We were in town to celebrate my dad’s birthday, and I was eager to find a place in Santa Clarita that was worthy of our attention so we didn’t have to drive out to LA for a nice meal. I found Maru after reading several glowing reviews on Yelp, where some reviewers admit to driving all the way to Valencia from all over the Southland just to eat there. People driving to Valencia just to eat? Now I had to see if it really lived up to the hype.
Maru is not your typical Japanese restaurant because in addition to a fairly standard Japanese menu, they also feature a seasonal Market Menu that features “modern California cuisine” and includes dishes like seared foie gras, crispy duck risotto, USDA Prime steaks, and other dishes you’d find at a typical upscale restaurant. Fresh fish is flown in daily from Japan, the restaurant is committed to using organic, free-range products, and all the vegetables are hand picked by chef/owner Jason Park at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Markets. You could argue that Maru serves the freshest food in Santa Clarita, but having a great meal there depends entirely on which menu you choose.
We decided to pick dishes from both menus so we could try as many of the inventive dishes as possible, as well as see how Maru handles some of the basics. For starters, we ordered their much-heralded crispy duck risotto and agedashi tofu. Creamy duck risotto was shaped like a puck and then seared to make it crispy and was an excellent appetizer. Unfortunately, the agedashi tofu we ordered was seriously lacking. The tofu wasn’t fried very well, and it was served only in a ponzu-flavored dashi. There were no bonito flakes or grated daikon to be found, so it felt incomplete and worst of all…boring. (The dashi was good though.)
(Note: I read several reports that Maru frowns up on people taking pictures of the food (allegedly because the chef is paranoid about someone stealing his ideas) so I broke out my spy camera—er, iPhone—to get these pictures.)