Marugame Monzo – Handmade Udon Might Replace Your Ramen Obsession

9 Aug

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Since Tsujita came in and blasted LA’s ramen renaissance, new ramen places have come and gone with a yawn. It’s not going to be better than Tsujita, not even close, so who cares? But the opening of Marugame Monzo is something new — handmade udon as an elevated art form.

It is a shame that Fat Spoon, the failed curry restaurant from the group behind Lazy Ox, Aburiya Toronoko, and Sushi Roku, died last year. Fat Spoon was experimental in many ways. It took a dish that every diner in the area served, Japanese curry, and prepared it with care and premium ingredients. It pushed the price point for a meal north of $10, a risky move so near Suehiro’s ridiculously cheap (and not delicious) $4 lunch special.

It also brought Japanese fusion food done in a truly Japanese way to the area. Fusing different cultural elements into a dish has become commonplace in LA, from Wolfgang Puck doing Cal-Chinese to Roy Choi doing Korean-Mexican-Thai, but it is usually done from a distinctly American point of view. Fat Spoon brought a Japanese take on Italian to the older Japanese importation of curry.

MM continues on many of the themes Fat Spoon started (although to my knowledge, there is no connection to the old ownership). The dining room looks basically the same, a simple, modern, dimly-lit room that feels like a step up from the usual drab setting of most other restaurants in the area. There is the same attention to detail in fine ingredients, applying the kind of care to sourcing and preparation that we are used to in sushi to a food usually thought of as more picayune. And there are the cream sauces and a miso carbonara that are emblematic of this Japanese take on Italian cuisine.

And dinner comes with a show. The kitchen is glassed in to let you see the udon master making noodles. He spends a long time rolling and pounding out the dough and then using what looks like a paper cutter to spice the noodles into a perfect thickness. Take a seat at the bar to get a good look at the noodle making.

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We started with the beef tataki appetizer. Rare slices of what I’m guessing is flank steak topped with a sauce of pickled greens. The steak is OK, but the sauce is divine. It’s got some crunch and a delicate flavor. Just wonderful.

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Next up was the pork belly udon. Thick hunks of braised pork belly with a good thick layer of fat swimming in a clear, meaty broth. The broth is so great — a pure umami flavor without the rough funkiness you would expect from a ramen. This was closer to the pureness of a pho broth, but in an even more stripped down form.

The noodles were great, with just the right amount of chew. However, these noodles were definitely better than average store-bought noodles but I’m not sure they are of a magnitude better.

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Last was there uni cream udon. First off, let me say the dish is delicious. The sauce is thin, so it’s almost more like a cream soup than Alfredo sauce. There is a lot of uni here, so they are not skimping (and they shouldn’t considering the dish is about $15). But the flavor is not the deep marine flavor of uni you might be expecting — instead it is garlic and cream. The uni is there, just kind of in the background. I think I would have toned down the garlic to let the uni flavor shine.

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A close up of the uni.

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All in all, I was surprised how much I liked MM. The flavors were full and clean. The noodles were great. And it was the first time in a while I wasn’t thinking of Tsujita while eating a bowl of noodles.

MARUGAME MONZO
329 E. First St., Little Tokyo
(213) 346-9762
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5-10 p.m.

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2 Responses to “Marugame Monzo – Handmade Udon Might Replace Your Ramen Obsession”

  1. greenaftertherain October 11, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    Is this place the same as the Marugame Udon in Japan?

    • fooddouche October 14, 2013 at 4:34 am #

      Hmm . . . I haven’t heard that, but can’t say definitively.

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