Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Takoyaki, The New Crack

Chef Ryo Igarashi and his wife, Nicole have established a location and they will hook you if you let them. Again, you have been warned. I barely escaped their persuasive culinary talents on Saturday, using what appeared to be a developing blizzard as my excuse to leave.
Otherwise, I might still be at MARU GLOBAL, eating away in a trance..
Oh yes, it was that good.

I had been seemingly, innocently invited to lunch at Maru Global for a "focus group" survey of some of its menu items. When I arrived at their small storefront location (255 S. 10th St., 267-273-0567), it appeared to be a bare-bones operation, still without signage, a sleek white 20-seat, open kitchen kind of place. Black tables and chairs, white floors and walls, minimalist lighting, a Philly laboratory for Japanese street food. I grabbed a can of green tea from the refrigerator case, perused the menu and was handed a "Focus Group Questionnaire," which asked me to rate my forthcoming food on taste, appearance and creativity.
I was then quickly served a "Japanese Caesar salad", simple romaine lettuce dotted with flecks of anchovies and whole toasted walnuts, lightly dressed with an emulsion of olive oil, sesame paste, lemon, soy and parmesan, with additional feathery shavings of cheese floating on top. A nice, tart-nutty wake-up for the tastebuds. This was just one of eight salads on the ambitious menu; others included a tofu and tomato salad; a "Japanese potato salad"; chilled edamame dusted with Kosher salt; octopus salad; wild seaweed in a sweet dressing; and a whole grain salad of black and brown rices, quinoa, millet, vegatables and a basil coulis.
But about the takoyaki. Taken literally, it means "pan-fried octopus," and it is a popular street food in Japan, a fried dumpling studded (usually) with red pickled ginger, scallion and bits of baby octopus. At Maru Global, the bite-size crepe balls, sans octopus, are cooked in an authentic takoyaki pan, which looks like a cast iron egg carton, and they form the base medium for a broad spectrum of variations, from octopus and shrimp to chicken, sirloin, spicy shrimp, even BBQ, cheesesteak and cornbread versions. Chef Ryo served up a small cardboard boat of "original" dumplings stuffed with shrimp to start. They were delicate, greaseless balls, dusted with bright green dried seaweed, drizzled with a sweet ponzu sauce, and topped with small ribbons of dried bonito, a bit of a jumble to look at. Eaten with a toothpick, the airy orbs exploded in my mouth: ginger, onion, shrimp and steam, a sensational, sensual experience. I swooned, and was served a couple more. The salty seaweed, the smoky, bacony bonito, the sweet-spicy ponzu, what a riot of flavors, almost too much to process. I can't say that I've ever tried anything like this in any food setting. What a strangely seductive snack.

Craving more, I was then offered a small bowl of Gomoku Gohan--Five Things Rice--seasoned rice swirled with steamed seasonal veggies. Carrot, onion, zucchini, peppers and diakon were tucked into my rice bowl, and it proved to calm my dazzled palate, but just for a little while. I wanted more takoyaki.

But the snow was flying into Philly at a furious pace, and I had my reason to escape, but I knew that I did not want to. I ordered a dozen balls to go, and told myself that I could make it home and share them with some friends that would be visiting later. It was the toughest drive back to Lawrenceville I've ever made.

Maru Global is open for business now, and I would gently urge you to get there as soon as possible, before the place is overrun with crazy-eyed foodies clawing their way to the counter, scooping up every morsel, licking fingers and moaning for more.

This IS the new crack, and you have been warned.


Anonymous said...

Its only a block form the theatre - I'll be trying it on Thursday.

Rich said...

Can't wait to read your comments.