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Maluken offers inexpensive, enjoyable Japanese cuisine

MALUKEN

A Japanese restaurant.

645 Beacon Street, Boston.

Prices from $6 to $15 per person.

By Daniel Moriarty

Food is good. We should all eat lots of it and enjoy it as best we can. I'm going to try my best to make it easier for all of us to get a good meal at a decent price without any hassle. However, I should introduce myself first. Then we can build a relationship based on trust and love (of food).

Why do I feel qualified to provide information on local restaurants? Well, I'm what we at MIT call a lifer. This is my tenth year here, so I feel I have a bit of a familiarity with the area. I've spent way too much money eating out these past nine years and would like to pass on my experiences. I'm a decent cook, and my roommate was once a saut chef at a French restaurant. (Since I mentioned him, one of the best bits of advice he's ever given me: when cooking rice, use College Inn chicken stock instead of water. The difference is unbelievable.) I love ethnic food: Barbecue-style, French, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Greek, and Brazilian are all fair game, and ethnic food seems to be so prevalent in greater Boston. Lastly, I hope to at least be somewhat entertaining.

Where do you go after a stressful day in the lab, chasing ground loops and debugging instrumentation? You've been meaning to eat lunch for over four hours now, and one more can of Coke (or Sprite for me) just won't do. You're way past hungry. In fact, you're what I'd call "mean-hungry." The thought of 100 grams of fat in Sam's Lunch makes you want to puke. What can you eat that's more soothing than toast and soup, and a whole lot tastier? Japanese food at Maluken. It's in Kenmore Square and shares the same building as Uno's except you enter from the Beacon Street side. I've had Japanese before eating here, but Maluken (sometimes spelled Mal'ken) made me a believer. The first thing you'll notice upon entering is how clean the place is. The wood is a happy fresh pine color and there are lots of Japanese drapes and details everywhere. Plus, there are plenty of windows to watch the passing traffic on Beacon and to let the sun shine in. The waitresses are dressed in pretty kimonos with sashes tied to their backs as they shuffle back and forth in sandals: all very soothing.

First, you're handed a damp towel to clean off the dust from all those coaxial cables you've been tracing. Don't bother reading the menu because you already know what you want -- order the following: miso soup, a salad, cucumber maki, and flying fish roe sushi. With a friend, you can also order grilled yellow tail rolls and salmon sushi. Don't forget the green tea.

After carefully picking out the scallions from the miso soup it's time for instant relief. (Forget Tums and all that other garbage. The only true antacid is food.) The soup takes some getting used to, but after one or two trips to Maluken I guarantee you'll be craving it. If you're too impatient for the spoon, drinking the bowl is accepted. The best part of the salad is the soy-sauce like dressing. Use the chop-sticks and, years from now, you will be able to show off to your boss and clients your prowess with the customs of the world. Don't feel bad if you leave a pile of radish. They're nothing but trouble anyway -- and your date will thank you.

The maki and sushi come with little porcelain trays for the sauce. Toss in a couple ginger slices, a tad of the wasabi (beware, this stuff is hot), mix it up and use for soaking the maki. Beginners should try the cucumber first: It is not at all gooey. My personal favorite is the flying fish roe. These eggs are tiny, salty, and crunchy as opposed to the nasty salmon roe which is definitely gooey. Sauce is unnecessary. The salmon sushi, surely the flagship of Japanese food, is for veterans. And finally, if you're jonesing for greasy, fried food the grilled yellow tail will definitely give you a fix.

I strongly suggest a lunch box from Maluken during the weekdays. The selections change daily and usually comprise salad, soup, tempura, something raw, and a weird, orange-yellow cookie thing that I just never got used to. The meal is served in an exotic box, and when the check comes you can enjoy a little chuckle, for the lunch will be listed as r-box. (Think about it.)

Dinner for one, to go, is a little over ten bucks. For two, to stay, with tip is just short of thirty, which isn't bad, considering Japanese food is notoriously expensive. The lunch box is by far a bargain at roughly six dollars. So take the green line, take a date, enjoy the food and tell your friends.