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