As I explained in a recent post on Otto’s Tacos, I’ve been spending a lot of time sifting through menus, emailing restaurants, and speaking with managers in the interest of adding new places to my “safe” list. I’ve grown tired of limiting myself to NYC’s few declaredly nut-free eateries, so I’ve committed to looking for more of the next best thing—restaurants that happen not to use any nuts—to the benefit of both this blog and, well, my stomach.
Marumi, a Japanese restaurant in Greenwich Village, is certainly of that next-best ilk. So few restaurants respond to my inquiries—and Marumi not only replied, but they did so promptly and (most notably) with information that was actually relevant: “No, we don’t use any tree nuts in our menu. Our restaurant is safe for people with nut allergies- including my children. We only use sesame seeds in some of our dishes.”
This woman—who’s evidently familiar enough with Marumi’s menu to be in a position to field allergy-related questions—finds the restaurant safe enough for her nut-allergic children. So though her email wasn’t the most detailed, it gave me all the reassurance I needed. (I’ve never been able to decide whether my allergy-related food safety standards are far too high or far too low. I’m convinced they’re one of the two, though.)
As far as I know, Marumi doesn’t seem to collect much information on their vendors’ facilities, nor do they market themselves as nut-free—so I can’t rightfully categorize them as “truly nut-free” by the criteria I’ve been using. But again: they really are the next best thing. So to Marumi I went.
As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to avoid ordering cooked food at Japanese restaurants, as sushi is, in my experience, a bit safer—but since I’d been assured that Marumi doesn’t use any nuts whatsoever, I figured this was my chance to order from the kitchen. Naturally, I was pretty excited.
Still, I wanted to start slowly, so I began with two rolls: one ika uni (squid and sea urchin—pictured above) and one toro uni (fatty tuna and sea urchin). Now, Marumi is not exactly a high-end sushi bar, so I wasn’t expecting all that much, but both rolls were delicious. I also ordered a few pieces of sushi (some salmon and some ikura), which were all right, I suppose, but which I probably wouldn’t order again. The ikura was all right, but the salmon was too cold—though it did have a nice flavor (as most salmon does).
But I wasn’t there for sushi; I was there to experiment with cooked food. So I ordered something I’ve been craving for a while: a bowl of udon with duck and some shrimp tempura on the side—why not? Now, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had any sort of udon, so I can’t say I have much of a frame of reference anymore, but what I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. The duck was sweet; the mushrooms were tender; the scallions were plentiful. My only complaint was that the breading on the shrimp tempura was too thick and essentially flavorless—but hey, cooked food. In an actual restaurant.
To no one’s surprise, I’ve been back a few times since, and most things I’ve tried have been decent. The pork katsu (pictured immediately above) was pretty solid. It didn’t knock my socks off or anything, but it wasn’t as if I regretted ordering it, either. It came with some shredded cabbage, a bowl of rice, some dipping sauce, and a lemon wedge. The pork was juicy and tender, if a bit bland—nothing a little lemon couldn’t solve, though.
The soft-shell crab is good, too—or maybe I just really like ponzu sauce—and the stir-fried udon is surprisingly flavorful. The bento boxes are a good deal, price-wise, but Marumi’s tempura is sub-par, and their beef negimaki isn’t so great, either. On a good day, though—when the uni’s good, which certainly isn’t all the time—the broiled lobster with uni sauce is all right, and the ika uni appetizer is worth a try.
One thing I’d specifically recommend against ordering: the duck bun. I was pretty excited to try it, as duck’s one of my favorite meats, but it just wasn’t good. The duck itself reminds of Walmart-quality lunch meat, and it comes with a whole bunch of room-temperature cucumber, which…sucks. That’s all I can say about it, really. (And if I haven’t yet made this clear: I’d stay away from most of the sushi, too.)
Anyway, Marumi may not be high-end, and it may not be perfect, but I tend to enjoy it nonetheless. The servers are knowledgeable and friendly—and no matter the relative quality of the restaurant, it’s nice to be able to order freely once in a while. Plus, the atmosphere’s bearable, even during peak hours on a Friday night, which is saying something.
I suppose I’d recommend Marumi—just don’t expect to be floored, and order carefully, because their menu is a goddamn minefield. Be warned, though: they’re cash-only at lunchtime.
Find Marumi at 546 LaGuardia Place, between Bleecker and West 3rd.