I have no idea how long Maru has been around for, but I must have driven past it so many times and not known it was there. Just a tiny little building behind a big strip mall, hidden by trees and shrubs, it’s hard to find unless you’re looking for it. It’s near the Papa John’s at Tryon and Cary Pkwy.
Though some may think it’s named after a famous YouTube cat, Maru actually means “circle” in Japanese, so the place is adorned with circle decor on the inside. But I think I saw Korean symbols as well, and there’s almost more Korean on the menu than Japanese, so I guess it’s somewhat of an Asian fusion restaurant. Though I came for sushi, I was a bit turned off by the odd ingredients used in many of their specialty rolls. There were way too many that used cheese, mango and other non-traditional ingredients. My husband was a bit disappointed there was no tonkatsu. Most of the menu was described as “tapas”, so I assumed we were supposed to pick out a few different things and share, though the plates were all around $10 so I knew this could get pricy.
I ended up ordering the pumpkin soup for $4, the hamachi kama (yellowtail cheek) for $8, the Triangle Cucumber Special for $7, tamago for $4 and cucumber rolls for $4. My husband got the bulgogi for $7, the vegetable tempura for $9, and beef kara-age for $8. Soft drinks were $2 each. They also had various beers, wines and sakes, but I thought I’d just stick with ice water. The drinks are served in very thin glasses that don’t hold a lot, but our waitress was pretty attentive about keeping them filled.
The dishes came out slowly over the next 30 minutes or so, which was fine, because the table would have been overflowing otherwise. My husband and I shared each dish, though normally I would eat more of the ones I ordered, and he would eat more of the ones he ordered. The pumpkin soup came out first, and it was good, but I think my husband liked it more than I did. The triangle cucumber special was not exactly what I was expecting: just a rolled cucumber instead of sushi rice and nori- but I still liked it well enough. Seemed a very small portion for $7, but it looked very nice. The vegetable tempura was extremely good, but the pepper took us by surprise. I had never gotten a hot pepper in tempura before, and I almost choked after it kicked in. I tried to make it through, but unfortunately I couldn’t eat half of it. Just way too spicy for me, and that’s saying something. The bulgogi portions were also quite small, just 4 little leaves of lettuce wraps with a tiny salad in the middle with something like horseradish dressing on it. The bulgogi was cooked well but it wasn’t terrific. The tamago and cucumber rolls were exactly as expected, and the cucumber helped to sooth the burn from the tempura pepper. The hamachi kama and beef kara-age were the last two dishes to come out, and they were by far the best. I just love yellowtail cheek, and one day I’m going to see if someone will make me sushi from just the cheek. The beef kara-age had a wonderfully spicy, rich sauce on it, and the portion size was actually close to a full entree. My husband said next time he’d just order 3 of the kara-age.
For dessert we decided to share a tiramisu. It had a very elegant presentation, with Pocky sticks, whipped cream, crisscrossed sauces and a cherry, but it looked like it hadn’t been made on site. We started eating it, and it was still frozen in the middle. You could actually see white frost crystals on the top as well. I mentioned it was still frozen to the waitress, but she just said “sorry” and didn’t offer to comp it or bring us a thawed one.
The Korean menu seemed the most flavorful here, and I wouldn’t mind trying 3 more new tapas next time. I’m sure my husband will get the kara-age a lot in the future. I wouldn’t get the tiramisu again though, it really stuck out as awful at a place that seemed to serve very good food otherwise. At $65 the bill was pretty high, but I think it works okay as a special occasion restaurant.