The coronavirus crisis has claimed its first Michelin-starred permanent closure in the Bay Area. Even though sit-down dining has resumed in the area, Maum, Palo Alto’s two-year-old modern Korean fine-dining spot, won’t reopen — at least, not as a restaurant that’s open to the public.
Instead, starting sometime in early July, Meichih and Michael Kim, the restaurant’s husband-and wife chef team, will reopen Maum as a retail operation, selling pantry staples and prepared foods out of its downtown Palo Alto space. In the end, the Kims say they felt that the format of the restaurant — a three-hour-long, eight- to 10-course tasting menu, with guests seated at one large communal table — no longer made sense, given the realities of sit-down dining in this time of social distancing.
“Thinking about our dining format and the landscape of fine dining — sitting there for long, extended amounts of time next to strangers — it’s just uncomfortable for people, and they won’t have a good experience,” Meichi Kim tells Eater SF.
Here in the Bay Area, Maum was, by and large, the only restaurant of its kind. It was the region’s only explicitly Korean tasting menu spot, though places like the now-shuttered Mosu and Corey Lee’s Benu have featured some Korean elements. The $195 tasting menu included artful, fine-dining takes on dishes like soondae (blood sausage); the kind of roll cake you might find at any Asian bakery; and ddukgalbi, the traditional Korean short rib patty — made here with ground duck meat that gets shaped around a duck bone before it’s grilled. The restaurant also featured a little bit of a Lazy Bear-style supper club format: Before taking their seats at the restaurant’s long, communal table, diners were encouraged to mingle during the opening round of standing cocktails and hors d’oeuvres that began each meal.
The restaurant had been closed for the bulk of the coronavirus shutdown, though Michael Kim notes that it recently “dabbled in takeout for three or four weeks.” Even though those offerings were popular, a takeout-centered model wouldn’t have been sustainable for the restaurant, Kim says. When Maum reboots in early July, the chefs will instead produce Korean kitchen staples out of its kitchen, with an emphasis on seasonal pickles, various housemade kimchis, and other fermented items. They’ll also offer a farm box featuring produce from a small family farm in the Los Altos hills that the restaurant sources from exclusively. Everything will be sold on a pre-order basis, with customers ordering items to pick up via Tock, and no one will be allowed to come inside to shop.
In the future, the Kims say, there’s also the possibility that they’ll offer meal kits and other prepared food items. They’ve also discussed using the kitchen as a kind of incubator to feature the products of up-and-coming pastry chefs, they say.
Maum actually started as a private supper club, and the Kims didn’t rule out the possibility that they might eventually use the dining room for private events — and it’s possible, they say, that the sit-down, tasting menu incarnation of the restaurant might be reborn at some point, maybe a year or two down the road.
“I would hope someday that things would go back to normal and we can have a regular restaurant scene, as we did pre-COVID,” Michael says. “This has all been very emotional and scary, kind of like the rug has been pulled from under us.”
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Dear Friends of Maum, While restaurants in the Bay Area have been planning and some even beginning to re-open, we have taken a deeper look into our restaurant but also the community as a whole. As a result of this combined with the effects of the COVID pandemic, we have decided that Maum will not be returning as the communal dining concept it was pre-SIP. Although we are saddened by what feels like a premature ending to such a memorable place, we have grown excited about the changes to come. The restaurant will be dark for a few weeks as we prepare for a new beginning at Maum. We hope to continue what we started by bringing even more diverse culture and accessibility to the community. We will continue to feed by offering Maum pantry goods, like our pogi kimchi, ssamjang and farm boxes as well as meal kits and weekly specials from Chef Michael & Meichih Kim. In order to best represent the community, we will be hosting guest chefs in our pastry kitchen and offer a rotation of treats ranging from pastries, cakes and breads. This incubation program will not only allow these rising talents a space to create, but could also provide the community with one of the first tastes of something potentially undiscovered. To best extend the accessibility, we will also be launching an online platform in the Fall, with Maum pantry goods along with other curated kitchen and dining products from Korea, Japan and other parts of Asia. We hope to continue to be experience-driven and apply the same hospitality to this new concept, Maum Kitchen. When a normalcy to indoor dining can be established, we hope to provide the community with more memorable experiences once again. Until then, please stay tuned and we will post more about our upcoming offerings that will be available via Tock. Thank you to all of our guests who joined us at Maum. It was a magical couple of years but we hope to recreate it for you soon. See you in early July! Sincerely, Maum Restaurant [ : @jimsullivan_ ]