Wednesday, September 2, 2009

MARU: A Class Act

When you hear about the city of Valencia, it’s almost impossible to avoid thinking of Six Flags Magic Mountain—but what of the sushi in this thrillseekers’ paradise?

I considered it the perfect opportunity to hunt down the perfect purveyor of my favorite food in this area when I parted with friends at the theme park last week; it was still early enough to catch dinner, and it was the first time I had driven to the city alone, which meant I was unfettered and free to roam. Unhampered by the schedules and opinions of others, I set off on an adventure that would have corkscrewed headaches into the skulls of anyone who had been crazy enough to accompany me on that fickle night. Sometimes, solo journeys have their advantages….

After a couple of Japanese restaurants appeared on my G-1 cell phone when I googled “Valencia sushi,” I briefly wondered how anyone ever survived the pre-Internet, pre-GPS days while searching for a place at which to dine (what did we do, really? Call 411 or comb the streets randomly?). Kyoto and Maru both popped up, and rather than yelp it (I have mentioned previously how little I trust the opinion of others), I decided to wing it.

Trying to make sure that at least one place was open for business, I dialed Maru first, but when no one picked up the phone, I tried Kyoto. The latter confirmed it was indeed open for dinner, so off I went.

As GPS units go, we all know they sometimes mislead and confuse us just a bit, so somehow I detoured into a shopping plaza I had to find a way out of…until the words The Kona Crisp caught my eye, making me take another detour. I knew it wasn’t sushi, but it sounded unique and I was curious about the menu. I stopped inside this self-dubbed “Vintage Beach Canteen” for a quick look and was disappointed. The place was nothing more than an upscale burger joint with a nice Hawaiian theme, and the aroma was that of a fast food restaurant. I sampled their homemade cole slaw, which was so flavorless that it made me long for the sweet liquidy cole slaw of KFC.


When I finally found Kyoto, the logo made me realize this place was part of a chain I had already visited before. With locations all over the Valley, Kyoto is better known for its all-you-can-eat option and overuse of that Americanized “Sweet Sauce.” At the last branch I went to in West Hills, I had chosen scallop sushi over the super-fried or crazy mishmash rolls with a California Roll base. Although it has its devout followers of cheap overeaters, I consider its sushi very basic and rather unimaginative, reminiscent of Crazy Tokyo Sushi, another chain known for its cheapness in both price and quality.

Curious, I sauntered in anyway. Its ambience was casual and quite rowdy, which can be conducive to a fun dining experience, but a quick skim of the menu confirmed this was not where I wanted to heartily feast after an exhausting, sun-and-water-drenched day, even though the casualness of the atmosphere seemed to more than welcome my still-wet-from-the-water-rides shorts.


Maru answered the phone and assured me they were open when I tried calling again, but it was their menu that assured me right away of their caliber. Boasting exotic fish flown in nightly from Japan, the sushi menu offered rarities like fatty bluefin tuna belly, live scallop and live sweet shrimp, white seabass, jellyfish marinated in vinegar, and pike mackerel. According to Maru's website, executive chef Jason Park uses only the freshest and highest quality ingredients, even personally handpicking fresh produce from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market every week.

But what I found to be more intriguing was that this was a sushi restaurant with a French influence, with a whole other menu that listed roasted duck, foie gras on puff pastry, steak pasta and organic potatoes with bacon tossed with crème fraiche. Listed with the description of each dish is a recommended wine pairing. Classy.

It was at Maru that I learned of the difference between yamakake and yama-imo, which describe the different ways in which Japanese mountain potato is served (grated versus sliced), and it was Maru that paired my yama-imo with mentaiko (spicy cod fish eggs). $12 was a handful for a hand roll, but the taste was spectacular considering the simplicity.

I went for the shake toro (salmon belly) sushi, impressed that the restaurant even spelled it so that it was phonetically accurate, unlike most restaurants which translate their salmon into sake, like the alcohol, confusing poor Americans further. The description even read “More tender and oily.” The chef may not have seared this like the last chef did when I ordered salmon belly, but he did perk it up with strips of battera kombu, also known as pickled kelp, and a sauce he dubbed “nikiri sauce,” which consists of soy sauce, sake, and mirin, a popular Japanese cooking wine.

I would have ordered more sushi, of course, but the Proscuitto & Walnut Salad with sliced organic apples for $12 caught my eye, and the mention of sun-dried tomato vinaigrette didn’t hurt, either. But this turned out to be a ginormous salad, so in consideration of my wanting more sushi, the bad thing is that it filled me up....The good thing, though, is that it filled me up.

Somehow, I just can’t see families and teens coming into Maru for dinner after a bout at the theme park—the place is simply too posh and high-class, and its menu hardly agrees with the funnel cake and roasted corn you’re sure to have eaten all day. This reminds me again that I truly know how to enjoy the best of both worlds.

24250 Town Center Drive, Valencia
(661) 290-2595

Note: Maru has closed down

No comments :