Monzo is a Surprisingly Big Improvement Over Fat Spoon
I was a big fan of Fat Spoon when it opened on 1st St. Downtown. Their Italian style pastas with Japanese ingredients, like cod roe and seaweed, filled a nice void in the Little Tokyo lunch scene, and their curry offerings were more than solid. Seemed like it was perfectly situated to pull in the spillover from their perennially packed neighbor Daikokuya. And once you toss in the fact that it was opened by the owners of Lazy Ox and Sushi Roku you would seem to have a recipe for success. Or not. The place never took off, and during our DTLA noodle crawl last month we noticed that it was being replaced by a udon place called Monzo.
The interior has been left mostly untouched and unlike Tsurumaru, the new udon place in the Tokyo Shopping Center, it’s a bit more upscale. Nothing is under $5, and most bowls of udon range from $7 to $13. Also- there’s this:
Tsurumaru is fine for a cheap and quick udon lunch. But if you want the real deal, Monzo is where you’re going to want to be. The menu is divided into a few different sections.
There’s hot udon, where you can get just a standard bowl of kake udon for $6.95. Need something a little more hefty? They’ll top it with shrimp tempura ($11.95), beef ($11.95), duck ($12.95) or chicken tempura ($8.95). The broth is really excellent, and those noodles are fantastic.
There’s also a very tasty curry udon for those who miss the curry half of the Fat Spoon menu.
The cold udon section is a little smaller, but has everything you would expect. There’s a bukkake udon (shown above) which comes with grated daikon, green onion, bonito, and crispy tempura bits, as well as a standard cold udon, and a cold udon topped with a jidori poached egg.
Don’t see a combo that you like? You can order $1-2 pieces of tempura that range from typical (kakiage, fishcake, shrimp, chicken, and pumpkin)…
…to, “how could I not?” For $1.50 I’ll probably add this tempura soft boiled egg to whatever I order at this place.
But the surprising winner of the day was the baby octopus, which comes fried whole and skewered. It was surprisingly tender and super tasty. For $2 it’s an absolute steal, and has the added bonus of completely grossing out your more squeamish friends as you go to town on it.
The signature dishes part of the menu is a bit of splurge for Midtown Lunchers, but also turns out to be a throwback for us fans of Fat Spoon. There’s a super rich miso carbonara ($12.50), a pollock roe and squid udon ($12.95), and a seafood tomato cream udon ($12.95). I don’t know if it’s the amazing noodles, or the sauce itself, but the mentai squid butter udon will have you forgetting Fat Spoon’s cod roe pasta after the first bite. Totally worth the splurge. And if you want to get really crazy, go for the udon gratin which features a udon casserole of sorts, brought to the table in the all clad pan it was presumably baked in.
There is also a menu of little rice bowls that hover around $6, but only cost $3 to add on to an udon dish. The beef don features a delicious but fairly standard slices of sweet bulgogi like beef.
And they’ll also top the rice with shrimp tempura or kakiage (a shrimp and vegetable fritter.)
But the stand out bowl is the pork belly don, which comes topped with slightly charred, thinly sliced pieces of pork belly. It doesn’t look like much when they put it down, but the smokey fat from the meat ends up dripping into the rice, forcing you to want to finish every single grain.
And just as I left the salads at Fat Spoon to other bloggers, I think I will also leave this section of the menu to some other culinary Columbus.
All in all Monzo is, dare I say, terrific out of the gate. That didn’t work so well for Fat Spoon. Then again, Fat Spoon didn’t have hand made soba noodles. Or delicious tempura. Or rice bowls. Or soup. Or a pasta dish with roe and seaweed. Wait. Scratch that last one. Fat Spoon had that… but there’s wasn’t as good. If Monzo doesn’t work out, I think it’s safe to say this space might just be cursed.
Monzo, 329 E 1st St. 213-346-9762