Summer is for experimentation – mountain biking, cliff-diving, swimming with dolphins – and that goes for restaurants too. At the Breadbar location on West 3rd Street in Los Angeles, at night when the bakery/cafe is normally closed, the pop-up restaurant Ramen Bull is doing just that, and succeeding.
Ramen is to Japan what the grilled cheese sandwich is the States: iconic comfort food. Slurping a large bowl of wheat-yellow noodles in broth, topped with roast pork, green onion, hard-boiled egg halves, bamboo shoots and a strip of nori seaweed, is practically religion. (Forget the stuff in the plastic packets; there’s a reason it’s cheap.)
Chef Nori Sugie is tweaking ramen, and not just for American palates. Using skills learned while working in some of the world’s most famous kitchens (including Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Tetsuya’s in Sydney and Asiate in New York) he’s taking ramen to a place I wager it’s never been.
The shop’s name is a clue. “Ramen Bull” refers to beef replacing the traditional pork, in the broth, the toppings and even the side dishes.
The menu is Japanese in its minimalism: ramen topped with short ribs, oxtail, beef tongue, spicy ground beef or corned beef. The hearty broth is the same for all – its color brought to mind the Dutch phrase “heavenly mud” – and takes 10 hours to make. Corned beef marinates for four days, and the meats cook for four hours. Eggs are hard-cooked and then marinated in soy sauce, konbu seaweed, mirin, garlic, ginger and dried shiitake.
Toppings are also available as side dishes, so you can order ramen one way and sample the rest on their own. My friend and I ordered bowls of ramen with corned beef (Jewish style, not Japanese style, Chef explained) and oxtail, with sides of spicy beef and short ribs.
Then there’s the presentation. Chef Sugie tops the bowls with an umami foam of beef, garlic and rosemary, and garnishes with threads of dried chilies.
Like summer, Ramen Bull will come to an end (September 30), but I hope Chef Sugie finds another place to open.