Hon Sushi in Lawrenceville

I was a bit nervous about trying Korean food when invited to Hon Sushi in Lawrenceville as part of a food bloggers’ tasting, but since the restaurant also serves Japanese fare, I figured I wouldn’t starve.

The Korean-Japanese restaurant, located in the Mercer Mall off Route 1 South,  has been open for about two years.

For starters, I finally got to try bubble tea-and it was neither bubbly or tea! It was a creamy concoction served over ice with tapioca balls in the bottom. I ordered the almond and it was smooth and perfectly flavored, not too sweet or milky and it didn’t taste like artificial almond. The tapioca balls were firm and chewy, with a taste all their own. Another blogger ordered the black milk, which is the original flavor, and has a flavor reminiscent of chai tea spice.

Our first course entailed seaweed salad, naki yaki udon, and Kanisu crab salad. The seaweed salad with it’s sesame oil vinaigrette dressing was light and refreshing while the udon soup was tasty with it’s rich broth, but very filling. Udon are thick noodles that can be served as a soup or pan fried. The crab salad (pictured at top) was light and refreshing with black seaweed and cucumber.

The flaming Viking Roll was brought out next with great fanfare by the manager, Tony Kay. This roll is a specialty of the house and has tempura shrimp, salmon and avocado with spicy mayonnaise. Despite being wrapped in foil and shaped like a Viking boat, the fried shrimp remains crunchy and delicious. The avocado provides creaminess and the mayonnaise provides a background heat that is pleasant and not overwhelming. The flames, created with vodka and burn blue from sea salt, infuse a smoky flavor into the roll that cuts the richness as does the eel sauce, which provides a pleasant saltiness.

I have found good tempura is very hard to find, with many places serving greasy, soggy, sad examples of tempura. But, Hon Sushi chefs are masters of tempura. A sample of the shrimp tempura appetizer was brought out to challenge my skepticism, and I was very impressed! It was crunchy, fresh and not at all oily. I didn’t even have to wipe my fingers on a napkin after eating a piece. My only suggestion might be a more flavorful dipping sauce.

Even with the new exotic Korean dishes offered, I chose the Shrek roll for my entree. I am a sucker for a shrimp tempura roll served with a fruit sauce and this one did not disappoint, it was delicious and hit all the right notes-sweet, fried and salty. All that was missing was sour, which could be achieved with a quick squeeze of lime.

The Shrek roll came wrapped in light green soy paper, which s neutral in taste and let the shrimp, avocado and fruit sauce shine. The cream cheese on top added to the creaminess and richness of the dish while providing tang. The fruit sauce is made with mango, strawberry and banana; the plate has eel sauce swirled in to balance the sweet with salty.

It was rich, crispy, sweet and salty and absolutely divine. Although it does come with spicy tuna, I ordered mine without the tuna. I felt the tuna gave the roll a very fishy taste that threw off the delicate balance with extra fishy flavor that I do not care for.

A fellow diner ordered bulgogi, a Korean dish made with garlic marinated grilled beef served with garlic sauce. And holy garlic Batman! It came with three types of relishes and salads on the side: a celery-onion, soy bean and Kim-Chi, a spicy cabbage.

We also tasted two kinds of kalbi beef, a short rib that was served BBQ’d and stewed. There was an enormous difference in taste and texture in the two dishes. The kalbi stew was made with the marinaded meat and was very tender and soft with the short ribs and vegetables. The BBQ kalbi beef was a little tougher and not as flavorful.

As a finale we were served the fruit rolls, which were refreshing and a very creative spin on the sushi theme. A large crepe was used as the roll wrapper around fresh fruit, which was sliced and presented as a sushi roll. It was served with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

The atmosphere of the small restaurant is very zen, with clean lines, an airy feeling and widely spaced tables, which lends it to being a great date place. It was nice to be able to walk through the restaurant without the fear of bumping into the tables or feeling crowded. There some private tables, where we were seated, tucked behind metal curtains that lend well to a celebration or business meeting.

Our server and the manager were very knowledgeable about the menu, each dish and the various cooking techniques.

I will definitely be back!

Victoria Hurley-Schubert, Regional Editor Ocean County, is a true Jersey girl. Raised in Marlboro, Vikki  has lived in the area her whole life. She loves to experiment in the kitchen and is happiest when feeding a houseful of friends and family. A journalist for 10 years, she now serves on the staff of the Princeton Packet. Vikki is happiest on the road, so it should be no surprise she is a travel agent specializing in Disney destinations.  Follow her on Twitter @vikkihs.