The erudite sushi crowd will undoubtedly gravitate towards one of Durham’s newest sushi restaurants M Sushi. Though being well-cloaked in an alleyway next to The Durham Hotel seems like an intentional attempt to obfuscate its location from the public (with the exception of temporary signage planted on Chapel Hill Street), you’ll learn that inside the modern sleekness and spareness of its confines devoid of any distractions has one clear motive: to focus squarely on the fish.
You’ll have a tough time at M Sushi if your love of sushi only extends to the prosaic California Roll. The sheer quality of the fish steers you directly towards the sashimi, though you may sample from the small plates offerings like the half-moon eel bun, a portable construction of unagi, crisped salmon skin and pickled cucumber cocooned inside of a steamed bun. At $8 for one bun, comically cut in half to share in our case, it’s a hefty price to pay for a dish where the bun largely overpowers any lasting umami impression derived from the unagi.
The bun is quickly a faint, distant memory with the presence of the chirashi ($18) whose chromatic beauty could perhaps only be rivaled by Duke Gardens in the Bull City. The delicate and clean flavors of the sashimi chunks, topped with colorful sprinkles of tomiko, radish coins, and mint leaves and served over a bed of sushi rice, though quite pricey at $18 is worth the price tag.
As you wait for your nigiri under the dim overhead lights, you might attune yourself to how calming and serene the ambiance really is inside M Sushi. The reverential master sushi chef Jiro Ono from the famous 2011 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” would likely approve. Absent is the overbearing, pulsating music found typically in trendy sushi bars and any ostentatious artwork hanging on the walls is nary to be found. If you’re looking around, you’ll only find yourself staring at the five sushi chefs working with proprietor and chef Michael Lee amongst them, mostly silently, stationed at the expansive sushi bar that bisects the dining space.
Specialty rolls like the M Futomaki (hamachi, salmon, tuna, masago, avocado, cilantro at $9), though plenty pleasing to the palate and nicely assembled, may take a backseat to the a la carte sushi. The uni, giant clam and hamachi nigiri, are also pleasant—the fish fresh and the sushi rice nicely packed—but if you’re willing to splurge for the toro for $16 , you won’t regret your decision. The buttery, creamy texture from the pair of glistening fatty tuna slices draped over the cushions of rice is a memory you will savor and relive later that night.
M Sushi, at only one month in, is still in its infancy though it operates as a well-oiled machine already (Lee also operates Sono in downtown Raleigh). Diners at M Sushi are encouraged to veer towards the omakase ($47) and grand omakase ($75) menus, where the sushi chefs dictate the course succession based on the availability of ingredients and what’s most fresh. Upon subsequent visits, you also might explore more in the small plates section of the menu, where the treasure trove of dishes like the crudo and the tuna (crispy rice, tako wasabi, tobiko, truffle) are more concentrated.
M SUSHI | 309 Chapel Hill Street Durham NC 27701 | 919.908.9266