It may have been ambitious to have driven down to the South Bay on a Friday late afternoon, but we knew what we wanted, and what we wanted was uni.
Having 4 people in my little Mini Cooper enabled us to use the 110 Southbound’s alternating Express Lane (it weaves in and out with more preference now given to FastPassers), which was key in our Silver-Lake-to-South-Bay commute and miraculously amounted to little more than a half hour. We made it to Maruhide’s resident strip mall just after its 5:30 PM opening and, though we imagined there being a line out the door, we were the only table seated for another 10 minutes.
The drive to Torrance is worth it.
The menu is an expansive 8 pages of dishes with and without sea urchin, but it’s best to focus on the bowls listed on the second page - especially since they understandably disclose that there are varying degrees of freshness to the uni. Over rice as chirashi, uni is best experienced in its freshest, purest form. Choose from a variety of combinations; I went with a simple trio of scallops, uni and salmon roe. The ultimate, balls-out assortment is found in the Nigiyaka Bowl, which includes not just fresh uni but marinated and boiled, tuna, salmon roe, salmon, sea cucumber and tamago (egg omelette cakes).
While you can get a mini bowl for $12-13, I found the large bowl ($20) more than worth every penny – for the seafood, that is, and not the token heap of lettuce and creamy white dressing dubbed “salad” that we’ve become accustomed to at Japanese restaurants. But I loved the starter uni soup, which had a really tasty broth base complimented by little slivers of cheese. And uni. But I repeat myself.
If you’re in the mood to make a bigger commitment to your love of sea urchin, you can schedule a 7-day advance reservation to partake in their omakase at either the $90 or $120 per person price points. I’m told it’s the same amount of food at 9-10 courses but the quality of sea urchin is higher at $120, and omakase is where you’ll find sea urchin on the halfshell.
As the storefront restaurant of an uni supplier with a boat making the daily trek from San Pedro to Santa Barbara to make their catch, Maruhide Uni Club has access to some of the freshest Santa Barbara uni I’ve ever had (ask me next February about Hokkaido uni). It was melt-in-your-mouth magic, and you can bet that I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Club. The drive is a small price to pay for this value. Don’t forget the sake.