Maru Sushi and Grill has been open for about a year now, located in the busy Cherry Hill District. I have dined here a total of three times. I hear many rave reviews about this Japanese restaurant, and it always seems busy and full. This place has shot up quickly as one of the most popular sushi spots in town. And quite frankly, I don’t get it. I wanted to like it, I couldn’t like it, and this is why.
The portion of Maru’s gyoza appetizer was surprising. Instead of the typical five piece serving, theirs came in eight. That was the only positive of the dish. The meat stuffing was shockingly bland. The gyoza skin was just as flavorless and also stiff. Now, you take incredibly bland dumplings straight from the freezer, ignore the freezer burn on the skin, drop them down into sizzling oil, and voila; enjoy your Maru dumplings. I hope you like the flavor of refrigerator. But wait, there’s sauce! The Maru dipping sauce is the same type I grew up with; a delicious blend of soy sauce, vinegar, scallions, specks of chili, and sesame oil. A savior, yes? It would have been, if there hadn’t been too much sesame oil. When you use even a bit too much, this food enhancer likes to mute all other flavors that fight for attention in a dish.
Salmon, or sake, is my favorite fish for sushi so far. The size of the nigiri here is generous and the salmon was good. Not the best in town, but much better than when I had it during my other previous visits. The sushi rice is decent, the flavor not as lively as I like but not bad.
In addition to the sake, I ordered two rolls. The Yellow Fever consisted of spicy hamachi, radish sprouts, cucumber, and serrano peppers. The sauce was a cilantro oil, which was similar to a basil pesto. I was relieved when I ate the first piece. It was good! Not great, but good. I love all things spicy, and the serrano peppers and cilantro is what drew me in. However, although I enjoyed the roll in the beginning, I couldn’t finish it later. I’ll explain this in a bit.
I chose a vegetarian dish because there aren’t many creative rolls in town when it comes to non-meat options. The Super Mario roll is made with shiitake and crimini mushrooms, avocado, cucumber, asparagus, radish sprouts, red pepper, and tempura crunch. It was served with a chef’s salad; dressed greens with a mushroom cap topped with sesame seeds and slices of takuan. I was wary about having red pepper in my roll, and it turned out to be okay. I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be.
Now, the portions of the rolls here are huge. Usually three or four rolls to myself will suffice but when dining here, two is the maximum. Maybe that’s a part of the reason why the rolls got sickening half way through. Ask anyone who gets the pleasure of watching me eat (like a lady, no less) and the consensus will be that I never leave a crumb behind. As unhealthy as it is, I finish food off even after I’m full. However, I could not finish these rolls, and I wasn’t full. That made me think and I came to a realization: the fusion going on with this sushi is just too much fusion. It got to the point where I forgot what I was eating. I am aware that most sushi in American Japanese restaurants are not authentic to the fare you find when you’re in the country of Japan. But this place is on a whole different level, putting red pepper, bacon, honey, pineapple salsa, cilantro oil, sushi rice that isn’t seasoned well enough, and so on in their rolls. Don’t get me wrong, I love when different elements from various regions are put together on a menu. I appreciate it, and if pulled off well, I really admire it. But in this instance, the outside influences and flavors should not only add to, but complement the Japanese core. Instead, their fusion takes away from it. There the purpose of creating and presenting delicious sushi has been defeated.
All the times I’ve been here the service has been great. Friendly sushi chefs, good servers and warm hosts. The interior is nice, but the problem with this small space is that the tables are much too close together. As involved in conversation as you may be with your guest, you can’t help but overhear the conversations of the tables right up next to you. On your right side, you have the idiot exclaiming how excited he is to order rolls that are fried and hoping that all the items inside them are fried as well. Then you have the asses to your left who keep complaining about their smart phones constantly dying and how much it destroys their super special lives. I recommend asking for a booth. Prices are high here and you do get large portions, but it’s just not worth it. For what the meal costed, I expect better.