Maru Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar

I have previously praised sushi that, in retrospect, was merely acceptable. My standards have been redefined.

Spider Roll
Spider Roll (Photo By John Anderson)

Maru Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar

4636 Burnet Rd., 458-6200

Monday-Thursday, 11am-2:30pm and 5-9:30pm

Friday-Saturday, 11am-2:30pm and 5-10pm

Maru is quietly tucked into a newly renovated bit of Burnet Road, just north of the Upper Crust Bakery. The facade is unobtrusive and radiates a peaceful air, fresh white tablecloths visible through the front windows.

As you enter, the dining room is relatively small, with an inviting sushi bar to the right. The atmosphere is calm, spotlessly clean, civilized, and tasteful. Although the decor is spare and airy in the Japanese fashion, the ambience is warm and comfortable, with subtle splashes of color. Elegant, yet cozy.

Elegant, actually, is the word that best describes every aspect of Maru: gracefully refined and dignified, fine, superior. So superior, in fact, that I am abashed. I have previously praised sushi that, in retrospect, was merely acceptable. My standards have been redefined. In every aspect of their business, the folks at Maru display the keen attention to detail that is the earmark of success and eventual renown.

For our first course, we sampled three of the fresh rolls, which were served on an elegant platter reminiscent of Fifties California "art" pottery. The dull green of the platter beautifully sets off the vibrant colors of the rolls, a perfect example of the loving artistry that permeates Maru. The American Roll ($8.50) consists of crab, avocado, and cucumber wrapped in lavish amounts of fresh pink salmon, with a light pale-orange sauce. The salmon, so fresh it brought the ocean to mind, simply melted away in the mouth; I have never had salmon of such high quality before – not in Seattle; not even in San Francisco. Each flavor and texture accented and balanced every other, the crisp cucumber; the silky sauce; the taut, warm nori; and the buttery salmon. Exquisite.

The Spider Roll ($9.50) is my usual gauge by which I judge a sushi establishment: tempura-battered and deep-fried soft-shell crab, wrapped up with daikon sprouts, cucumber, and spicy mayonnaise. The presentation is perpendicular and architectural, with the end pieces fallen over to allow the claws, ringed with elfin sprouts, to reach skyward. In addition to the standard presentation, Maru applies a liberal pressing of bright orange flying-fish roe. The execution was sublime and easily surpassed my expectations; the soft-shell crab tasted as if it were caught mere moments before being battered and fried. (Quite an accomplishment when you consider that Maru is new and not yet busy, soft-shell crab isn't all that popular, and we are in the middle of Texas.)

The Hawaiian Roll ($9.50) consists of spicy tuna and cucumber, surrounded by avocado and premium red tuna, and drizzled with a thin, sweet brown sauce. The rich tuna is wrapped generously around the outside, in the manner of the Rainbow Roll ($9.50), and is shockingly fresh. The grade of fish used at Maru is superlative, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the tuna.

We then ordered sashimi, seven pieces of Yellowtail ($12.95) standing alone and unadorned. It came to the table on a bed of ice, with a heap of daikon, freshly grated to resemble cellophane noodles, and two cunningly sculpted lemons. The thick slices of premium yellowtail were outstanding with a misting of fresh lemon, the tuna's excellence apparent.

From the Nigiri sushi menu we sampled the Unagi (freshwater eel, $4.25 for two pieces) and the Ikura (salmon egg, $3.95 for two pieces). The eel was served very warm, almost hot, with the traditional sweet brown sauce and sesame seeds. The salmon egg pieces were large and lovely, the ruby salmon eggs bursting on the tongue, accented by only a few slices of cold cucumber.

We finished our meal with the Snow Roll ($9.50), spicy tuna and cucumber wrapped in white tuna and avocado. In contrast to the other fresh rolls, the Snow Roll is noticeably spicy, the hot sauce contrasting with both the cold cucumber and the liberal exterior of white tuna, creating the "ultimate" spicy tuna roll.

Although I have always had respect for sushi chefs, it's only after eating at Maru that it has become clear to me how very widely they can differ in talent. The chefs at Maru are not only dedicated and knowledgeable but inspired as well. The generous portions and quality of the fish put other local sushi houses to shame, especially in view of the reasonable prices. A full Japanese menu is offered in addition to sushi: bento boxes, teriyaki, noodle bowls, and tempura. Maru is working on getting a liquor license, but for the time being, you can bring your own bottle.

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