Japanese cuisine

Vegan Ramen at Ramen Hood

Vegan Ramen  - Markers, ink, gouache. 8.5" x 5.5"

Vegan Ramen - Markers, ink, gouache. 8.5" x 5.5"

Like I said in my last post about Grand Central Market-- it's amazing and you have GOT to go if you're in the Los Angeles area! Seriously, call a Lyft or hop the train and get there right now. It's jam-packed with market stalls and restaurants that will take you on an epic food journey. Today's subject is the amazing Ramen Hood-- selected by us at random (ramen-dom, hah) because we were feelin' noodle-y.

This place is a counter-based ramen joint, but it can be tough to get a seat at times. It's usually safest to order it "to go" so you can snag a seat elsewhere in the Market's open seating. Also if you're a beer-with-my-ramen type, you'll need to send one member of your party to fetch it from another stall while you order your food and then meet up somewhere in the middle.

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So I'm known for being pretty oblivious at times. I decided "Yes, ramen" and waltzed right up to the menu, scanning to try to find something with the least amount of FODMAP triggers* that they had. I somehow blatantly missed that this place was 100% vegan. Not only did I not realize it was vegan when I ordered, I somehow completely missed that what I was eating was vegan until I was halfway through it. 

"Our broth is made by simmering kelp and shiitake mushrooms to extract their maximum umami. Then we roast sunflower seeds with white miso and combine that mixture with the kelp/mushroom stock. Then it is all pressure cooked to release the natural oils and starches from the seeds. What's left is a rich, creamy, broth that rivals it's non-vegan counterparts flavor and texture." - RamenHoodLA.com

Yeah, I'd agree that it rivals its non-vegan counterpart. As a matter of fact, their broth is a lot lighter than most pork-based broths, so I didn't feel like a disgusting, blorpy greaseball afterward!

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The thing that surprised me the most was the egg. And just what, pray tell, is a Vegan Egg?? What's it made from?! Clouds and smiles and fairy dreams?

The "egg" is completely vegan, made in two parts. The "white" of the egg starts as locally made, GMO-free soy milk, seasoned with salt and pepper and gelled with agar (a seaweed extract). The "yolk" is a combination of nutritional yeast, back salt and sodium alginate. We spherify the yolk using a little magic and place it in the center of the white. The yolk pops just like the real thing!" - RamenHoodLA.com

Whoa, ok, well there's my answer. See, there IS magic in it, I knew it.

Honestly? I couldn't tell it wasn't an egg, especially when it was mixed in with all the other bright, umami flavors going on. There was something ever-so-slightly different about its yellow and white edges (Uncanny valley, anyone?), but obviously not really enough for me to notice at first.

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So the other stuff in the dish is nori (seaweed), scallions, bean sprouts, and chili threads. Threads of chili! What a concept! And delicious. When doing this illustration, it was super serendipitous because I actually had JUST purchased a new pen that was perfect for it! It was a size 0.3 Copic Multiliner in the color "wine." (affiliate link, if you buy this thing I may get a kickback! Yay!)

Actually my entire recent purchase at the local art store was perfect because I filled out the yellow/orange gamut in my marker collection. Turns out a lot of food is yellow/orange. And green. Who knew?

You know what colors you almost never use in food illustration? Purple and blue. Unless you're illustrating that Unicorn Monster from Starbucks.

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But I digress. Back to the food! What about those definitely-fried-meat-looking items in your illustration, you may ask? Being that the dish is vegan, one might assume that it's tofu... but one would be wrong. It's actually King Oyster Mushroom**, which has a surprisingly meat-like texture. It worked harmoniously with the dish, and was actually one of my favorite elements in it!

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So it took me forever to turn this illustration around, because life, stuff, and things.  At the time, we had a side of Avocado Toast... which may have been the best I've ever had. Sadly, it no longer appears to be available. I get that they probably update their menu with the seasons, but darn it how can we irresponsibly spend all of our disposable income on avocado toast instead of buying houses and diamonds if we can't find any?! ;) Regardless I'm sure their current offerings of side dishes are all great, too.

Anyway, in summary, whether you're vegan or not, if you like ramen, get thee to the Ramen Hood and eat everything you see there.


*Ok, what is this FODMAP thing you keep mentioning in your posts? I'll do a proper post about it sometime, but it's basically different types of carbohydrates found in foods that can cause digestive problems for certain individuals. It's been researched by the Monash University in Australia, and is becoming more widely accepted as a way to prevent and reduce digestive stress.

**But aren't mushrooms high FODMAP? How are you asking this question if you also asked the first question? Your Google Fu must be strong. But yes they are, and I am able to tolerate them. Different people have different trigger combinations, which is why it's important to do extensive testing with your GI doctor or a nutritionist.

Kato Chef Tasting: 4th Course

 

Be sure you've tasted course onetwo and three before moving on to this one!

So at this point in the meal, I've noticed a trend. Each dish has a stronger flavor and heavier consistency; they play upon the tasty notes that have already been established, and are definitely ramping up to a crescendo. We've got a Flavor Symphony, here! Is this how all meals are meant to be? Is this real life?

These ribs might be short, but they're tall on FLAVOR

These ribs might be short, but they're tall on FLAVOR

These short ribs with turnips and chili were mind blowing. The flavor was hearty and while quite heavy, and the meat was extremely soft and supple. It had been cooked in such a way that it practically fell apart on my fork... which led to some scrambling and attempts at covering up how ungraceful I am. The turnips on top lent the dish a nice crunch to it without detracting from the flavor. I dipped each bite in a tiny bit of chili sauce to really round things out with a ZING!*

This illustration was particularly challenging because of the delicate veins in the turnips-- they're so subtle that I had to be careful not to overdo it.

Next will be course five of the chef tasting, in which we go full tilt flavor!

*I used to hate hot sauce, but I'm slowly becoming a lover. I'm pretty sure this was a house sriracha, and it was DELIGHTFUL.

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As a working artist, I have to exhibit at comic and art conventions in order to grow my audience, sell my wares, and meet art directors. Each show requires a ton of prep work, and then a certain amount of recovery time afterward as well. This show was totally food related though, as I just debuted my very first set of food illo art prints and pins!

Deliciousness for your wall or photo frame!

If you missed WonderCon and were interested in getting your hands on these prints or the accompanying pins, stay tuned: I'll be opening a web store soon! If you want to stay up to date on the things I get up to as an artist, sign up for my newsletter. It's a weekly "open diary" on what it's like to be an artist, what new work I have, upcoming shows, and (eventually) coupon codes for the store!

Sign up here! 

Kato Chef Tasting: 3rd Course

You see that fish there? It's so soft that it's like eating straight butter. Oh yeah.

You see that fish there? It's so soft that it's like eating straight butter. Oh yeah.

And we're back with the amazing Course Three in my Kato Chef Tasting Experience. Be sure to read parts One and Two first!

Something that I thought was remarkable about Kato's dining room was how small and minimalist it was. The walls are light, the floor is wood, and there are absolutely no frills. Artwork sprinkled around and a simple tea light on the tables count as the decor. I'd say there are, what, 10 tables total? 15? I find it interesting that they took this approach, and I expect that it's so you can focus on the food. No gaudy decorations or talking animal heads here! (Apologies to lovers of Rainforest Café, heh.)

I suspect that's also why they don't serve any alcohol, and their drink selection is extremely limited. Green tea or sparkling water work just fine when alcohol could detract from your enjoyment of the delicate flavors they're putting in your face. Plus, realtalk, as a restaurant owner I bet it's just easier to get through life when you don't have to worry about booze permits.

So! The delightful third course of the evening was trout with chili and seared cabbage. This dish, seriously. UNG. I almost died when I put it in my mouth. The trout was cooked in a sous vide so it actually burst apart as soon as it left my fork, and the amazing flavors locked inside are the kind you'd write home to mom about. Or... write about on a blog on the internet.

The chili sauce is apparently fermented, and while it has a dash of heat, it uses it subtly to enhance the other flavors. The seared cabbage* is crisp and its strong flavor sticks with you long after this course is over, but in a good way.

Stay tuned for Course 4! "How many courses ARE there?" you ask. The answer is five, plus dessert, plus additional food we ordered at the end to round everything out. In other words, I've got a lot of drawing to do.

* I am definitely not supposed to eat cabbage. That's that FODMAP thing again that I mentioned before. I'll get around to discussing it, one day. I ate it anyway though, in the name of art!

Kato Chef Tasting: 2nd Course

There is no ham in hamachi

There is no ham in hamachi

Welcome back, hungry reader! This is the second post in a series about my Chef Tasting experience at Kato Restaurant in Santa Monica. If you haven't yet, be sure to read Part One first! Kato is a restaurant that specializes in Chef's Tastings, and is a Californian/Japanese/Taiwanese hybrid. And no, Chef Tasting doesn't meant we ate the chef, in case you were wondering.

Kato itself is hidden in the corner of a strip mall in Santa Monica-- it can actually be quite difficult to spot until you're practically standing on top of it. One might even call it a Room of Requirement-- it's impossible to find unless you're desperate for tasty, well-crafted food. The dining room is terrifically small, so you MUST make reservations... and make them, like, a week out because this place is very popular.

So on to our second course, which was hamachi and cucumber topped with a charred scallion sauce. What are the herbs on top? I'm not entirely sure, as I'm not good at identifying these things by sight yet.* Fennel? Maybe? The dish's flavors were gentle, cool, and seemed slightly pickled. This made an excellent pair against the good punch in the mouth that the charred/smoky flavor of the sauce gave you!

Stay tuned for the 3rd Course coming soon!

*I'm learning, I swear. At least, it's on my "To Learn" list. So I'll get around to it. No really!

Kato Chef Tasting

You can't find delightful piles of fish like this easily

You can't find delightful piles of fish like this easily

Last month we tried out a highly rated restaurant in Santa Monica named Kato, a Californian/Japanese/Taiwanese hybrid chef's tasting restaurant.

Hungry Reader, you may be asking "Um wat?" which is the exact same question I asked myself because I, too, think in memespeak. Luckily for you, I went and found out! A chef tasting is when a restaurant's chef designs a menu that takes customers on what I like to call a food experience. A Foodsperience, if you will. The flavors of each small course are meant to work together like a team to send you to Tasty Town.

It began with what's called an amuse bouche, which is sort of like an appetizer but smaller. It literally means "to amuse your mouth." It was a tapioca snack with roe (fish eggs), and while it was brownie-like, was also very salty. Think "sea salt brownie with heavy emphasis on the sea and possibly as dark as it is because maybe squid ink?" Regardless, it was delightful and I was ready for more!

We then received our first course, which was tuna tartare with eggplant and herbs over crispy rice. Seriously I put this thing in my mouth and the world stopped*. The rice gave it a fantastic crunchy texture that contrasted with the softness of the tuna. The vinaigrette had almost a minty note to it, and the shallots gave the sauce absolute sass. SASS, I say! The dish was very light overall, which, by the end of the meal I learned is the best way to start a Foodsperience so you can build a flavor symphony over time.

But more on that next time with Course 2!

*"The world stopped" is going to be a phrase that I use often in this series with Kato, because spoiler alert: THE FOOD IS REALLY GOOD