First Look: Oh Man! Ramen Makes Its Own Noodles and MSG
Just when it appeared as if Los Angeles’ restaurant scene couldn’t accommodate another ramen joint into its already brimming, bubbling bowl, we see more of the popular Japanese noodle’s purveyors sprouting up like delicious dandelions between cracks on a sidewalk. This only means it’s time to put on bigger ramen pants.
The latest addition, Oh Man! Ramen, is found along Ventura Boulevard in Encino (Ramen Room opened last month, too, on Ventura in Sherman Oaks). It is also the newest in the mini eating empire fronted by chef Phillip Frankland Lee. Although Lee is involved with Oh Man!, his hands-on partner in this ramen rollout is Luke Reyes (formerly of Butchers & Barbers and Corner Door). Two years ago, Reyes trial ballooned his noodle soup at a Butchers & Barbers pop-up. Eventually he teamed up with Lee when the Scratch Bar chef invited Reyes to collaborate on his noodle endeavor at Lee’s tasting-menu space, on the second level of an Encino shopping center.
Oh Man! Ramen’s actual space (previously a shoe store) isn’t completed yet and is scrunched between Scratch Bar and another coming-soon concept called Woodley Proper, Lee’s loose interpretation of a California bistro.
When Oh Man! does welcome guests in a couple of weeks, this fast-casual ramen spot seating 32 will have orders taken at a reception booth that doubles as a beverage stand serving green tea, Asahi and a Japanese Arnold Palmer anchored with Japanese whisky, concocted by partner and mixologist Devon Espinosa. In the meantime, Oh Man! Ramen’s full menu can be experienced inside neighboring Scratch Bar.
What type of ramen can you expect? Coming from Lee, Reyes and the Scratch Bar, you can count on everything being fashioned from scratch, including the springy strands themselves. Don’t bother looking for the custom order from Sun Noodles. Instead Oh Man! rolls, extrudes, cuts and cooks its alkaline wheat noodles on high-end pasta-making machines and a cooker made from submarine metal that does not corrode in salt water while constantly circulating and filtering distilled water, removing starchy sediment. These fresh, wavy-style noodles don’t sit around for more than a few minutes before dropping into a ramen basket. What you get are noodles with a familiar ramen bounce, but softer than usual due to the fresh fabrication.
As of this writing, there are two bowl options: tonkotsu and vegetable. This is when things get interesting. Lee and Reyes agree that the tonkotsu they’re making isn’t the style many are accustomed to in the L.A. ramen scene. As far as the controversial term “authentic” is concerned and how it applies to the pork broth bowl at Oh Ramen!, Lee has definite feelings. “Our ramen isn’t about being authentically the same as everyone else’s. It’s about being authentically delicious. We make our own noodles and even a scratch-made version of MSG,” Lee said. “It’s very important to honor the tradition but also continue the cooking.” Further, Reyes reminds us that (instant) ramen is young — around 60 years old — and that “there’s room for new styles.”
Tonkotsu served at venues such as Tsujita is famously thick, almost gravylike or kotteri-style. This is not the case at Oh Man! “Our motto is ‘Drop Flavor. Not Bombs.’ This includes gut bombs,” said Lee. “Chefs sometimes forget that food is also fuel. It shouldn’t slow you down.” Oh Man! considers the lethargy one can experience after slurping down a rich tonkotsu ramen. Therefore, the pork broth ladled up by Reyes flows like water rather than cream and doesn’t sit heavily in your stomach.
Twenty-five pounds of pork bones (of which 10 percent are trotters for that extra gelatin) from hybrid Berkshire-Tamworth pigs sourced from Cambria’s Stepladder Ranch are cooked down in a pot of water teeming with roasted carrots, onions, ginger, garlic and scallion bottoms. Other bones infused into the broth include beef knuckles and chicken backs. The pot is reduced and then shocked with ice and simmered for a total of about 24 hours. Reyes’ use of French technique in making his ramen is something he feels comes across in the flavor.
Die-hard ramen traditionalists may not be able to smack their lips or feel the Oh Man! pork broth stick to their ribs, but the creamy braised chashu, confit shoulder and runny tamago help crank up the sumptuousness. Dancing bonito flakes offer umami and a show.
For the vegetable ramen, Lee’s plant-based cooking talent is key to extracting every bit of vegetable flavor from the onions, kale and roasted squash. The profound savoriness comes from a paste made in-house with kombu, shiitake and button mushrooms. It’s a veggie ramen that doesn’t try to mock, mimic or compete with its porky counterpart.
Oh Man! Ramen’s non-ramen dishes swing widely from a simple cucumber and Bartlett pear salad to an inventive tribute to General Tso’s chicken named General Lee’s octopus, in which Spanish octopus is braised without liquid or salt, as plenty of each is already present in the cephalopod. Sweet and sour sauce is made with the braise juices. The tender octopus meat is dredged, fried, mixed in sauce, then served on sushi rice with bright green broccoli, as at your favorite Chinese takeout, except 100 times better.
Oh Man! Ramen is open daily from 1130 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch.
16101 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 646-6085, ohmanramen.com.
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