Reveling in its usual intense salty pork broth, the concept of ramen seems decidedly non-vegetarian. But of the many competitors in the city, the Mission’s Ramen Izakaya Goku serves a veggie miso potage ramen ($10) that is one of San Francisco’s most satisfying and surprising bowls of noodles and soup. It’s such a meticulous, thoughtful composition of many elements that calling it a noodle soup seems unfair.
[jump] From the broth to the toppings to the green noodles, on offer is a truly ambitious and creative ramen that Goku pulls off beautifully. The base is a bracing, hearty broth made from shiitake mushroom stock, kombu (a type of kelp), and saikyo miso (a special white miso from Kyoto), all simmered together for about two hours. It’s exactly the type of creamy vegetable velouté-evoking broth that a Thomas Keller might serve as a palate-kicking amuse bouche. Except somehow the velvety broth has no dairy involved at all. The thickening agent is pureed cauliflower and sweet corn, lending sweetness and a sherry-like nuttiness to the equation. Goku allows diners to dictate the desired spice level for the broth (don’t go overboard, you want to taste the subtleties added in).
A host of supporting ingredients are judiciously placed around the bowl atop the broth and noodles. There’s sweet corn in prime season right now, al dente green beans, mizuna greens. butter lettuce, and green onions. Fried tofu chashu slices function as the protein. Don’t opt out of the boiled egg garnish with its ideal consistency one moment poached beyond a liquid yolk, and I’d also recommend the addition of seaweed to the bowl — it’s real kelp-like seaweed that tastes of sea water, instead of the dry, bland material used to wrap sushi rolls.
The real kicker are the noodles themselves made by Goku: tender with a little snap, and full of surprising earthy notes because they’re stained forest green from the addition of spinach to the noodle batter. The spinach noodles work in harmony together with the miso vegetable broth much like how a peak produce salad works in tandem with the right dressing. One lifts up the other, but both are also gorgeous on their own. Once everything is composed, dried tomato oil is drizzled on the entire ramen as a concluding flourish.
Goku mixes the ramen bar and izakaya dual concept nicely with some non-greasy vegetarian snacks that can be enjoyed sober or after a few pints of Green Flash West Coast IPA on draft. The ramen doesn’t leave much stomach room to spare but do add a few light bites like a tomato salad with yuzu honey dressing or fried burdock root to open the meal. Once the ramen arrives though, it’s hard to focus on anything else.
3232 16th St; 934-0321.