Sunday, June 2, 2013

Marugame Monzo: Mindblowing Made to Order Uni Udon

I've never been a big udon fan - I prefer by far the much richer, pork-packed broth and sleeker noodles of tonkotsu ramen.

But I worship the ocean surfaces that uni 'walk' on, and when I heard that Marugame Monzo serves a sea urchin cream udon - I knew I had to check it out asap.

What I didn't realize (because whenever uni is mentioned, a tidal wave of happiness washes over me and all I basically end up hearing is..."blah, blah, blah...UNI...yada yada...") was that the udon is actually handcrafted, made to order.
On a random weeknight, in celebration of Gourmetpigs ace-ing her PhD defense (congrats!) - I met up with the newly minted Dr Pigs and Wanderingchopstick in the latest hotspot to hit Little Tokyo.

A cozy place with just a handful of tables, just down the row from Daikokuya, Marugame Monzo also offers counter seating in full view of the open kitchen, where you can watch the master chef at work painstakingly pulling those beautiful udon noodles together for each order.
So, the noodles are obviously The Big Deal here, but they have a pretty good selection of other small plates as well - one that caught my eye was the Scallop Carpaccio - amazingly fresh, plump, supple scallops topped with tobiko roe, chopped green onion and a creamy sauce, all set on top of slices of momotaro tomatoes.  Delicious - and something I would definitely order again on my next visit.
Because anticipation makes the payoff even better, I made myself wait for the uni udon and check out another unusual sounding bowl: Mentai Squid Butter udon ($12.95).
This ended up being a lightly sauced udon noodle dish with addictively tasty tiny briny orbs of squid roe and super tender slices of squid dressing up fresh made udon noodles.  The difference in texture and taste of these noodles is like the undeniable difference between fresh made and 'shelf-stable' pasta - once you go fresh it's hard to ever go back. Count me an udon fan now - of the Marugame Monzo kind anyway!
Then at last, the main attraction: Sea Urchin Cream Udon ($15.95). Let's just first state that as three massive uni fans, we initially ordered 2 bowls to share (as we saw that the bowls were giant, and we'd already also had 2 more dishes) - but after a few bites of this eyes-rolled-back-foodgasmic uni udon I immediately had to order a third. 

The third bowl was even better - not sure if it was because it was just before closing time,  we managed to slide the order in for last call, and presumably they were generous with depleting their day's supply since it doesn't keep well - but this last bowl had several times the intensity of uni than the other two. It blazed a deeper brilliant orange, visibly crowned with larger pieces of the beloved creature of the sea. We died several times over and questioned whether we cared enough about social decorum not to lick the bowls clean.

Though any self respecting food lover MUST NOT LEAVE without getting the uni udon, they do also have other interesting fusion varieties from Miso Carbonara to Porcini to Vongole - will have to try these next time I'm back, if I can bear to take up any amount of precious stomach space for anything other than that insane proof of divine design that is the Sea Urchin Cream Udon.

Update: 6/8/13: went back for lunch & uni udon is not on that menu, but you can still order it. Though, the one I had at lunch was decorated by a shiso leaf, the sauce was watery, uni kind of dry, and generally not as good as what we had at dinner. Also got a side of tempura shrimp ($2) which was pretty flavorless - with limp shrimp that didn't taste very fresh, so would not recommend that side. Was nice walking off lunch at the ever entertaining Japanese Village Plaza though - but guess I will stick to dinner when it comes to uni udon!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience -  5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Marugame Monzo
329 E 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

Parking: Open air lot next to Spice Table $7 flat rate at dinnertime. $5 flat rate lot all day Sat & Sun at Joe's Auto Park 320 E 2nd St (between San Pedro & Central, entrance just past Pinkberry)

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