R: Though Robin Hood was a venturesome guy with noble ideas, he is far outshined by Chef Ilan Hall, the innovative creator of Ramen Hood, the all-vegan ramen hot spot in DTLA's Grand Central Market since June 2015. Hall is known for Top Chef fame and as the owner of now closed The Gorbals Restaurant.
Z: His goal at this venue was to create a richly flavorful food that would be a dining delight not only for vegans, but also for everyone. He has made Ramen Hood a hip, go-to weekday lunch spot where his team, led by Chef Rahul Khopkar, dishes up vegan ramen so satisfying it leaves no cravings unmet.
R: Comfortably seated at the long black counter, we ordered our hearty ramen bowls. I had the regular OG Ramen, while Zel, who has a bent for spicy foods, ordered the Spicy Ramen. They essentially were composed of the same ingredients, except for chili differentiating them. They were a stunning visual treat before we plunged our soupspoons into those large bowls.
Z: Karen, our server, asked if we would like to include the optional Vegan Egg in our ramen. How could we resist? Because a vegan egg is a very rare treat in the vegan world, we simply had to experience this precious treasure.
R: My first taste of the broth awakened my taste sensors like never before! This was a broth to be praised. It was creamy, slightly thickened, and luxuriously blessed with the ultimate in umami flavor. This tasteful creation was the dual effort of Chefs Hall and Khopkar.
Z: Composed of roasted sunflower seeds, shiitake mushrooms, white miso, and kelp, the lightly thickened, well-seasoned broth forms the cornerstone of the meal. The ramen noodles, made from wheat, are specially prepared for Ramen Hood. Floating over the noodles and broth are generous portions of finely minced scallions, a cluster of bean sprouts, baby bok choy, and slices of delicious king oyster mushrooms seasoned to emulate Asian-style sausage of traditional ramen. An airy fluff of chili threads garnishes the top.
R: The topper is the vegan egg lounging at the top of the black ceramic bowl and looking very perky--just like a real hard-boiled egg half. It was a masterpiece of molecular gastronomy featuring flavored soymilk, nutritional yeast, agar, black salt, and B12 vitamins--another innovative creation of the two chefs. While the egg looked like a hard-boiled egg, it was actually soft and satin smooth and lightly sprinkled with tiny red flakes.
Z: Standing at attention at the edge of the bowls were two tall sheets of nori that eventually collapsed into the broth as we slurped our way through this amazing ramen lunch.
R: Because of our insatiable curiosity we also ordered Tofu al Pastor and Banh Mi Poutine, two side dishes that sounded like fun nibbles to round out our meal. These were attractively presented in small, black rectangular bowls. Small chunks of fried tofu formed the base of the Tofu al Pastor that were generously covered with a tasty red chili sauce and topped with chopped onions, sliced radishes, chopped cilantro, and wedges of fresh lime to squeeze over the top.
Z: Tofu al Pastor was another yum creation, for sure, but my favorite side was the Banh Mi Poutine, a medley of awesome ingredients to turn ordinary French fried potatoes into a praiseworthy dish. Tasty hoisin gravy smothered the fries, while squiggles of sriracha and Daiya cheese sauce dressed the top attractively. Pickled vegetables, jalapenos, and cilantro brought the dish home in grand style.
R: We could actually have made a satisfying meal by combining side dishes that included spicy broccoli, cucumber salad, and a pickle plate. Next time we just might do that. But the ramen with the vegan egg shouldn't be missed--it's an Olympic gold medal winner!
Z: Don't expect formality--it's Grand Central Market, after all, where plastic forks, spoons, cups are the convenient way to go. And for those who prefer to slurp their ramen noodles with chopsticks, Ramen Hood accommodates with a good supply.
R: For those on a budget, Ramen Hood offers plenty of value. A very filling Ramen is $10, Vegan Egg $2, side dishes called Small Plates $5, Beverages are $2 to $4. Even offered is a bowl of just delicious broth for $5.
Z: We loved our ramen lunch and know this bustling lunch spot will continue to attract a bevy of vegan and non-vegan foodies who appreciate innovative creations done with panache, yet served informally. The restaurant is open every day for lunch and is now open on Friday and Saturday evenings for dinner.
Reviewed August 2016