I've heard about Breadbar's Ramen Bull for a while, and have been intrigued by Chef Noriyuki Sugie's the idea of using beef (instead of the usual pork) as the meat & broth base for this one-bowl dish (when asked, he cited Americans' preference of beef as his inspiration for this mash-up.)
But given the 90 degree heat of Augusts in SoCal, I wasn't exactly in the mood for a bowl of piping-hot, beefy ramen. Thankfully, Chef Sugie had the same thought and introduced more summer-suitable courses - so when Breadbar's PR invited me to try them out, I jumped at the chance.
We started off our meal on a cool note with their housemade pineapple and hibiscus sodas ($4). My hibiscus one was refreshing and neither too sweet nor tart. And of course, wonderfully pretty with the actual garnet-hued flower floating about in my glass.
Along with our drinks was a small amuse of crisped up ramen, triggering nostalgia of these crispy noodle snacks I had as a kid.
As appetizers, we shared their roasted shishito peppers ($5) flavored with bonito flakes with a side of soy sauce for dipping (though upon request, these can be made vegan-friendly by swapping salt in lieu of bonito): A lovely snack, and even those wary of spiciness can enjoy them, since the peppers were not particularly hot -- conveying more of a smoky-roasted flavor instead with a big ole backbone of umami from the fish flakes & soy. Halfway through our peppers, our noodles arrived
(note: Chef Nori had splitted the below ramens into half-portions for us, when you order -- it'll be twice as large.)
Cold Ramen Consommé ($15) with Corned Beef Strips, Arugula, Radish, Cucumber, Tomato, Avocado, Eggplant, Pomegranate Seeds, "Over Soft"-Boiled Soy-Marinated Egg and Extra-Thick Noodles: a contemporary and decidely-Californian take on the Hiyashi Chuka -- and I love it! From the fresh, crisp vegetables to the intensely-beefy consommé (the result of 4-5 hours labor with a shank,) to fun, fruity little pops of pom arils, and that egg with it's solid-but-rich yolk... great middle ground between entirely runny and powdery solid. This made for a noodle salad that tasted as colorful as it looked.
Vegetarian Ramen ($14) with Assorted Leafy Greens, Mushrooms, Miso Broth, "Over Soft"-Boiled Soy-Marinated Egg and "Umami Foam": Yes, this is a hot bowl of noodles, but I can't resist anything vegetarian (and in fact, this can be made vegan-friendly too; the only animal product here is the eggy noodles, and Chef Sugie can easily swap that out an egg-free ramen pasta - and of course, omit the egg.) Despite being meat free, it is just as hearty as the standard version . . . with a rich, flavorful miso broth and meaty flavors & textures from the fungi. And I certainly didn't mind a do-over of that delicious not-quite-runny egg.
Last but not least, I must say that despite being intensely savory -- I love how it's not overly salty (unlike some ramen houses that leaves you chugging water & tea by the gallon afterwards.) And as the menu proudly indicated, there's no added MSG here!
And even though we had the lighter-than-usual fare here, we left beyond full and thoroughly satisfied with our meal. While it is pricier than the usual ramen, I think the creativity and quality of ingredients is well worth the extra price. And of course, this is a must-try for vegetarians and vegans who want to experience the magic of ramen without the meat (though of course, I'll also give a quick shout out to the vegan ramens @ Shojin too!)
And I hope I can squeeze in before its conclusion for another chance at that pom-adorned consommé!
What Do Others Say?
- Treasure LA, blogging for LAist, said this pop-up "deserves a spot on any ramen crawl and is a must try for any vegetarian."
- Epicuryan said that "purists might decry the lack of pork-based menu offerings, I appreciated the change of pace as well as the deeper more concentrated meatiness of the beef-based broth"
- KevinEats also thought "having beef as the base ingredient is certainly a game changer . . . that's nonetheless delicious [and] a refreshing departure from the norm."
- E*star LA noted that it's "a closer alternative than the trek to my trusty Santouka, and since it’s temporary, it also carries a bit of welcome novelty."
- The Minty had a few solid dishes here, and "plan to tell [friends in the area] about this ramen pop-up so I can try more variations!"
- Savory Hunter also gave a shout out to its oxtail side dish -- "an irresistible order . . . worth the effort with my chopsticks to get every last morsel."
- Gourmet Pigs stated that "if you live in the Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are and craving ramen, Ramen Bull would hit the spot."
Ramen Bull Pop-Up @ Breadbar West Third (runs thru Sept. 30)
8718 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048