Tag Archives: Maru Sushi & Korean Grill

Omaha’s Korean Connection

June 7, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Korean restaurants in Omaha have strong ties to the military community.

While many Offutt Air Force Base staffers developed penchants for Korean cuisine during Air Force deployments to South Korea, there are also many military spouses who relocated to Omaha from Korea. Some of these spouses have opened local restaurants.

The Korean Grill is a prime example. Its owner, Henim Stimson, used to operate a restaurant in Seoul. Her husband, Air Force veteran Scott Stimson, now helps her in the kitchen at 1408 Harlan Drive in Bellevue.

They often serve couples with similar U.S. military and Korean backgrounds.

While eating dinner recently at the Korean Grill, Cody Scott (an active-duty Air Force veteran) and his wife, Gi (who is originally from Tongyeong, South Korea), share their suggestions for finding authentic Korean food in the greater Omaha metro.

Cody grew up in Tennessee, and he studied Korean in California. The couple met after Cody relocated to Omaha. “We met at Maru Sushi and Korean Grill. Gi was working there as a waitress,” Cody says. They married in 2013 and reside in Bellevue.

The Scotts listed the Korean Grill as their favorite in Omaha. The restaurant’s lunch combo meals and to-go boxes attract a lot of military personnel and many Chinese students from nearby Bellevue University.

Suji’s offers a wide variety of dishes.

Eating Like a Korean

Korean meals are typically served with a variety of “banchan” (side dishes) in small portions. All banchan is communal. Featuring a wide range of seasonal vegetables, roots, tofu, or small seafood, banchan can be fermented, pickled, lightly seasoned, or braised in sauce. Kimchi, fermented napa cabbage, is the most common type of banchan.

While many associate Korean food with Korean barbecue—thinly sliced meat dishes (both marinated and unmarinated) and vegetables cooked on a built-in table grill or a portable grill—rice, noodles, soup, and stew remain staples of Korean cuisine.

One of the most iconic offerings in Korean cuisine, “budae-jjigae” (army stew), is a spicy soup with Spam meat, hot dogs (or other scraps of meat), tofu, instant noodles, mixed vegetables, and sometimes a piece of Kraft cheese.

The Scotts order budae-jjigae and several of their other favorites while speaking with Omaha Magazine. The stew comes in a huge portion, best suited for two to share.

“Army stew” is an invention of South Koreans after the Korean War. As food shortages persisted, locals scrambled up surplus processed meats from the U.S. military and cooked them in a spicy soup with kimchi. Its standard ingredient—Spam meat—is beloved in South Korea. During Lunar New Year, the pork product is often packaged in a fancy box and given away as a gift.

“Gimbap” (Korean sushi) is another of the Scotts’ favorites. Gi explains the dish is akin to Korean takeout food; they would eat it on the go or at picnics. Unlike its Japanese cousin, the rice in gimbap is not seasoned with vinegar but salt and sesame oil. It does not require dipping in soy sauce or wasabi. To prevent leftover gimbap from drying out overnight, Gi suggests leaving the sushi rolls on the counter instead of in the refrigerator.

“Japchae” (a sweet potato starch noodle stir-fry) is another beloved Korean dish. Although usually served as a side dish, japchae can also be a stand-alone dish eaten with rice.

Korean Restaurants Around Town

First-timers to Korean food should take a quick crash course at Korean Grill. You will find a selection of assorted dishes displayed in a food-warmer cabinet; the owner readily offers honest advice and a generous portion to guarantee a good dining experience.

Cody recommends ordering “galbitang”—a clear soup with beef short ribs—and “doenjang-jjigae”—a spicy (if made traditionally), fermented soybean paste stew. Korean Grill offers three other famous dishes—“sundae,” a Korean-style blood sausage; “kkori gomtang,” an oxtail soup; and “jokbal,” a steamed pig feet dish. Those items are “hidden from the menu,” so diners must order in advance for such delicacies.

Gi’s top three picks for Korean eateries are Korean Grill, Korea King, and Maru. Rather than ordering soup, her go-to dishes usually contain some seafood, such as octopus.

Korea King offers communal family-style Korean food. The chef there used to work at Maru. “Their ‘ojingeo-bokkeum’ [spicy stir-fried squid], ‘kkori gomtang’ [oxtail soup] and ‘chicken bulgogi’ [bulgogi is a grilled meat dish] are good,” Gi says. “Maru, on the other hand, serves personal-size dishes. I like their chicken bulgogi, ‘jjamppong’ [Korean spicy seafood noodle soup], and ‘jajangmyeon’ [Korean black bean sauce noodles].”

“Go to Korean Grill for soup; go to Korean House Restaurant for grilled meat,” Cody advises. Korean House Restaurant is located right outside of Offutt Air Force Base and is known for its great prices. Cody recommends its grilled beef. You can also find Korean street food “tteok-bokki” (spicy Korean rice cake stir-fry) there. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and between 5 and 8 p.m.

Suji’s Korean Grill has recently reinvented its entire menu and introduced Korean built-in table grills to the Aksarben area. Cody says he has not been to the restaurant since its updates, but he used to enjoy the “Chipotle-style” Korean food Suji’s offered.

The 2.0 version of Suji’s is booming with business. On any given weeknight, a steady stream of diners awaits to feast on its $35-per-person endless Korean barbecue, which begins with a platter of high-quality fresh meats, including rib-eye, chicken breast, pork belly, flank steak, pork jowl, and brisket; complemented with a steamed egg dish, banchan, and bowls of rice. A picture of the meal on social media will guarantee meat envy.

In Ralston, you will find authentic Korean food at Korea Garden. Its banchan is all house-made and tastes delicious. Although the Scotts had not tried Korea Garden at the time of our interview, I highly recommend an order of the “nakji bokkeum” (stir-fried baby octopus) at Korea Garden.

Local Korean Eats

Korean Grill
1408 Harlan Drive
Bellevue, NE 68005

Korean House Restaurant
2413 Lincoln Road
Bellevue, NE 68005

Korea King
4719 S. 96th St.
Omaha, NE 68127

Korea Garden Restaurant
5352 S. 72nd St.
Ralston, NE 6812

Maru Korean & Sushi Restaurant
5032 S. 108th St.
Omaha, NE 68137

Suji’s Korean Grill
1303 S. 72nd St., No. 101
Omaha, NE 68124

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

A selection of dishes from Suji’s.

Joy of Cooking

January 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Joyeon “Joy” Wang is an artist.

Her medium? Computers and fish. 

Wang, a trained graphic designer and sushi chef, operates Maru Sushi & Korean Grill with her mother, Boksoon Park.

Formerly Han Kuk Kwan Korean Restaurant, established in 2000, Maru expanded in 2010—both physically and in terms of culinary reach—by adding a third bay to the space and sushi to the menu.

Wielding her aesthetic skills, Wang created a beautiful space that belies its strip mall location just off 108th and L. Maru boasts high ceilings, stylish decor, and a long wine/sushi bar that presents a vibe that is simultaneously sleek and cozy.

“I added sushi to appeal to more people,” says Wang, clarifying that customers often first visit for sushi, then get curious about the Korean cuisine. “People love both. It’s a good balance.”

A new name heralded the revamped approach. Traditionally, “maru” is the table at the center of the Korean home where friends and family gather. On a recent visit, this meaning was perfectly personified by new customers being kindly welcomed to explore the diverse, delectable menu as it was by Park hosting longtime Korean friends for an afternoon of reminiscing and “the best homemade kimchi this side of the Pacific.”

As the sounds of Korean language and the kind of boisterous laughter that only blossoms from reconnecting with old friends periodically crescendo around her, Wang shares more about her family, restaurant, and other pursuits.        

The first and juiciest tidbit is that, in addition to her career, she owes her marriage to Maru.

“I met my husband Rudy here,” says Wang. “Well, his parents met me here first, then they told him, ‘We found your wife.’”

With such a confident pitch for the woman of his dreams, Rudy, whose family coincidentally owned O Dining & Lounge, couldn’t resist a visit. The parental instincts were prophetic, and the two married in 2005. At the time, Wang worked in the restaurant and as a graphic designer at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she’d earned a degree in studio arts with a concentration in graphic design.

The Wangs soon had two boys, now ages 6 and 8. The kids also love cooking and have even expressed interest in becoming chefs when they grow up. Certainly this affinity owes much to their grandmother, Park, who prepares all of Maru’s sauces and seasonings from scratch and says that, since her own childhood, home cooking has made her feel warmth and comfort—feelings she loves to share with others. 

“This restaurant and food allows me to tell my story,” says Park through Wang’s translation. “From starting in poverty back [in South Korea], to my first restaurant job working as a dishwasher, to now being able to share my passion in food with others.”   

Already proficient at Korean cooking thanks to her mother’s excellent example, Wang had no idea where to start when she decided to add a sushi bar to Maru, so she scouted a New York sushi chef who came to work for her and helped open the sushi bar.

“When he left, I was still a baby sushi chef and couldn’t handle it all, so I learned more,” says Wang, who dexterously extended her artistry from design to sushi, working intensively for months to further develop her skills.   

Wang says while she enjoys sushi preparation and all the creativity involved, the Korean side of Maru’s menu takes up the most space in her heart.

Understandable, as the cuisine absolutely delights the senses. Marinated Korean barbecue short ribs sizzle on a hot metal plate, exuding a savory, grilled aroma. Two varieties of kimchi, traditional cabbage and daikon radish, contribute crisp texture and masterfully developed flavor. The same scintillating sizzle comes from a lovely grill-hot granite bowl filled with beef bibimbap; a colorful feast for the eyes with its array of rice, meat, bright vegetables, and “banchan,” which are small sides accompanying the meal, like Park’s homemade kimchi, bean sprouts, potatoes, and lightly steamed broccoli finished with salt and sesame oil.   

“I love to introduce this food to people,” says Wang, echoing her mother. “People love comfort food, and this is Asian-style comfort food, but it’s not heavy.”

Standing behind the sushi bar constructing one of Maru’s gorgeously creative rolls, Wang suddenly asks if she mentioned she’s in nursing school—a demanding addition to any schedule, much less a chef’s.

“It sounds crazy, right? Somehow it all gets done,” she says.

Since childhood Wang dreamt of working in healthcare, but growing up in a “right-brained family” and watching her brothers pursue art led her in a different direction.

“Ever since I had my babies, I thought more and more about my old dream,” says the Clarkson College senior who plans to work only part-time in a hospital. “I still have the restaurant. My mom needs me. And I love this place. So I will do both.”

It makes sense that Wang, who found an artful connection between graphic design and sushi, also sees a bridgeable gap between nursing and cheffing.

“Being in the restaurant business, I take care of customers and anticipate their needs and what they’ll like,” says Wang. “Taking care of patients is very similar in that sense. Trying to see their perspective and provide what they need.”

Visit marusushikoreangrill.com to learn more.