The last time Chef Ilan Hall opened a restaurant in NYC it was inside an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg, and the menu included dishes like Bacon Wrapped Matzo Balls and Whole Roasted Pig's Head. The Brooklyn Gorbals, a spin-off of his popular West Coast place of the same name, didn't last long, and Hall decamped back to L.A. where, while fooling around with sunflower seeds with his kitchen partner chef Rahul Khopkar, he stumbled across what would become the foundation of another hit project, the very different, 100% vegan noodle bar, Ramen Hood in L.A.
Now Hall is back in NYC for a few months, bringing Ramen Hood to SoHo's rotating pop-up space Chefs Club Counter, and he and Khopkar are eager to show us how umami-rich and complex a plant-based broth can be. Ramen Hood offers five different noodle bowls, four of which feature their signature Sunflower Seed Broth. The dashi here is made from pressure cooking shiitake mushrooms and kombu seaweed, adding onions, roasted sunflower seeds, white miso, and nutritional yeast, and pressure cooking the whole thing again. The result is truly a revelation, with as much intensity and character as any pork-based tonkatsu in town.
Bean sprouts, scallions, bok choy, nori, and chili threads are familiar enough add-ins, as are the tangle of Sun noodles lurking below the surface, and all of these are well prepared and wholly welcome. But it's the vegan versions of the usual ramen bowl-builders that bring another, different level of delight here. Thick, earthy slices of King Oysters act as the meat, and the "egg" is composed of soy milk thickened with agar for the white, with a yolk made of nutritional yeast. A Smoked Onion Broth provides the base for the fifth ramen available.
There are five sides on the Ramen Hood menu as well, including an ingenious reboot of the ubiquitous Avocado Toast, which swaps out the bread for a deep-fried block of chewy vinegar rice. The Ahi Crisps are also delicious, with spicy beets taking over the tuna role, and a crunchy rice shell providing the perfect delivery system. Bahn Mi Poutine, Cucumber Salad, and soy-chili-glazed Broccoli round out the small plates, each of which cost $6.
It's also worth noting that team Ramen Hood has done a great job of bringing a fresh feeling to the Chefs Club Counter interior. Gone are the heavy banquettes in the center of the room, replaced with a wooden communal table and a pass-through noodle counter under their #richassbroth slogan.
Ramen Hood will be at Chefs Club Counter, located at 62 Spring Street at the corner of Lafayette Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through January 19th. (646-438-9172; chefsclubcounter.com)