Late landing Maru Korean Restaurant has built up itself in a calm shopping complex on Golf Road only west of Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights where it’s housed in a space already involved by Chinese diner Shandong Garden.
Gaining practical experience in bona fide Korean food, Maru has somewhere in the range of three months added to its repertoire, however a fabulous opening standard still dangles from its outside declaring its nearness.
For diners just getting acquainted with Korean cuisine, the waitstaff is happy to make suggestions about unfamiliar dishes and answer questions about the menu. Our waiter assured us that the level of heat packed in some of Maru’s dishes could easily be adjusted to match a diner’s comfort level.
To start, the bar stocks a selection of wines, sakes and spirits, and our waiter also pointed us to Cass, a refreshing South Korean beer that paired well with our food.
Conversation-friendly Maru offers seating mainly at tables and chairs, although there are a few booths lining the wall.
Because of Maru’s newcomer status, I was willing to give it some leeway. But, on our recent visit, it was disappointing to discover that bibimbap, a signature Korean dish and one of Maru’s most popular, was unavailable.
However, the kitchen fully redeemed itself with its homemade fried dumplings known as goon mando ($7.95). Seven large, crescent-shaped vegetable- and chicken-filled dumplings were accompanied by a soy sauce for dipping. Definitely a keeper and one suitable for sharing. On my next visit, I intend to branch out and try jiim mandu, a steamed version of this starter.
Dinner continued on a high note with bulgogi, a classic dish that featured grilled marinated beef prepared with onions and carrots and served with white rice and hot sauce on the side as requested. The stir fry-like dish also is available with spicy pork or chicken.
The question of the day for me was how Maru’s bulgogi measured up to a similar version prepared by family members and enjoyed less than a week earlier on a mini holiday in Oregon. Diplomatically, let’s call it a tie.
A fellow diner enjoyed his seafood soon tofu: a somewhat zippy stew made in a tomato-like broth with soft tofu, white fish, clams, crab and shrimp.
Rounding out the main course was banchan, or “side dishes,” which consisted of a half-dozen small bowls of vegetables including kimchi (fermented cabbage), cucumber, white radish, seaweed, potato and lotus root — each with its own distinctive seasonings.
Another menu item regularly praised by patrons is Maru’s sam-gye-tang soup that comes with a whole Cornish hen, ginseng, garlic and rice.
Reservations are accepted, as are takeout orders. And it’s a good idea to call ahead, since the kitchen shuts down between normal lunch and dinner hours.