San Francisco’s fine dining scene continues to grow, with several notable openings already on the books for 2018, from Dominique Crenn’s Parisian salon Bar Crenn to Avery’s tasting menu-only enclave on Fillmore, where caviar bumps are de rigeur. But, despite San Francisco’s reputation as a city for high rollers, the real money is in Silicon Valley, where tech barons are desperately seeking high end dining rooms for business dealings and personal gratification. The result of one such desire: Maum, a Korean tasting menu-only restaurant with 16 seats.
Located on a leafy, trendy stretch of University Avenue in Palo Alto, Maum has been as a low-key private dining venue for venture capitalist Brian Koo and his wife Grace for the past year. A member of a prominent South Korean family, Koo originally started this project, inspired by his wife, as a way to ensure himself and his friends a steady a stream of high quality Korean food, a cuisine he found wanting in the area. Maum, which means “from the heart” in Korean, was born after friends encouraged him to open it to the dining public.
Maum’s team is a highly pedigreed and talented bunch. Its chefs are married couple Michael and Meichih Kim. Both have extensive fine dining resumes: Michael has worked at Redd in Yountville, and at SPQR with Matt Accarrino. Meichih has spent time at Benu and Per Se and is currently driving the pastry program at Maum. The beverage team is comprised of master sommelier Rebecca Fineman and master sommelier candidate Chris Gaither (also a married couple, they’re planning a separate wine bar in SF’s Dogpatch neighborhood).
According to Michael Kim, the menu (below in full) is a modern interpretation of his memories of growing up as a kid in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, and on trips to Korea. “Maum is interpreting traditional Korean flavors,” Kim told Eater. “Keeping the integrity and seasonality and locality, I want to elevate that.”
“It was our investor’s vision to introduce traditional Korean food to Silicon Valley. He felt that was lacking in the Bay Area, so he wanted to do this as a passion project,” says Kim, who felt that dearth of quality Korean products when he made the move from Los Angeles to San Francisco years go. “I was in such shock, because you automatically go for comfort food first, and there just wasn’t much.”
That applies doubly to Korean fine dining. Three-Michelin-starred Benu from chef Corey Lee is the most ambitious and successful example in the area; Mosu, a one-Michelin-starred tasting menu restaurant closed last year when chef Sung Anh decided to return to Seoul.
Though based on those memories of traditional dishes, Maum will be a higher end version, offering a single 10-12 course tasting menu. “It’s very nostalgic food for me,” says Kim. “Traveling, growing up as a Korean-American — I want to tell that story.”
Another aspect that sets Maum apart from its fine dining peers: the only seating option is one long, communal table. Korean meals aren’t usually linear, says Kim. Many dishes are shared, a format that will be reflected in parts of the tasting menu alongside individually plated dishes.
As with most projects backed by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, the plans are grand, and the intimate restaurant in the heart of ritzy Palo Alto is only the tip of the iceberg. Charles Chen, a consultant who has worked on projects like opening Tartine Manufactory, is on board on to help build a brand that goes beyond food (though there is the possibility of a Korean barbecue restaurant Korean-themed izakaya on the horizon) to import beauty and other amenities from Korea and Japan. The Bay Area is filled with Asian ex-pats (or in Kim’s case, ex-Angelenos) who are missing many of Asias products and services, something Chen says investors aim to create for themselves in a Santana Row-style format; the former Apple store on University will likely serve as one of the group’s first retail ventures.
Starting July 12, ex-pats and fans of Korean cuisine can satisfy their cravings at Maum’s 16-person dining table; there’ll be two seatings on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; tickets for the menu (which will be priced around $150-180) will be available for purchase on June 12 via Tock.