I've been heading to Maki ever since I was a little kid. I have very fond memories of the incredibly nom-nom Japanese food and the attentive service my family received there. This summer I had a chance to be in the Bay Area again and was so excited to hit up one of my family's old haunts. However, I am almost 100% certain that the ownership changed and the chef and waitresses that I was familiar with are now gone.
In this most recent California trip, I've visited Maki upwards of five times...you can say that I'm obsessed. It also helps that my boyfriend lives quite close by to Japantown. You could say that he aids my addiction to Maki and he's probably the worst enabler I've ever met. =P Each time I've dined there, I have had an incredibly varied experience, both in terms of the service and the food. To start things off, Maki is a very, very small hole in the wall restaurant with very, very limited seating space. The interior of Maki has both bar and indoor seating that can probably seat about 18 patrons at once. While "outside" the restaurant in the main mall, they have "extra" table seating that can seat an additional 12.
In the past, I always remembered that there was always a line out the door. Now, more often than not, my sister and I have been able to walk in without any reservations and get seated immediately. It's a well known fact that at Maki, the food often takes a long time to get to your table because of the small kitchen. However, the "hangry" vibes were always alleviated by the attentiveness of the waiters and waitresses. Unfortunately, more often than not I've had lackluster service. One of the more negative experiences that I've had there was when I asked for my water to be refilled. Even though the restaurant wasn't busy or full to capacity the waitresses seemingly ignored my requests and were quite rude. Even though I had asked for water, multiple times, in the middle of our meal, by the time we had finished we still hadn't gotten our refills. I believe the third of fourth time I had asked the response I got from the waitress was "We're really busy here." There were a total of two women "waitressing" and they really didn't divide the tables very well at all.
As for the decor, Maki is really simple and clean. You can the entire restaurant in the photo above...even 1/3 of the outdoor seating. Maki is one of those restaurants where "what you see, is what you get." Lots of bright colors, including celery green and clay red, accented by lots of neutral browns and beiges. You'll also see my beautiful sister and boyfriend making an appearance in the photo above. =)
Now, onto the meal!
Maki is probably most well known for its dinner and lunch "sets", which are beautifully assembled and provide a lovely variety of Japanese treats to entice the eyes and galvanize the appetite.
|Unagi Wappa Meshi|
|Gyu Wappa Meshi|
|HIjiki, pickled vegetables, and Hiyayakko|
However the highlight of all the little side dishes, for me at least, is the miso soup. It's not one of those cookie cutter miso soups, with tofu, seaweed, and green onions floating on top, but instead it's made with a sweeter, less salty white miso. Included are potatoes, carrots, and daikon. Very, very sweet and delicious and strangely savory. I feel like I can always drink bowls and bowls of this soup. It's very addictive! The unfortunate part is that it only comes with the rice based set meals and if you want to order one on the side it's $3.00.
The soups the noodles are in tend to be clear, I'm guessing a light hondashi broth, with the predominant flavor being the marinated beef slices floating around inside. The flavor of the beef is actually the same as the beef slices in the Gyu Wappa Meshi, toned down with the hondashi broth. The green onions, always a favourite of mine, add little bursts of freshness to a rather simplistic, one dimensional broth. Even though the noodle dish tends to be one of those "one note" entrees, I always finish the bowl and if not that the noodles...they're really delicious, not powdery and have the perfect resistance.
For the special imported Inaniwa Udon, I've tried it in soba form and I really enjoyed it. The texture was wonderfully chewy and the flavor was light and wheat-y. The only difference between regular udon and the inaniwa udon is the thickness. The inaniwa udon is very thin and willowy....perhaps they were udon that just lost a lot of weight. Hahaha. Were the noodles worth the higher price? I don't think so. I feel like the udon and the soba are just as delicious and well executed. However, if you want to try something new...go for it! That's the reason why I ordered. =)
Overall, I would have to say that there are many things that deter me from Maki, but there are an equal number of things that make me want to come back. The service, the price, the slowness of the kitchen are rather significant cons, but the food and location are definitely large pros for me. Aggregating other reviews I know that the price and the flavor, the sweet lean of all the dishes, deter people from returning. I know the predominant flavor in all the dishes is sweet, but I don't find it too obtuse or cloyingly sweet. I find that I enjoy the savory sweetness each dish offers. The menu is only the length of a printer page (double sided), so I feel like if you go as many times as I have, a lot of dishes have overlap or use the same ingredients. I would return, but since I went so often this summer, I would probably go after a lengthy break.
Price: $$$$ out of $$$$$
Kid Friendly: Yes! It's cramped though, so I'm not sure if there would be room for high chairs or anything.