99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Marugame Monzo

photo by Anne Fishbein

Fatter than ramen, heartier than soba, udon is one of America’s least-fetishized Japanese noodles. But at Marugame Monzo, udon is the star of the show. Handmade by chefs in an open kitchen, it’s carefully cut and batched as diners happily slurp the finished product from a bar facing the action. More than 20 varieties are on offer. For a noodle joint, this is a sleeker, more upscale spot, and much of the menu is dedicated to itameshi, the Italian-Japanese fusion that’s currently all the rage in Japan. You could go for the udon carbonara, an insanely rich and smoky dish, which pays homage to the eggy delight of the Italian version but also obviously serves the emperor of Japanese cuisine: umami. You could make a pilgrimage to try the uni cream udon, which has already become a cult dish. But Monzo’s real value is in its traditional udon dishes: The noodles are just firm enough, the dashi is comforting and pure, and the grated daikon, scallion and wispy bonito add texture and allure. Don’t forget the Jidori egg.

-- Besha Rodell