What a Catch – Blue Marlin Japanese Bistro

blue marlin uni spaghetti

Blue Marlin Japanese Bistro
2121 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310.445.2522

I’ve been frequenting the little plaza-with-no-name on Sawtelle for years, and it’s always the same few restaurants that I haunt. Hurry Curry for curry (duh). Little Hong Kong Cafe for cheap Chinese. Place Yuu for quieter, slower Japanese. I’ve stopped in a few times at Manpuku – Tokyo BBQ, once or twice at Kinchans Ramen (but no longer, after trying Asahi Ramen just up the street), and Volcano Tea of late for after dinner shaved ice. I’ve even been on a “date” at the slightly upscale 2117. Bad date, but great restaurant. So pretty much, I’ve tried almost every eating place in that plaza. Except one.

After all these years, I finally made it to Blue Marlin, a Japanese Bistro.

blue marlin's sign
a modest blue marlin sign

Blue Marlin has been around for a long time and though I’ve always seen it walking back and forth across the sidewalk out front, it never really occurred to me to try it. The restaurant is tucked inconspicuously in the center of the plaza, has a fairly subtle sign (compared to the other stores), and doesn’t get a huge amount of hype. The easel out front doesn’t scream daily specials; it just stands there quietly off to the side, highlighting a few menu items. In its Japanese modesty, Blue Marlin hides behind tall slats that are barely askew, so there’s not even the enticement of a crowded dining room full of happy patrons inside visible to passers by on the outside. The slats have pictures mounted to them, food that is pretty much like else on the strip: chicken or tonkatsu, curry, pasta and rice. But though the shots are little darker, sexier, and a bit more artistic, I’ve never been taunted into even poking my head inside to see what it was about. It’s just plain, modest, quiet and just like everything else. I guess you might say that from the outside, I thought Blue Marlin was boring.

From the outside, I thought it would be dark and subdued, but the inside is nothing like I had imagined. It’s dark inside, yes, but the slats in the window are turned in such a way that at lunch time, sunlight from outside still filters through and brightens the tables in the front. The place is colorful, completely piainted over, walls and ceiling, like a cartoon underwater seascape. Perhaps it could be obnoxious, like that horribly colorful decor in many of Wolfgang’s restaurants, but somehow it’s not. Enormous marlins and sailfish sculptures (maybe they’re the real thing, I am not sure) hang high on the walls. But not to the ceiling, which is open through the piping and ductwork that is also painted over in ocean blue. The decor kinda knocked me over when we walked in. But in a playful way.

blue marlin's sign
blue marlin’s arnie palmer

Though the decor is loud, the airwaves are not, even with a brimming dining room at lunchtime. The clientele is almost all Asian, and I suspect a large percentage of that is Japanese. The servers look like they stepped off the CD cover of a rebel teenage Japanese pop rock band – guys with long hair, some of it highlighted, earrings, and that bored Japanese rockstar look on their faces. But they have zero attitude, and in fact, that bored look turns into a somewhat dorky smile when they greet us and direct to us a just-opened table in the front. They look like they’d be slow and depressing, but though the servers are quiet, they are fast and attentive. We get hot tea and an Arnie Palmer right away.

The tables and chairs are heavy wood, which makes it feel like Blue Marlin has definitely been planted here for a long time. The menus are covered with thick leather embossed with the restaurant name. The menus feel permanent, which could be bad, since that means it’s probably been the same things for many a year now. I like to think of it as comforting – they haven’t had to change their menu. Besides, no fuzzy digicam home color printout menu pages in greasy vinyl covers that need a serious reckoning with 409.

dessert chalkboard
high tech dessert menu
uni's side salad
beautiful wooden bowl for a side salad

The menu has a lot of things on it; and as if salads, curry and rice, noodles, and other hot or cold dishes weren’t enough, there are specials on a white board, and desserts on the chalkboard. I looked around and it looked like a lot of people were eating different varieties of curry, served in a low-sided copper pan on a wooden plate. All of the tables had little wooden boxes, too, but these had self-service utensils. They keep it very efficient at Blue Marlin.

But I didn’t feel like curry, even though that seems the popular item. I opted instead for the eggplant and walnut salad. I mean come on, how does one pass up eggplant? One doesn’t, so that’s what I ordered. Besides, I’d slip straight into a food coma after curry, and this was a weekday lunch. Some of us have day jobs; and I suppose technically, I have to work.

blue marlin's sign
eggplant/walnut salad with a nori afro

The eggplant salad was enormous, but I couldn’t see everything at first, since it was all buried under a giant wispy waving pile of julienned nori and bonito flakes. I had to put most of it on a small bread plate (though bread didn’t cme out until after the entrees came to the table!), lest I knock the tangly mess onto the table. The eggplant was chilled after cooking in a sticky sauce that was a touch too sweet. I couldn’t find the walnuts at first, but they were there, just very small pieces mixed in with the eggplant, not the greens. The greens had a slightly tart, but mostly sweet dressing, but not too much, since the sweetness of the eggplant/walnut was enough. The salad w
as okay, but when I go back (because I am going back) I will definitely try something else.

The Japanese have this weird thing with Italian food, as if you couldn’t figure that out from Masahiko Kobe, Iron Chef Italian. Many modern Japanese menus have Italian influences, from curry houses serving curry over spaghetti noodles to putting cheese in ramen and udon. Some day I will try to figure out the whole development of this phenomenon, but at Blue Marlin, it’s enough to say that the influence was right there in all it’s fishy glory with Uni Spaghetti.

The Uni Spaghetti is how I got to Blue Marlin in the first place. It was a co-worker who told me that he likes the restaurant for its uni spaghetti. I couldn’t believe someone could come up with such an interesting and somewhat repulsive-sounding combination, and what’s more I couldn’t believe that my coworker says it’s good. As if uni spaghetti just wasn’t enough, he ordered from the list of specials, double uni spaghetti. He had to ask the server what double means. That doesn’t mean double the spaghetti; it means two scoops of uni. *ew* The server said “scoop,” like an ice cream scoop. Or “two scoops” in Raisin Bran. It made me chuckle (chuckle on the inside, though – I didn’t want to offend) Double the amount of uni. *yikes* I like uni sometimes, but I have to really work myself up to get into it. I mean we all know what uni is, right? Right, and I don’t eat organs.

A very artistic deep, wide mouthed wooden bowl came to the table, and down at the very bottom was what looked like a tiny portion of spaghetti, but it’s an illusion. The spaghetti was a faint brown, lightly coated with a sauce. Piled on top, just like the eggplant in my salad, was the uni with an afro of nori. The uni wasn’t pretty – I am guessing they use the broken leftover pieces of uni that are just as good quality, but not suitable for sushi presentation. Squished and mixed up like that, it looked almost better than the uni that looks like mustard colored cat tongues on sushi.

So, I tasted it. It was weird. I can’t describe the flavor other than it certainly tasted like uni and spaghetti. I am still training my tongue to uni sushi. I’m not ready for spaghetti with two scoops of uni.

Even though my tongue didn’t trip all over itself with either of the dishes we had for lunch, for some reason I think I will go back to Blue Marlin. Maybe it’s the decor. Maybe it’s the entire page of their menu that’s dedicated to Jidori chicken. Maybe it’s the uber cute super round handwriting on the chalkboard. Maybe I’m just curious about “cheese hamburg steak” and “cream brulee.”

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  • MikeyMike

    I had the risotto here the one time I went….it was good. Would definitely go back again, but forgot about the restaurant. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Xericx

    One of my favorite restaurants. The Uni Spaghetti is interesting, but I like the Rissoto with the Sea Bass atop it much better. Also, their CHicken Parmesan dish with Rice is quite good as well.

    Also, the fried chicken lunch special is awesome with the little ginger dipping sauce they have with it. Sooo good and under 7 bucks!

  • Anonymous

    I’m also a fan of the Uni risotto. The BBQ eel spaghetti is good too, though I find the sauce to be strongly flavored, but that might just be a personal thing.

  • Xericx

    Oh yeah, Hamburg steak is basically meatloaf or hamburger served with rice, pretty ubiquitous in Japan. Not sure if many places call it that here, but usually with a gravy on top.

  • sarah

    omg – and an AG to that UNI and UNAGI is something i can definitely do, day or night! uni risotto could quite possible turn me off forever. i am so so about the uni, but i do not like rice at all. go figger – lol!

    and xericx – why does that just so very badly remind me of salisbury steak from my second grade cafeteria?!?!?

  • elmomonster

    This place sounds like the L.A. equivalent of my favorite restaurant in O.C., “Cafe Hiro”. They also serve uni spaghetti, jidori chicken, even uni risotto.

    http://elmomonster.blogspot.com/2005/03/cafe-hiro-cypress-again.html

  • Xericx

    Wow…Cafe Hiro looks great! I’ll try to check it out if I figure out where Cypress is. :)

  • sarah

    cypress is like the northernmost part of orange county, just south of cerritos, smack dab in the middle of the 91, 605, 5 and the 405. :)

    that’s quite a drive – lol! (hey elmo, i’m not bashing oc, my parents live in fullerton ;) )

  • Mel CH

    It sounds very very interesting…but the picture doesn’t make it look too bad. Will have to give this one a try sometime.

  • Anonymous

    I have no idea why the previous positive comments for Blue Marlin are coming from. I used to go there sometimes, however, I don’t want to go Blue Marlin any more due to the meals’ miserable taste and the manager’s inconceivable attitude and behavior toward me(customer) very often.

    The manager who also is a chef made a Tofu salad, pouring a tremendous amount of dressing and it was not tasty at all as a result. On another occasion, the Salmon vegetable spagetti was too heavy soy sauce taste and I could not eat them all.
    The unbelievable taste were only against me, I wondered seriously! Otherwise, the customer who like the taste of Blue Marlin obviously have no sense of taste. I am sorry to say this comment, however, this is the truth so that I never want to go Blue Marlin.

  • copykat

    i’ve sampled a bunch of the blue marlin menu, and imo, the jidori chicken is the star of the show. it’s a nice sized serving of organic chicken with a bunch of yummy fresh veggies like sugar snap peas & shitake mushrooms. the arnold palmers also seem particularly tasty here. don’t write this place off til you’ve tried the chicken!

    i usually splurge and pay $1 extra for the spicy miso glaze. my only complaint is once or twice the chicken was slightly too salty. it comes with salad, miso & side of rice for around $10 or so, which i think is a great deal!

  • Anonymous

    I can tell you based off having lots of Japanese friends and trying lots of curry restaurants, This is oneof the best curry houses on Los Angeles if not the best.Try it,if you like curry or just good food in general you will like it. Try it during the lunch special if you are intimidated.

    -Aria

  • joanh

    I have to agree with anonymous #2- I’ve also had really bad service experiences there, bordering on rude- so that I haven’t eaten there for a really long time now. But I think that waiter isn’t there anymore, or at least not on the days I go.

    When I do go, their organic stuff pork cutlet is really good. I always see people eating the uni spaghetti but didn’t know if I would like it or not. I guess I will try the risotto!

    PS speaking of 2117, you should have the crab avocado salad and blue crab pasta there.. it’s addictive!

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