Chef Jason Park built up a following with his original Maru in Valencia, which wrapped high-end sushi around a farmers market–influenced menu that benefited from precise, French culinary methods. The restaurant closed in 2012 with a promise of a Westside relocation; in the interim Park dabbled in desserts at Ramekin in Los Feliz and conducted a series of pop-ups. Park's Maru returned a few weeks ago, opening on a Santa Monica–adjacent stretch of Wilshire Boulevard.
The restaurant juts out from a commercial building on an otherwise office-y strip of Wilshire, and the interior gets its look from designer Michelle Dokey. It’s stark in the way that sushi restaurants often are. The ceilings are high and slope to the bar; several hues of wood add a subdued air; and a considerable amount of space exists between seating areas, which include a strip of booths, individual two- or four-tops and communal seating at the sushi bar.
During the day, the space is a bright and airy room that benefits from natural light streaming through a wall of windows. But at night, the low light and empty decor has the space feeling more like a faceless dining room, especially if only a smattering of the tables are occupied. It’s an enviornment that feels dramatically different day or night and needs a buzz of diners to enliven the vibe.
Sushi veteran Itsuroku Kimura helms the 17-seat counter, and his changing list of about 40 selections is mainly sourced from ike-jime fish, which has been paralyzed to maintain a superior taste and texture, and is flown in daily from Japan. The day’s menu might include a kind of non-poisonous fugu, several types of bluefin tuna and everything from kurage (marinated jellyfish) to live tako (octopus) to an aji (Spanish mackerel) from Monterey.
There’s no set omakase price, but if that's of interest a waiter or chef will ask you about several of your favorite types of sushi (and any you’re not so fond of) and also find out how much you want to eat and spend. From there, plates will come out with two to five pieces, and the experience will continue based on your feedback and what’s available.
Like many chefs on the west side of town, Park sources all the produce from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, which means you’ll get to choose from farm-fresh starters like roasted broccoli and cauliflower in a curry vinaigrette and fingerling potatoes served with maple-smoked bacon covered in creme fraiche and dotted with green onions.
For those who like to supplement their sushi with more traditional entrees, there are dishes like Alaskan black cod, short ribs and several steak options, including a hulking rib-eye priced by the pound. The mix on the menu means that you could, if you wanted, create a genre-hopping culinary experience for yourself: starting with a prosciutto and walnut salad, perhaps, moving on with a plate of sushi, and ending with a New York strip.
The drink list supports this kind of globetrotting, though there is no liquor license. The wine selection, however, is solid, and the short list of local beers runs from the citrusy 24th Street pale ale from Strand Brewing Co. in Torrance to the After-Hours American stout from downtown L.A.’s Boomtown.
The drinks are the creations of Matthew Biancaniello, who does his best to craft interesting concoctions without hard alcohol (see the light but refreshing Saturday Morning Revival, made with a mix of mochi-infused sake, pear, agave, lime and a large sprig of dill). There’s a sake list, too. If you’re feeling flush, try the Masumi Yumedono.
12400 Wilshire Blvd., Sawtelle; (424) 832-7118, marusantamonica.com