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Marugame Monzo: A Pictorial Essay

J.L. Jul 15, 2013 04:08 AM

With all the furor over the recent ramen wars in the L.A. dining scene, it was refreshing to see an udon specialist make an entry. Marugame Monzo occupies an auspicious location, right next to Daikokuya in Little Tokyo.

I ordered the shisyamo tempura with curry powder appetizer, the Champon Udon, with a mini-beef don. My tempura sides included soft-boiled egg, kakiage, eggplant, baby octopus, squid, fishcake & shiso.

Verdict: The house-made udon is definitely good. It's got "bite", and super-satisfying for either slurping or chomping. The shisyamo tempura is fantastic. The only issue I had was that just about everything else was so sweet, from the champon soup, to the beef bowl, to the tempura batter (for my sides). I understand that a touch of sweetness is acceptable in Japanese cuisine. But I have to admit, the sweetness level here was a bit distracting. It's definitely not a major issue, but I felt I should bring it up.

On a very bright note, the other aspects of the my meal were great. My soft-boiled tempura egg was delicious: Runny yolk, perfectly prepared. Service is attentive and prompt.

To skirt the sweetness issue next time, perhaps I will order a different broth. And this being summer, I might order one of the cold udon preparations.

The quality of the freshly made udon here, as well as the shisyamo tempura appetizer, make Marugame Monzo worthy of a Chow-visit.


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

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    Ogawak RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2013 06:50 AM

    Thanks for the report. I recently took in Marugame Monzo. I greatly enjoyed watching them hand make the udon noodles. I had the uni cream, rather unusual for udon, but it really worked. And good for a hot day. I also enjoyed the tempura as well. I didn't get dipping sauce with it; I should have asked, but decided to try the tempura without. I'll be back.

    1. ipsedixit RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2013 06:57 AM

      Glad you enjoyed it (aside from the sweetness issue), since I've been pimping this place since it opened, including the tempura.

      Great pics as always.

      13 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit
        blimpbinge RE: ipsedixit Jul 15, 2013 09:32 AM

        I actually had this place on my to-try list because of your posts, then i saw some friends checking in and decided to go two weeks ago.

        I found it interesting that daikokuya had maybe 40-50 people waiting, while this place had 8-9, half of which was spillover. After eating here, i'm surprised that there isn't a larger crowd. (daikokuya, esp for the tsujita-level crowd they're pulling, is overrated imo.)

        Ordered the beef tataki appetizer, tempura soft boiled eggs, carbonara, uni, and mentai squid butter. We didn't order any soup udon because it's much easier to find, wanted to try something new. The italian-japanese fusion style udon was very good. I especially liked the uni and mentai ones, both had pretty intense creamy seafood flavor. I thought the carbonara was ok, a bit generic tasting. The eggs were good, but i'm not sure that tempura frying them did anything tbh.

        The portions are deceiving, upon initial glace, I thought my group may need to order another appetizer or 1 more udon. However, we ended up being absolutely stuffed, almost unable to finish everything.

        Anyways, i'll be back, and there will definitely be longer waits as time passes.

        thanks for the rec ips

        1. re: blimpbinge
          ipsedixit RE: blimpbinge Jul 15, 2013 11:30 AM

          Cool, glad you tried and enjoyed it.

          Yeah, given how rich everything is, the food tends to fill you up pretty quickly despite its (seemingly) small size.

          Re: the tempura egg. It reminds me a bit of Scotch Eggs in that, in theory, it should be like totally rad (cuz, who doesn't think deep-fried eggs would be a win-win, right?) but in practice and execution, something just doesn't exactly connect. No synergy.

          I hope the place makes it.

          1. re: blimpbinge
            kevin RE: blimpbinge Jul 15, 2013 11:47 AM

            is the udon a seafood broth ?

            1. re: kevin
              Ogawak RE: kevin Jul 15, 2013 12:00 PM

              There are a wide variety of broths and cold sauce toppings. I had the uni creme, which was like a white sauce over pasta.

              1. re: kevin
                blimpbinge RE: kevin Jul 15, 2013 12:16 PM

                the one(s) i had were more of a creme sauce

                I didn't dig into the broth section since I was set on the uni. will update after the next trip

                1. re: blimpbinge
                  kevin RE: blimpbinge Jul 15, 2013 12:29 PM


                2. re: kevin
                  ipsedixit RE: kevin Jul 15, 2013 02:20 PM

                  For the things like the shrimp tempura udon or the wakame seeweed udon, it is a fish stock broth.

                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    kevin RE: ipsedixit Jul 15, 2013 04:48 PM

                    Dope, thanks.

                    This would be great followed by some truffles and baked cheese cake at frances.

                    1. re: kevin
                      J.L. RE: kevin Jul 15, 2013 05:56 PM

                      I like Frances' souffle cheesecake way better. But yes, since Monzo has no dessert, after my udon I'm off to either Frances for my slice 'o confectionary goodness or to Dulce Cafe for my bacon donut hole...

                      1. re: J.L.
                        ipsedixit RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2013 06:27 PM

                        I think I'd opt for mochi at Fugetsu-Do, personally.

                        1. re: ipsedixit
                          J.L. RE: ipsedixit Jul 15, 2013 07:23 PM

                          Someone brings that to the office all the time already... :-)

                          1. re: J.L.
                            ipsedixit RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2013 07:29 PM

                            You guys have openings?

                            I know how, um, to change the toner on the printers ...

                            1. re: ipsedixit
                              J.L. RE: ipsedixit Jul 15, 2013 08:18 PM

                              There is no possible way I can afford to have you on payroll, ipse.

                              Although this realization now sheds a bit of light on why everyone in the office has high triglycerides... :-)

            2. i
              ilysla RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2013 07:37 AM

              The tempura egg looks AMAZING....

              1. x
                Xan7hos RE: J.L. Jul 15, 2013 10:19 PM

                This is one of the few restaurants I would go again and again. I'm a huge fan of their western style dishes, particularly their carbonara. Add a side of shrimp tempura and its magical.

                I'm not a fan of their curry udon however, the mouthfeel is almost slimy and the flavor is somewhat thin and reminds me of just instant Vermont Curry added to the broth.

                Their dinner menu has a wider variety, I'm definitely looking forward to trying the uni udon.

                Food aside I love the ambiance and open kitchen, watching them make udon is mesmerizing and very fun. I'm also a sucker for any place that plays jazz as background music.

                1. Tripeler RE: J.L. Jul 21, 2013 07:28 PM

                  Marugame is a little town in Japan in an area that is famous for having the country's best udon.

                  1. ipsedixit RE: J.L. Sep 16, 2013 08:09 PM

                    Well, it's about time the dude made it there.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit
                      blimpbinge RE: ipsedixit Sep 16, 2013 08:42 PM

                      oh good, 2 hour lines!

                      1. re: blimpbinge
                        PeterCC RE: blimpbinge Sep 16, 2013 08:43 PM

                        Maybe it'll take the heat off Chengdu Taste.

                        1. re: blimpbinge
                          A5 KOBE RE: blimpbinge Sep 16, 2013 09:13 PM

                          well that sucks

                          1. re: A5 KOBE
                            PeterCC RE: A5 KOBE Sep 16, 2013 09:48 PM

                            I think blimp is just speculating at this point.

                            1. re: PeterCC
                              A5 KOBE RE: PeterCC Sep 17, 2013 11:09 AM

                              If you post it, they will come. Small lines were already forming before this article, it was a matter of time before its cover was blown.

                              It is my favorite spot in JTown.

                      2. Porthos RE: J.L. Oct 9, 2013 10:38 AM

                        Any updates on the wait these days? Also which preps are less affected by the sweetness JL is talking about?

                        Thinking about going Sunday around 530-6pm in a couple of weeks. Judging by the explosion of yelp photos, I'm guessing it's pretty insane these days.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Porthos
                          revets2 RE: Porthos Oct 9, 2013 01:46 PM

                          We went a couple of weeks ago. Loved sitting at the bar to see all the action.

                          Ordered too much food:
                          - hokkaido scallop sashimi
                          - deep fried smelts (great!)
                          - tempura (shrimp, pumpkin, usual suspects, serviceable)
                          - cold plum shiso bukkake w/ kakiage(a must), baby octopus
                          - uni udon (missing dimension, a miss for me) w/ egg

                          The cold plum bukkake and fried smelts were definitely the standouts. The cream based stuff not my fave.

                          We went on Tuesday night and waited 10 min. for two. Fun crowd. Starry Kitchen's Nguyan & Thi, Greek saffron importer to our left, Brazilian foodies fluent in Japanese to our right.

                          1. re: revets2
                            Porthos RE: revets2 Oct 9, 2013 02:55 PM

                            Yeah, not thrilled about the cream based ones. Like everyone else, figured uni would be best of the lot.

                            Smelt sounds good as does the fried octopus. Maybe the vongole and a traditional tempura one an supplement with tempura items.

                            Thanks for the update.

                          2. re: Porthos
                            chowseeker1999 RE: Porthos Oct 10, 2013 07:36 AM

                            Not that it matters much these days (weather), but did they actually finally get a working Air Conditioner? lol :< it was awful every time i went in the summer. the final time we went the visit didn't agree with me and i suspect their sweltering conditions inside didn't exactly help the matter.

                            1. re: chowseeker1999
                              J.L. RE: chowseeker1999 Oct 10, 2013 07:40 AM

                              Sweating it out over a bowl of noodles is very Asian. :-)

                              1. re: J.L.
                                ipsedixit RE: J.L. Oct 10, 2013 10:31 AM

                                Gives the broth that extra kick of umami.

                          3. Porthos RE: J.L. Dec 11, 2013 10:20 PM

                            Finally made it there tonight.

                            Got the kushiage assortment, tempura baby octopus, tempura soft egg, the scallop carpaccio, fried smelt with curry powder, uni cream udon, kakuni udon.

                            I liked the kakuni udon better and my dining companion liked the uni cream more. Fried smelt was delicious.

                            Picture of them cutting the udon with a hinged blade. Very cool.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Porthos
                              ipsedixit RE: Porthos Dec 12, 2013 10:25 AM

                              Thanks for the reminder. I need to go back.

                              1. re: Porthos
                                kevin RE: Porthos Dec 12, 2013 03:12 PM

                                i have yet to try it.

                                They hae a tempura bar here ????

                              2. mrgreenbeenz RE: J.L. Dec 12, 2013 02:33 PM

                                Great pics. Love this place and think they have excellent udon but just wanted to chime in about the shishamo tempura. Absolutely awful. I grill these a lot at home and the ones served here were off and of extremely poor quality. FYI, they are always frozen so it's not a fresh vs. frozen issue. Also the beef tataki was just pulled out of a fridge pre-plated. The rare beef picked up some 'additional flavor' with this method of serving.

                                Not trying to be a hater but I'd advise folks to stick with the main event when coming here.

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