50 Best Restaurants 2017: Marumen

A Japanese restaurant in Fairfax

Photo by Stefanie Gans

I knew it was going to be embarrassing, but I asked anyway.

“This is … moving?”

I couldn’t eat it until I understood it. I’ve seen these pale pink fish flakes before; it’s katsuobushi, dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna. But here, they danced. They swayed with a nonexistent breeze in the restaurant. What was going on?

“It’s the heat from the pancake,” the server explained and quickly walked away while I still sat there staring.

The large, puffy pancake, the Japanese okonomoiyaki, was crowded with shrimp, mussels and squid and decorated in strips of nori, swirls of bright orange sauce and pickled pink ginger and those fish flakes standing, almost floating. It was a psychedelic sight but also good eating, cushy pancake around bouncy fish.

Marumen used to be about the devotion to ramen, but the menu continues to expand into Korean, Chinese and more-than-ramen Japanese items: hot stone pot, pork buns, yakisoba. But the ramen continues to be spot-on. There are more new-wave versions with sausage, Spam and pork shoulder and another flavored with Japanese curry and miso. It’s rich and creamy, without any dairy of course, with silky noodles dragging bits of the curry blend. Like ramen itself, it started with restraint, with rules, and now at Marumen, the seriousness has faded. The rigorousness in the kitchen remains, but the creativity is now supreme.

Japanese | $
3250 Old Pickett Road, Fairfax

(50 Best Restaurants 2017November 2017)