On a rare date night during the throes of winter, my wife and I were leaving AMC Theaters in Dartmouth and craving sushi. It was nearing 9 p.m., and — both of us having worked in food service — we detest being “those people” who walk into a restaurant moments before it’s closing.
Most of the sushi places nearby were closing on the hour, but The 9th Monarch, which had just opened its doors, was serving until 9:30, so we stopped by. They hadn’t been open long enough for a proper review, but we were intrigued enough that we returned with our son and my sister on a recent Saturday afternoon to fully delve into the menu.
The 9th Monarch opened in December where Thai Taste was located along State Road in North Dartmouth, next to the newish Brick location, by Vassana “June” Poompong de Ruiz and Michael Ruiz. Pompong de Ruiz had worked as a manager at Thai Taste for four years after spending several years managing restaurants in her home city of Bangkok.
Even before entering we were curious about the unique name, which is an ode to Bhumibol Adulyadej, the ninth king of the Chakri dynasty in Thailand, who died in 2016 at age 88.
The outside of the building is a fairly nondescript highway plaza, but immediately upon entering you’re greeted by a large wooden archway, which you walk through to the dining room. To the left is a sushi bar, which was empty this afternoon. The dining room is split in half, with a mixture of booths and tables, a clean, updated look and several large pieces of traditional Thai artwork adorning the white walls.
We were greeted quite warmly and offered our choice of tables and chose a half-booth, half table. As I went to get Cooper set up in his high chair, the staff was even helpful enough to grab the diaper bag that was about to fall off the bench, a minor motion that represented a true effort to make us feel at home.
After ordering a round of waters — and my usual Diet Coke ($2.25) — we put in two appetizer orders, the fresh rolls ($7.75) and chicken satay ($8).
The fresh rolls arrived first, a mix of shrimp, lettuce, carrots, basil, bean sprouts and rice noodles wrapped in a sheer layer of rice paper and served with a house sweet-and-sour sauce topped with roasted peanuts. The rolls lived up to their name in freshness, but were overloaded with lettuce, and lacked much flavor without the sauce, which was thin and on the sweet side, while the peanuts were key in adding a textural contrast.
The satay was much better, four large chicken skewers yellowed with curry and charred over an open flame. They were slightly too charred for my taste, but both my wife and sister loved them. They were juicy, thick and fresh, nothing like the teriyaki chicken skewers at your local Chinese buffet. The peanut sauce was smooth and not overpowering, but the real star was a small dish of lightly pickled cucumber and carrot that added a refreshing crunch and a perfect touch of vinegar.
We were in a mood for sushi, so even though 9th Monarch is known for its tom yum hot and sour soup and crispy duck — and I’m usually a sucker for pad Thai at any Thai place — we went with four different rolls: Lobster tempura ($13), shrimp tempura ($7), queen roll ($13) and, in an adventurous moment, the tako masago ($5.25).
On our first visit, we had tried the rainbow roll (crab, cucumber, avocado, tuna, salmon and shrimp for $12) and king of dragons (shrimp tempura, cucumbers, avocado, eel, unagi sauce) and the Texas roll (shrimp tempura, cream cheese and avocado with spicy tuna on top for $8.50).
In addition to the sushi, we ordered a plate of pineapple fried rice, one of our favorite Thai dishes, which came with chicken and shrimp for $11.95. It may have been the best thing we ate all day. The rice was fluffy and moister than most fried rice dishes. The vegetables were bright and crispy and the chicken and shrimp cooked to succulent perfection. I’d order it again in a heartbeat.
As my tastes fall on the Americanized side of sushi, the lobster tempura was my favorite, with cucumber, avocado, lettuce, masako (those little orange fish eggs) and a spicy mayo. The shrimp tempura was more tightly wrapped and topped with spicy tuna and mayo and was perfect for a sushi newbie who doesn’t mind just a little spice.
The Queen roll seemed to include most of the ingredients from across the menu, with spicy crab, tempura flakes, seaweed and mango inside and topped with tuna, salmon and avocado. My sister was devouring these, as the mango gave it a nice sweet, fruity blast while the slices of raw tuna and salmon on top made it the “fishiest” of our selections.
Finally, the tako masago arrived. If you haven’t figured out the translation, it’s octopus, topped with a large pile of black masago, which resembled caviar.
While I’d had octopus before, it had been many years and I’d never had it in sushi. While I hesitate to discourage others from trying it, I wasn’t a huge fan. This wasn’t an indictment on the roll itself, its freshness or its preparation. I just don’t really like octopus, and the masago was laid on a little heavy for my taste.
While we didn’t have room for dessert after our immense meal, they do offer options such as fried ice cream with burgundy raspberry sauce ($6.25), mango and sweet sticky rice ($6.95) and green tea ice cream ($3.95).
Our bill came to $74.56 including tax but not tip. Beyond a spot to grab sushi between the hours of 9 and 9:30 p.m. in North Dartmouth, 9th Monarch offers traditional recipes and fresh food in a clean, relaxed atmosphere coupled with gracious hospitality. It may not be the most creative sushi around, or the most beautiful, it’s undoubtedly fresh, and the type of place that manages to make you feel welcome and warm thanks to its culture-bridging service.