Lansing is a long way from the ocean. And a suburb of Lansing is the last place on earth I expected to find innovative, beautifully executed, piercingly fresh, creatively presented sushi. But I did.
Maru takes up a hidden corner of a non-descript strip mall. You could be in the parking lot and still not find it. But ho-hum disappears the minute you open the door. The ceiling rises a good 30 feet over the bar, the wall covered in an enormous wave-like bas-relief sculpture. The tiny space unfolds in a range of tricky little twists and turns - full of natural light and simple modern lines.
Take your seat, and the wait staff appear. I don't know where they get the wait staff here, honestly. This was my third visit, and each time, the service at this place has run at a different level than anywhere else in town. Crisp, earnest, intelligent, present.
The menu is a bit of a shock as well. This is not a sushi-deluxe+salad-with-ginger-dressing+miso soup kind of a place. This is full on ala-carte, and the carte is pretty wild. Case in point: the best roll I've had here is the Sexy Bacon, featuring ultra crisp thick sliced bacon alongside cucumber, asparagus, crab and shredded seaweed. This last time my little group started with the ceviche. Like the bacon, this is sushi re-imagined - a cylinder of rice, topped with brunoise tomato, topped with creme fraiche, topped with roe, surrounded by tuna, surrounded by enormous wonton wrapper chips. With a lime. It works.
We followed the ceviche with the big-daddy Omakase - bascially carte blanche for the chef to send us whatever he felt like sending us. First: a delicate salad topped with just a little smidge of escolar. Haven't had much escolar? Neither had I, since it's essentially banned from most parts of the world due to some iffy digestive consequences if eaten in large amounts. But it's here, and it's unbelievably rich and silky.
Next round was what I can only describe as jalepeno poppers. Together with the ceviche, it was a neat little riff on what tex mex would be if it were made by sushi chefs. I can't quite tell what all was in these. Definitely jalepeno, definitely something killer tasty and related to cream cheese, definitely something with a little kick. All of this, sparsely tempura battered and fried. Again - lots and lots going on here, and it came together well.
Nigiri and Sashami followed: tuna, halibut, escolar and octopus with little cucumber salads. Excellent, but not perfect. The octopus especially was a little tougher than I would have liked. And word to the wise: go for escolar on the salad, but skip the sashimi. Delicious? Yep. But not worth the pain. Trust me on this one.
Then came the rolls. The first round was a neat little package, mostly veggies with thin strips of tuna and salmon. Beautifully presented, this would have been an ideal way to end. In fact, we ended with round two of the rolls, which was the one place I think the meal really went astray. Oversize, with salmon tempura and a dab of cream cheese, these were an altogether too heavy finish for a meal drenched in light. Still - all in all a brilliant meal, and hands down the most innovative, creative culinary work I've seen anywhere near here. Given that this is virtually the only place in Lansing with a wait at 7:30 on a weekday, I'm not the only one that's made the discovery.
More photos of Maru are up on Grubbus's Facebook Home