s a two-hour time limit on the meal.

O-Ku Sushi

What They Offer: A creative multicourse tasting that’s a mix of sushi and sashimi, per the menu.
How to Get It: It’s listed on the menu for $100 per person. For $45 per person, you can also add a wine and sake pairing to enhance your meal.
Worth Mentioning: If you like O-Ku, be sure to also check out its sister restaurants in Atlanta, Charleston, Charlotte and DC.

Sono Sushi

What They Offer: Sixteen pieces of nigiri presented in a sushi tray. More options are typically available, but the selection is currently limited due to the pandemic.
How to Get It: It’s listed on the menu for $55 per person.
Worth Mentioning: Unless you specify something you can’t or won’t eat, the nigiri selection is totally the chef’s choice, according to the Sono team.

Waraji Japanese Restaurant

What They Offer: A range of nigiri and sashimi, depending on what you prefer
How to Get It: It’s not on the menu, so you have to request it and name your price limit. “It’s all up to the customer,” says Masatoshi Tsujimura, the head chef.
Worth Mentioning: Back in 1984, Tsujimura opened one of the first sushi bars in North Carolina at Raleigh’s Kanki Japanese House of Steak and Sushi, before leaving a decade later to open Waraji.

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