Assume for a moment that you are vegan. (I’ll pause while you come to terms.) Now think back to the day, perhaps years ago, when you swore off meat. And poultry. And fish. You took stock of your decision and saw the hard road ahead, watching ninety percent of menu items disappear from the page like Marty McFly.
And then– and then— you said, you know what else I swear off is milk and eggs and cheese and yogurt and sunshine and material comforts and the smiles of children. You, now wearing only a loincloth, bravely picked up your rucksack filled with a week’s supply of algae extract and began down the weary road ahead, taking care not to step on anthills.
You, brave soul, deserve Ramen Hood. Here we have a vegan restaurant that aims to create a full and uncompromised ramen experience without involving the animals. And for a vegan shop, they do a damn impressive job with some clever tricks (and a couple that turn out to be maybe too clever). For you, my vegan friend, Ramen Hood may be exactly what you need.
But will your meat-eating ramen-loving friends be impressed? Only if they’re grading on a curve.
Rich Ass Broth
Ramen Hood’s home base is a booth at the upscale/downscale Grand Central Market in downtown LA. I visited their newest outpost, a New York pop-up at the Chef’s Club Counter in SoHo. They’ve taken over the space with eccentric japanese TV clips and a big fluorescent sign that boasts #richassbroth.
For a vegan ramen shop, the broth is the thing they had to nail, and they nailed it not once, but twice. Most of the menu features a creamy tonkotsu-style broth that starts with an umami base of kombu and mushrooms and then squeezes out a rich nutty flavor from roasted and pressure-cooked sunflower seeds. The result is, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, very very good. If you’re not feeling creamy, you can opt for the salty smoky onion broth that evokes a french onion soup.
After the broth, a few stumbles. The noodles are fine but nothing remarkable. (And shouldn’t they be remarkable, since they shouldn’t require any compromise?) The toppings were a mixed bag, but the giant mushroom stems missed the mark for being large and chewy. And then…
Egg All Over
Let’s talk about the “egg.” Ramen Hood’s menu and website make a big deal about a perfect-looking egg substitute, ingeniously assembled in parts from tofu and agar and other items from that vegan rucksack. Two dollars buys a highly Instagrammable half-egg, complete with a runny not-yolk.
Only problem is, this egg is all wrong. The whites wiggle like tofu in a jello mold between your chopsticks. The yolk’s membrane explodes like that zit you’ve been waiting to pop. The flavor is, well, whatever it is it’s not eggy. Here we have an alien race assembling their first egg from photographic records, technologically impressive but really someone should give them an actual egg to try. The visual is uncanny, too round and white and yellow to be real. The taste and texture are, well, canny.
App Upgrade Required
To supplement (read: hedge against) our meal, we got some apps.
The Spicy Tuna Tartare crisps made from beets were very clever and technically impressive. Crispy outside, mushy inside, familiar almost tuna-ish flavor if you ignore the sweetness of the beets. They were just large enough that we didn’t really want the last bite.
The Banh Mi Poutine was a total misfire. Thrice-frying the french fries didn’t make them crisp, and the toppings were a hodgepodge, and by the way since when are we in Vietnam.
The side of ramen broth rice was somehow one of my favorite things? It had a satisfying crunchy texture, and a subtle umami flavor.
You have to give these guys credit. They picked a tough game to play, knocked the broth out of the park, and at least swung for the fences on everything else. They deliver on their promise of tasty vegan ramen. And if the Friday night crowd was any indication, they have found an audience that appreciates their effort.
To my friends I would say: If you are vegan, go now. If you know a vegan, maybe keep them company, skip the egg, skip the apps, and get some of that delicious rice to soak up the last bits of your broth. But if ramen night for you means ordering the Chashu Ramen with extra Chashu, this is not the ramen you are looking for.