As seen in issue 56 of Closer Magazine, published on 2009-03-27 in the "Restaurants" section.
Strip Mall Paradise
Don’t judge Marumi by its cover
By: Thom DeBord
"If you can conceive of eating as an adventure, then you are about to have a very special meal."
Marumi Sushi doesn’t look like much from the outside, but nobody who eats in this part of the world would expect it to. Weirdly good restaurants clump together on University Drive, in the wide cement corridor between Copans and Sunrise, and they all look like hell.
Marumi doesn’t look like much from the inside, either. The best you can say is that it is hygienic-looking: every surface is lickably clean. This is a cleanliness born of owners/chefs Teruhiko Iwasaki and Tetsu Hayakawa’s single-minded devotion to food.
Marumi Sushi is undecorated, with exactly four visually stimulating objects in the dining room—all of them specials boards. One lists the day’s sushi, the other the day’s sake specials. But it’s the two other boards that deserve your attention. These are the chef’s boards, describing the day’s specialties, and when you take your seat the waiter maneuvers them to your table. It is then, dear eater, that you have to ask yourself a very important, in fact definitive question.
To wit: Just how big are your balls?
If they are large — if you can conceive of eating as an adventure— then you are about to have a very special meal. If, on the other hand, all you want out of Japanese dining is California Rolls and miso soup, your food will be merely “tasty.” You will eat, pay, and leave, and spend the rest of your life wondering grumpily what the fuss was about.
Don’t let that happen. Iwasaki and Hayakawa’s whole culinary aesthetic revolves around authenticity. They make Japanese food the Japanese way because Japanese cooks have been perfecting the stuff since at least the beginning of the Yayoi Period, 2,400 years ago, and they probably know what they’re doing.
Which is why you should ask lots and lots of questions as you gaze at that Specials Board. The staff not only know their food, but actually feel passionately for it. They derive immense satisfaction every time a bite of something new and scary and wonderful makes your eyes widen and lips pop open.
If you engage your server, she will likely suggest Crispy Baby Bok-Choy to get you in the mood. Take her advice. The bok choy--served in a shallow pool of soy sauce and soft, sliced garlic cloves--has all the moisture and vivifying earthiness of the recently-picked, yet it’s been flash-fried in an invisible, improbably tasty, molecules-thick batter.
I am convinced that Marumi’s Crispy Baby Bok-Choy is one of the most perfect foods I’ve ever eaten, and yet on some nights I don’t even order it. There is too much happening within the menu to repeatedly occupy valuable stomach space with a known quantity. Marumi demands experimentation; fortunately, it is the kind of place where you order lots of plates and share everything with your tablemates.
This kind of dining is pure hell on the frontal lobe, which can never quite determine when to call it quits. Even after a few 16-oz. Kirins, a plate of delicately fried rock shrimp in homemade spicy mayo, a skipjack tataki that looks and tastes like rare beef’s softer and sweeter cousin, a bowl of oysters from Hama-Hama Beach in a soy sauce/pepper mash/chive marinade, a plate of moist pork in kimchee, and a pile of wrigglingly fresh sea urchins that hit the gullet like Poseidon’s sacred spooge — even after all this, you will experience a giddy moment when you wonder, “Should I order something else?”
Yes. Two more things, in fact.
The first is neither a menu item nor a very frequent guest on the board, but oft times the kitchen will whip it up for you anyway: Uni and Ikura Pasta.
“Uni” is simply sea urchin, raw and oceanic and creamier than any animal should be. “Ikura” is salmon roe — those big, orange fish eggs that momentarily flood the mouth with salt and smoothness when you pop them. Neither sounds like a natural companion to fettuccine, but trust me: until the end of time, Italy’s ego will bear an urchin-shaped bruise for having failed to invent this dish.
At Marumi, it is brought to the table unmixed, with urchins, roe, seaweed, and scallions atop the pasta. “Now I’m going to mix it for you,” said our server when I ordered it. “Okay? Because it’s your first time, and we want it to taste just right.” Then she set about the task, tossing the pasta until half the Ikura popped and the Uni dissolved into the aquatic equivalent of cream sauce. The result was a salt-speckled pasta drenched in a thick, rich cream that does to your palate precisely what your first-ever morning on the Atlantic seashore in the middle of winter did to your face and olfactory nerves.
Then comes the fish. If you ask about the fresh fish, you’ll be shown a metal pan filled with hog snapper, skipjack, yellow jack, rock lobster, or something else — just about anything that swims the Florida coast. You may order these animals however you please, or you may trust in the wisdom of the chefs.
If you follow the latter and wiser course, you could be treated to, say, hog snapper served four ways: as delicate usuzukuri (paper-thin slices of sashimi, so carved because of the animal’s otherwise tough flesh), as sturdy bits of sushi, in a tangy-sweet ceviche, and stir-fried with snappy beans and sprouts in a lightly savory sauce. The stir-fry is served in the carcass of the animal itself: after you’re done with the loose bits, I suggest you gnaw the cheeks. Or you may get lobster three ways: sashimi (yes, raw and glistening), lobster tail in a mushroom-butter reduction so dark and rich that it’s almost a tincture, and lobster-brain-and-claw miso soup.
All of this is criminally cheap, by the way. The fish are only $1.20 an ounce, the pasta is $15 and big enough to yield four decent servings, and most other items cost about $8. Three friends with serious hunger could gorge themselves, rewire their whole understanding of Japanese food, and easily escape for $60 — with booze, maybe $80. If there’s a better way to spend a night in a strip mall, I don’t know it.
8271 west sunrise blvd, plantation