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By Elena Kadvany

Fine-dining Korean restaurant to open in Palo Alto

Uploaded: Jun 13, 2018

After a year of operating quietly as a private dining space in downtown Palo Alto, Korean restaurant Maum will open to the public three nights a week in July.

The high-end restaurant at 322 University Ave. will serve a tasting-only menu carefully curated by executive chef Michael Kim, a Korean-American Los Angeles transplant who most recently worked at Michelin-starred Italian restaurant SPQR in San Francisco.

Wednesday through Friday, Maum will offer one seating at a long, wooden communal table that accommodates 16 people.

The minimalist interior of Maum on University Avenue in Palo Alto. Photo courtesy Thomas Kuoh Photography.

Maum, which means "from the heart" in Korean, is the "passion project" of Brian Koo (a Stanford University graduate, co-founder of investment firm Formation 8 and grandson of the founder of South Korean electronics giant LG) and his wife Grace, Kim said in an interview at the restaurant on Tuesday. They hoped to fill a Korean-cuisine void in Silicon Valley.

The restaurant was originally proposed for the former Apple store location several blocks away on University Avenue, but the owners later withdrew the project after being set back by delays for several years.

Kim has been involved since the beginning of the project. After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena in 2007, he cooked at Craft in Los Angeles, then SPQR and was the opening chef for Namu Gaji, a Korean restaurant in San Francisco.

Kim's wife, Meichih Kim, is also working at Maum. She comes with fine-dining experience, including at the three-Michelin-star Per Se in New York City and Benu (also three stars) and the now-closed RN74 in San Francisco.

Kim said they decided to make Maum more publicly accessible in response to requests from Koo's friends. The kitchen team is currently adding to and tweaking the summer menu in anticipation of a July 12 opening.

The Maum kitchen is fueled by a small, private farm in Los Altos Hills that exclusively supplies the restaurant. Kim wanted to have a farm to ensure access to quality Korean produce, which is difficult to come by, even in the Bay Area.

"It's very, very difficult to get quality Korean ingredients," he said. "Almost nationwide you either grow it yourself or know people that grow it. Most of the base Korean ingredients are commodity-farmed."

Currently growing at the farm is Napa cabbage, Korean daikon radish, perilla (a plant whose leaves are used in Korean cooking) and chrysanthemum, among other produce.

Maum's menu reflects a mix of nostalgia and modernity. When diners arrive, they'll stand for a 30-minute reception, during which the kitchen will serve canapés such as a corn tartlet — a riff on a low-brow Korean dish of corn and melted cheese — and "soondae," Korean street-food blood sausage.

"The inspiration is very traditional flavors but in somewhat elevated presentation — something that's easily understandable by the general public and people with Korean backgrounds," Kim said.

Korean fish cakes with honey mustard at Maum. Photo courtesy Thomas Kuoh Photography.

Entrees on the summer menu include caviar cured with Maum's custom blend of Korean sea salt; "soondobu," a soft, silken tofu garnished with dehydrated chive blossoms and wild onion flowers and served with charred ginger; "maeunntang," a seafood stew; "ddukgalbi," patties made with duck instead of the traditional beef; and "galbi," marinated imperial Wagyu beef served with pickles, kimchi, rice and a seaweed broth.

Given the difficulty of being a seasonal Korean restaurant, the menu also highlights California produce, such as summer tomatoes served with perilla and a vinegar-seaweed sauce. The menu will rotate with the seasons, Kim said.

There will be two to three desserts, which are still being worked out. Maum just hired Catherine Kim, formerly of Hakkasan in San Francisco, as its pastry chef.

A dinner at Maum will cost $165 per person.

Another husband-and-wife team, Rebecca Fineman and Chris Gaither, are overseeing Maum's beverage program. Fineman is a master sommelier (one of 25 women in the world to hold that distinction) and Gaither is working toward the same certification.

Maum has about 150 wine bottles (pairings are available) and will also serve soju, sake and beer.

The restaurant is offering ticket-based reservations online through Tock.

The 16-seat Palo Alto restaurant may just be the start for the owners. Charles Chen, a restaurant consultant with experience at top San Francisco restaurants, is on board to help develop "lifestyle" and restaurant concepts down the line, Kim said.