Eating Out

Maum – A Modern Korean Tasting Menu in Palo Alto

Maum continues the trend of tasting menus that incorporate traditional Asian flavors in a modern and elevated dining experience. In contrast to other SF Bay Area spots like SingleThread Farms or Manresa that draw inspiration from Asian ingredients and techniques, I would consider Maum to be more similar to Benu, HiroshiEight Tables, or the now-shuttered Mosu SF. Like the latter restaurants, I left Maum feeling like I had a truly “Asian” menu (in this case, Korean), supplemented with New American and French techniques.

After serving as a private dining space for a year, Maum opened to the public in July, with just one communal seating a night, three nights week. For our particular night, they had 18 diners, though I’ve read it’s typically a max of 16.

The menu started off with a series of small, passed bites and drinks prior to being seated.

Maum - The communal dining table with 18 seats that night
The communal dining table with 18 seats that night

Of the five passed bites, the corn tartlet stood out with a unexpectedly light buckwheat tart base and a sweet, yet delicate corn filling that highlighted peak corn season.

Maum - Corn Tartlet, buckwheat shell
Corn Tartlet, buckwheat shell

Another standout was the Zucchini Squash leaf, first dehydrated, then deep fried and sprinkled in tangy and sweet Korean soybean powder.

Maum - Zucchini Squash Leaf, dried and fried, korean soybean powder
Zucchini Squash Leaf, dried and fried, korean soybean powder

After about 30 minutes, we were instructed to take seats at the single communal table. Our first course was a memorable start – caviar with exceptionally creamy tofu, accompanied by a seaweed biscuit. The texture of the fluffy and silky tofu was unlike any tofu I’ve had. Frankly, the tofu stole the show over the caviar, though the combination of all three parts was harmonious.

Maum - Maum Reserve Caviar, potato, tofu cream, biscuit
Maum Reserve Caviar, potato, tofu cream, biscuit

Next was a dish that highlighted the sweet, seasonal cherry tomatoes, contrasted with bright vinegar and perilla.

Maum - Tomato, cucumber, kelp, perilla, rice vinegar
Tomato, cucumber, kelp, perilla, rice vinegar

Following was a nod to the popular Korean tofu soup, soondubu, elevated with thin soybean skin and an intensely salty, umami sauce to season the mild silken tofu.

Maum - "Soondubu", alliums, soy
“Soondubu”, alliums, soy

Next was my favorite dish – a perfectly cooked Black Cod filet in a broth of abalone, beech mushrooms, and rice cakes. The gochujang broth was a tad salty for my taste, but the flaky black cod was absolutely incredible. The accompanying ingredients also provided an enjoyable, contrasting chew.

Maum - Sablefish (black cod), abalone, beech mushroom, rice cake, gochujang
Sablefish (black cod), abalone, beech mushroom, rice cake, gochujang

Another hit was the duck meatball, a clever play on the Korean word for meatball, dduckgalbi. The presentation was very cute, with the meatball skewered with a tiny bone. The duck meat itself was so intensely flavorful and cooked with pork fat.

Maum - Duck “Dduckgalbi”, scallion salad
Duck “Dduckgalbi”, scallion salad

Next was a nod to Korean BBQ, with wagyu “galbi” served ssam style with lettuce wraps, pickles, and jang (fermented soybean paste). The wagyu was amazingly fatty and tender in the best way. This was accompanied by an oxtail stew rice that might be my favorite rice dish I’ve had – the depth of flavor was unbelievable! Oh yeah, there was some seaweed soup too, but the rice out-shadowed that.

“Galbi”, ssam, pickle, jang
“Galbi”, ssam, pickle, jang
Maum - Oxtail stew “soht” rice
Oxtail stew “soht” rice
Maum - Oxtail stew “soht” rice, seaweed broth
Oxtail stew “soht” rice, seaweed broth

After that high note, we switched gears to dessert. I’m a fan of savory ingredients in a traditionally sweet medium, and the first couple desserts were of that style. While dessert was probably the weakest link here, I appreciated the continuation of Korean ingredients.

Maum - Strawberry, buttermilk, crumble, sorrel
Strawberry, buttermilk, crumble, sorrel
Maum - Barley, buckwheat, glace
Barley, buckwheat, glace

The evening finished with a trio of small bites, including a mini choco pie! The intensely-flavored banana bon bon was probably my favorite of these.

Maum - Choco Pie, Swiss Roll, Banana Bon Bon
Choco Pie, Swiss Roll, Banana Bon Bon

In true tasting menu form, we were given parting gifts of strawberry jam “muffin cakes”. I devoured this at home immediately. The richness of the butter with the crumble topping and sweet jam base was irresistible!

Maum - Strawberry jam muffin cake take home gift
Strawberry jam muffin cake take home gift

Maum - Strawberry jam muffin cake take home gift

For a relatively new public restaurant, I was impressed at the caliber of cooking. The tasting menu was focused on flavor first, without any crazy techniques or showy antics. The service was also pretty good, with timing being the only major area of improvement.

There was an option of wine pairings, bottles, or wine by the glass. I elected to go by the glass and thought the somm made good recommendations that supported but didn’t overpower the food.

One of my dinner-mates was dairy sensitive, and the kitchen accommodated her restrictions seamlessly.

I thought the overall tasting menu was reasonably priced for the Bay Area, and I look forward to trying future seasonal iterations.

Maum - Dinner tasting menu August 2018
Dinner tasting menu August 2018
Maum - Dairy-free dinner tasting menu
Dairy-free dinner tasting menu

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