Maru (Santa Monica, CA)

Maru
12400 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 8/15/13

maru

Maru opened a couple months ago in Santa Monica (on the border of Brentwood), a relocation of a restaurant in Valencia. The man behind the food is chef Jason Park, who mixes the Japanese/Korean influences of his childhood into his classically trained cooking background. A wide variety of sushi and sashimi is offered (which the restaurant self-describes as ‘world-class’), as well as an extensive menu of his Asian-influenced Californian cooking. Desserts are a big part of the menu as well and could stand on their own (as Park’s recent opening of dessert shop Ramekin in Los Feliz earlier this year is proving).

I’d heard good things about the restaurant early on and was invited in for a tasting. On the menu on this evening was a small sample of sushi and sashimi, as well as a good glimpse into Park’s cooking.

maru bar

Sashimi hon maguro, ma-dai, sockeye

Sashimi hon maguro, ma-dai, sockeye

This small sample of selection of sashimi was good but I found the tuna to be a little chewy. Unexpected.

Sushi kinme dai, yokowa, nama tako, aji, hiramasa

Sushi kinme dai, yokowa, nama tako, aji, hiramasa

I had high hopes for the sushi and it didn’t quite meet them. I thought the fish quality was mostly good, except an oddly gooey octopus texture, but the rice had a noticeably firmer texture than I expected.

Heirloom Tomato Salad munak farms tomatoes, shiso pesto, sherry vinaigrette

Heirloom Tomato Salad munak farms tomatoes, shiso pesto, sherry vinaigrette

Sweet baby heirloom tomatoes were paired with a very nice shiso pesto, cool and refreshing. I liked the Japanese/Italian influences in this well-balanced dish.

Grouper pan roasted, pomme puree, spinach, tomato-saffron sauce

Grouper pan roasted, pomme puree, spinach, tomato-saffron sauce

The fish was cooked well with a slightly crispy exterior. The broth added a lot more depth of flavor to elevate this simple dish.

Pistachio Crusted Scallop karashi, pistachio, honey, sauteed spinach

Pistachio Crusted Scallop karashi, pistachio, honey, sauteed spinach

I thought the scallop was borderline overcooked, but liked the slightly-spicy, slightly-nutty topping. It worked well with the sweet shellfish.

Crispy Duck Risotto duck confit risotto cake, herb salad, tomato puree

Crispy Duck Risotto duck confit risotto cake, herb salad, tomato puree

This was a highlight – the risotto had a nice crispy texture on the outside while keeping the inside soft and slightly creamy. Small chunks of duck were hidden within the cake, balanced by the herb and tomato topping.

Skirt Steak sake-soy marinade, horseradish bechamel, housemade pappardelle, charred kale

Skirt Steak sake-soy marinade, horseradish bechamel, housemade pappardelle, charred kale

The kalbi-inspired, Korean marinated steak was flavorful. The pasta was limp and kind of boring though, but I did like the charred kale.

Upon completion of the savory courses, we moved into a trio of desserts.

Rice Pudding lemongrass, wong farms mango, key lime-ade

Rice Pudding lemongrass, wong farms mango, key lime-ade

This first dessert was pretty light. Slightly tart from the lime-ade, it was countered by sweet chunks of mango. Refreshing.

Peach Tart reiger farms o’henry peaches, almond cream, creme fraiche ice cream

Peach Tart reiger farms o'henry peaches, almond cream, creme fraiche ice cream

I thought this was exceptional. A warm, crusty, buttery tart was topped with thin slices of sweet peaches. So good. The ice cream and peach sauce were equally as good. I’d totally get this again.

Chocolate Bread Pudding TCHO, ramekin baked bread, tahitian vanilla bean ice cream

Chocolate Bread Pudding TCHO, ramekin baked bread, tahitian vanilla bean ice cream

I really liked the texture of the bread pudding with a bunch of crunchy bits on top absorbing the melting ice cream. Served warm, there was a nice moist interior to the bread pudding and just the right amount of sweetness. The chocolate-vanilla interplay, a classic, worked well here.

While I found Maru’s sushi/sashimi to be just okay, the highlights were in its modern Asian-influenced Californian cuisine and the desserts. I found his composed dishes to be fairly unique and well thought-out; execution was good but fell just short a couple times. In particular, the crispy duck risotto and each of the desserts were very good. Speaking of desserts, I’ll have to check out Ramekin.

Note: This was a hosted meal.


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