It is no secret I’m a fan of Chef Mark Schraga’s work. The loss of Tamashii was like the loss of a good friend. While his new venture Mega Maki is a hard left turn from his former establishment, I have to say it hasn’t diminished his star power in any way.
Where Tamashii defined fine dining and fusion cuisine, Mega Maki gets back to basics. Its genius comes in simplicity, coupled with flexiblity. Designed for speed of service and quick turnaround, Mega Maki should soon become a sushi staple for those on the go.
Unlike most restaurants Wilmingtonians are used to, Mega Maki has no seating. Therefore, it doesn’t offer a public restroom either. Everything about it says, “Grab some sushi and go elsewhere to enjoy it.” With the riverwalk only a stone’s throw away from the Front Street establishment, this setup works. At least for me—I keep going back again and again.
Mega Maki’s menu is essentially a buffet, with various pieces of sushi to mix and match. Guests basically can design rolls according to their own specifications. I lack the math skills to calculate the total possible permutations of the menu, but it surely goes into the millions and beyond.
Still, the menu highlights 10 basic rolls, with names like “Trippy Hippy” and the “Front St. Roll.” Each comes with a few rudimentary ingredients, but then consumers can doctor them to their own tastes. Small changes in each roll make the menu infinite.
The classics are all there: tuna, salmon, tofu, but the extras make Mega Maki special. I’m fond of simple pleasures, like cucumber and avocado, but adding pickled Japanese vegetables, with only hints of a gentle vinegar and crunch, make the rolls pop. Of course, diners must try one or more of the signature sauces.Scharaga is a wizard with spicy sauces, and his sweet chili is fantastic. The red pepper flakes are potent, but fuse nicely with the sweeter notes. That said, don’t miss the eel sauce. The rich, almost smoky flavor gives a heartier flair to otherwise more delicate dishes.
I enjoy being able to cater sushi toward my own preferences. For example, I do not like rolls with cream cheese. In fact, I never figured out that craze; dairy isn’t a big staple of Japanese cuisine. I prefer to let the fish take center stage in my sushi. Scharaga serves tuna and salmon so fresh I almost took my rolls to the ocean to see if they’d still swim.
The detailed balance of his flavors taste masterful. Not one grain of rice is over or undercooked. The sesame seeds are always applied with an even hand. Each bite is consistent because of the overall care taken in designing each roll.
In addition, diners have the option of turning any of their favorites into hand rolls. Though not my favorite way to enjoy sushi, they are more conducive to lunch on-the-go. Hand rolls consist of nori on the outside, rolled into the shape of an ice-cream cone, then stuffed with rice, fish, and anything else one might desire.
And speaking of ice cream, Mega Maki isn’t alone in its new Front Street home. It has found one of the better roommates it could hope for in the restaurant industry. Velvet Freeze, the local, gourmet ice cream maker which used to be located off College Road, shares the space. The pairing seems fitting, as sweet dishes often counteract the harsher effects of spicy ones. Velvet Freeze’s salted caramel ice cream on their own pretzel cone is quite a welcome treat.
Karel Blaas, who founded Velvet Freeze, has long been known for his dedication to locally sourced ingredients. We don’t often think of ice cream as a “farm-to-table” product, but there is an intrinsic value to our community and our diets in local farming. Velvet Freeze pursues that honorable tradition, and the flavors speak for themselves. They do interesting pairings, too, like wasabi-maple, chile chocolate, and bourbon, bacon and chocolate pecan.
Even folks who have to keep calories in mind or have dietary restrictions can find something delightful here, such as their blueberry ice—tangy and less sweet (and with none of the fatty dairy products). Vegans need a little love, too. I imagine the Velvet Freeze ices will become more popular as summer approaches.
It may seem strange on paper: “Let’s go out for sushi and ice cream.” But the pairing works in “The Odd Couple” sort of way with two businesses in one (prepare to be rung up separately) changing the paradigm in how we consider “dining out.” Mega Maki and Velvet Freeze could soon be inextricably linked in the collective mind of the Wilmington food scene. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.
Mega Maki Sushi & Velvet Freeze
10 B. North Front Street
Mon.-Sat.: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. (Velvet Freeze open until 10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. & 7 p.m. on Sun.)