Living in the heart of West Hollywood, we've come to accept a few hard truths when it comes to dining close to home. While we have some of LA's best restaurants in our backyard, there are a multitude of restaurants offering ethnic cuisines that are virtually unattainable without getting on the freeway. This is certainly the case for good quality ramen, as we live in a virtual ramen "dead zone." No ramen craving can be satisfied without driving at the very least to Daikokuya in Little Tokyo or to Santouka in Culver City (or spending hours making it ourselves).
Recently this all changed, at least temporarily, as Breadbar's consulting Chef Noriyuki Sugie's Ironnori Ramen Bull popped up in Mid-City West. Hosted at Breadbar's West 3rd location, the chef's contemporary take on ramen features legit bowls of ramen, with a twist - all the soup selections (with the exception of a veggie option) are beef-based instead of pork-based. All summer long, ramen lovers have been able to get their noodle needs met in the bakery's 3rd Street location from 5 pm to 10 pm, Monday through Saturday; the pop-up will keep serving soup slurpers through September 30, 2011.
Tiny and cozy, Breadbar is a great location for pop-ups. Our party of six was eagerly greeted by the lone server for the evening and seated at one of four long, high wooden tables inside. A few bowls of complimentary crispy seasoned noodles sated our appetites as we perused the chef's menu.
While Breadbar does have a B.Y.O.B. policy, we went the non-alcoholic route with some of the gourmet soda offerings. We settled on the Cock & Bull ginger beer and a house-made hibiscus tea soda.
Even though the focus of the pop-up is on ramen, you shouldn't let your noodle cravings blind you to the other special treats coming out of the kitchen. Our party of six universally loved the beef cheek gyozas, which are awesomely crispy on the outside, with wonderfully tender and flavorful meat filling on the inside.
The majority of the table went with the short rib ramen (below), which comes with big chunks of fantastic, fall-apart-tender beef. This is definitely no tonkotsu broth - no sticky collagen and thickness here - but what it lacks in body, it more than makes up for in clean, vibrant meaty flavor, layered with just the tiniest bit of sweetness underneath. Each bowl is augmented by a marinated poached egg, fungi mushrooms and scallions. And of course, the ramen noodles featured in each bowl are very good - the chef matches each broth with a specially suited type of noodle.
The beef tongue ramen (below) was equally well-received. Again, the broth is so clean-tasting, here without the slight sweet notes of the short rib bowl. The real star, though, is the tongue, so tender that the slices just melt in your mouth. I was tempted to get a side order of jewel-pink slices (you can also order side orders of the oxtail, short rib, spicy ground beef, corned beef and marinated poached eggs), but eventually just went back to slurping up the fragrant broth in front of me.
The spicy ramen (below), served with heaping portions of ground beef, trades a little of the richness of the other bowls for some heat. Diners are given the option of tailoring the heat level to their preference - "mild or super caliente?" our server asked. Mark inquired about "regular caliente" and his request was met with a side of the peppery paste to ration the heat levels himself. There's no real challenge here for true spice-heads, but the heat level is not inconsiderable. Mark ended up depositing all of the hot pepper into his soup.
While I have to say that pork-based ramen will probably always reign supreme in my heart, the beef-based offerings are a fantastic alternative, with unique ingredients that raise the humble ramen bowl to truly gourmet level. Ramen Bull makes me cross my fingers that Chef Noriyuki Sugie decides to find a more permanent home in the neighborhood for a ramen shop. Until then, you all still have a month to get to Breadbar to snag a bowl for yourself. Ramen Bull will be popping out on September 30th.