First I thought ramen was totally off-limits, within a month I discovered two opportunities to enjoy this hearty, comforting, carb-heavy dish as a vegetarian. First was the Shojin vegan ramen, and now I discovered Breadbar 3rd Street's current pop-up concept, Yatai Ramen. While everyone seems to oggle over the foie gras version, the vegetarian tomato ramen was the main draw for me, so off I went with Caroline on Crack.
Upon sitting, we were presented with the mini-menus about the size of two business cards -- with a fairly tight selection of ramen (4 traditional, 5 modern "twists",) a few japanese sides/appetizers and boba beverages.
We started off with their coconut boba, a refreshing mix of coconut milk, orange zest and tapioca pearls. I love that it's barely sweet and the combined fragrance of coconut & citrus. The pearls, however, were a bit too firm-and-chewy for my preferences.
For appetizers, Caroline and I shared the kale gyozas, the crisp-and-tender texture and veggie-forward flavors were superb (esp. with the tangy-spicy soy sauce to dip,) but $8 for five dumplings seems a bit high (of course, I'm used to San Gabriel Valley joints where it's more like $5 for eight dumplings.)
As for the tomato ramen ($12,) more impressive than I expected. The broth has a definitely tomato tang, but it's well rounded with salt, sesame oil and other vegetables and herbs, yielding a profile that's somewhere between soondubu broth & V8 (and tastes better than I just made it sound.) The veggies were a fine accompaniment, with onions, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and black fungus dominating the mix, though I wished there was something more substantial in there -- cubes of firm tofu or chunks of mushrooms, maybe?
Then, as if the kitchen read my protein-craving mind, Chef Kazuo bursted out of the kitchen with . . .
. . . two slabs of still-sizzling thick-sliced kurobuta pork belly, along with two kinds of hot pastes (a bright-n-zingy yuzu, and a smoke-n-fiery red chili.) For a brief moment, I contemplated finally ending my vegetarian stint (shy of 100 days), as well as declining Kazuo's kind gift... but ultimately decided to give Caroline my pork belly while I swiped some of the accompanying black fungus and bamboo shoots off her plate. And I definitely tossed the spicy pastes into my ramen -- amazing stuff!
In the end, I felt good having checked out Yatai -- it was casual and comforting, and chef does whole-heartedly attempt to produce a high-quality and unique product (even the "traditional" ramens include subtle spins such as Indonesian sea salt and corn butter for the shio broth, and brown butter for the miso broth.) And should the event have a longer run or pop up again, I'd definitely return to indulge in the tomato version -- or perhaps the wonderful smelling oxtail ramen that Caroline ordered if I'm feeling omnivorous again.
More photos of Yatai, and rest of that night, on flickr set here.
Yatai Ramen (until July 24) @ Breadbar
8718 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA