Usually I’m not one to wander into a vegan restaurant, but to be fair this place did seem to have some hype to it.
Developed by Chefs Ilan Hall and Rahul Khopkar and opened in 2015, Ramen Hood features an array of vegetarian ramen noodle bowls topped with faux eggs (made with soy), sprouts, black garlic and sunflower seed broth at this 16-seat stall at Grand Central Market in downtown LA.
Running things on a day-to-day basis here is Indian-Korean chef Rahul Khopkar, a former line cook at The Gorbals who left the restaurant in 2012 to attend the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.
Spicy Garlic “Katsu” Ramen
The bowl of ramen that started it all – Spicy Garlic “Katsu” Ramen. It is made up of usual suspects in a bowl of ramen like scallions, nori sheets, chilli threads and bean sprouts, but that’s where the similarity ends. Then the vegetarian part kicks in with the original spicy garlic sunflower seed broth, a plant-based meat from Hong Kong called OmniPork Luncheon meat, charsiu replacement using king oyster mushrooms and (horrors) bok choy. Seriously, what’s bok choy doing in a bowl of ramen?
At first, I thought I was eating faux meat like the ones served in vegetarian restaurants in Asia. But this bowl of ramen is supposed to be gluten-free too, so it could not the that. Then a lightbulb moment, it’s king oyster mushrooms that have been stewed and then deep-fried. Its sinewy, pork-like oyster mushroom nubs are so good that it just might make you give up pork.
OmniPork Luncheon – it looks like luncheon meat, it feels like luncheon meat, but it doesn’t really taste like luncheon meat. It has a lot salt to make it taste like meat, but it cannot replicate the satisfaction you get from eating meat. I just hope food tech will improve further to get to replacing the satisfaction factor (and it’s not umami). It has wheat in it, so there goes the gluten-free part of the noodles.
Tackling the challenges one at a time, the next thing to solve is the noodles. How do you make a bowl of ramen without egg noodles? Enter rice noodles. Then how do you make rice noodles chewy and resistance to overcooking in the hot broth? That’s the trade secret. The ramen noodle has the bite, a bit of the alkalinity, but no eggs.
The creamy vegan broth is the byproduct of a sunflower seed risotto that Hall used to have on the menu at The Gorbals. First, Khopkar makes a vegan mushroom dashi. Then he makes a creamy base made with cooked-down onions, roasted sunflower seeds, white miso, and nutritional yeast. Then, he blends both in a blender and adds a little sesame and chili oil.
You can forgive yourself to think that you are slurping into a stupidly decadent, glossy, umami-filled tonkotsu broth, but this happens to be 100-percent vegan. I only regretted that I did not order a faux onsen egg, complete with a perfectly runny egg yolk.
A must-eat if you happen to be in this part of town.
Ramen Hood @ Grand Central Market
317 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel : +1 (213) 359- 6007
Visited in Sep 2022