12400 Wilshire Blvd · Ste 150 · Los Angeles, CA 90025 Neighborhood: Santa Monica
More and more it seems that restaurants in Los Angeles are being driven out of their neighborhoods because of crazy rent increases. When the rent got too damn high for Chef Jason Park at Maru in Valencia, he didn’t close his kitchen or hide in a box, he simply uprooted and set up shop at the former Sasabune location on Wilshire Blvd — a real score for the city of Santa Monica.
It’s somewhat of a hidden gem, although visible from the street, you might miss it if you’re not looking for it. The Korean Park, who was a Bio major at UCLA before switching to the culinary arts, credits his mother and Japanese-educated grandmother for his talents in the kitchen and culinary inspiration.
When I first met chef Park at his other business, Ramekin, an ice cream shop in Los Feliz, I was impressed by his passion and serious focus on flavors. I was excited to see how this translated to his full-service kitchen.
Like a lot of Santa Monica restaurants, the French-Japanese menu at Maru is seasonally inspired and market driven. Prices here reflect this. There are lots of different things on the menu for every palate and a real focus on quality.
Ok, so you decide you want to come for sushi, but dad doesn’t like fish? No need to flip out, chef Park proves he can master even the manliest meats – and beautifully too. The filet mignon – a simple, maybe even boring steak – that is until you scoop up the beautiful brandy, merlot glaze artfully decorated around your entrée. At first you don’t want to mess the pretty plating, so you try to eat daintily, but after a few bites you become ravenous as you think to yourself, “Mmm, this is damn good!”
The pork belly is fork tender and deeply flavored, marinated in a sake, soy braise with garlic infused black kale, marinated shallots and roasted tomatoes.
You can also get your veg on. A simple cherry tomato salad market-fresh and marvelous…
And for more exotic, daring eaters… The first week of their soft open, he offered live uni as a dinner special.
Chef Park is able to take a simple dish – risotto for instance, and mix things up nicely. Consider the shape, the savory tomato sauce, the crispy duck nestled inside and little morsels of mozzarella to surprise and appease your tongue.
I tried Maru on two occasions. First, I popped in during their boozy cocktail pop-up with cocktail chef Matthew Biancaniello (pictured below as chef Park looks on). Chef Park is always game for creative culinary collaborations — I like that.
The first time these two joined forces, they paired booze and ice cream at Ramekin. Both are really into local, seasonal produce so every time they get together it works really well.
Usually it takes a restaurant some time to get into a flow when they first open up, but Maru felt like a restaurant already comfortable in it’s stride. And it should. Chef Park’s previous restaurant of the same name was a hit with Valencia locals for 11 years!
*Officially open for business as of a few weeks ago, do note that they will be undergoing a sexy remodel and will be closed until then.
The menu is incredibly varied, complex, elegant and fantastic – their fish is flown in nightly from Japan. Check them out next time you are looking for a unique place for a special meal on the westside!
BYB Tip: There’s 2-hour validated parking in the parking structure off McClellan Dr.
**UPDATE: Nov. 2015 – After a lengthy 1 year remodel, Maru has since reopened with a new look and new menu!
Check them out on their Facebook page.