A cafeteria-style udon and self-serve tempura spot opens today at the Beverly Center, bringing a unique take on a traditional Japanese staple. Step inside the world of Marugame Udon, where workers great you in Japanese before beckoning you over to a long counter of segmented mini food stations. Immediately you”ll hear and smell the intoxicating tempura oil sizzling in the background. This is a place that engages the senses.
To begin your journey, grab a tray and a tempura plate. Step to the noodle counter and select an udon bowl, then watch your order be prepared right before you eyes. Udon is offered in soup or dry, either cold or hot. Toppings and soups include curry, Thai spicy chicken, beef, Tonkotsu and more. One of the menu items is something called bukkake udon, which has no relation to the other bukkake you may be thinking of, but is actually a simple order of Japanese cold noodles with broth. I didn’t order it.
Other offerings include the Kama-Age udon, where the noodle is cooked in between and served in a wooden flat bottom bowl. Each bowl of udon is prepared to order; one person will boil the noodle and swirl it into a bowl, another will add the finishing touches like broth, toppings and garnish.
Once your udon is placed on your try, make your way to the tempura station to complete the meal. All tempura is served a la carte and priced individually. Try to keep your composure as you select these crispy temptations or you might end up with a mountain of fried vegetables and shrimp. When I was there the tempura bar was stocked with shrimp, chicken, sweet potato, zucchini and squid. If udon and tempura are not enough, at the end of the counter are freshly made inari and triangular musubi stuffed with a variety of flavors that include crab, salmon and tuna.
When you’ve reached the end of the counter it’s time to pay. Udon bowls will run you between about $5 to $9 depending on size and style, and the tempura sides are between $1 to $2 each. Once you’ve settle your bill, now it’s time for additional flavor customizations.
Take your tray to a free standing condiments station and top your bowl off with crushed garlic, green onion, cilantro and shichi-mi tōgarashi a Japanese seasoning made up of coarsely ground chili peppers, seaweed, sesame seeds and more. You’ll also find a hot water dispenserat the station, which is filled with piping hot tempura dipping sauce. They’ve thought of everything here.
I must admit there’s something seductive about the act of tailoring your meal exactly to your specifications. I’m the type of eater who is always looking to tweak and enhance. Extra lettuce; sauce on the side; sandwich cut in half. These are the hallmarks of every order I’ve ever made. For people like me, it’s easy to see why Marugame Udon was a hit when they first opened on Sawtelle. With this second location they’ve only enhanced their reputation for the power of choice.
Marugame Udon is located at 8500 Beverly Blvd. suite 105 Los Angeles, CA 90048