We've all had ramen. For most Americans, it comes from styrofoam cups in flavors like "oriental" and "seafood." We eat it when we are short on time, hungover, broke, or living in a dorm.
The Japanese would shake their heads at this; for them, ramen is something of a national dish. More than just broth and noodles, it's an art form in itself, with museums and restaurants dedicated to its craft, some so narrowly focused as to concentrate on just one style, flavor, and noodle.
See also: GoBistro in Hollywood (Photos)
If cup o' noodles instant ramen is all you've ever known, however, it can be difficult to understand how anyone can care much about such a bowl of soup. But the ramen at GoBistro in Hollywood is different: It's something to get excited about.
The 3-month-old establishment opened on the west end of Hollywood Boulevard, situated amid the downtown's cultural nexus with an aging Chinese restaurant to the right, a shabby Mexican joint on its left, and an Argentine place across the street. Open for lunch and dinner, the eatery is a collaboration by partners Andrew Gong, Joao Da Silva, and Niti Masintapan. Together, they also operate two Amazing Asian Bistro locations in Plantation and Pembroke Pines.
GoBistro is their latest concept, a tangential project where each could unleash his creative side, said Masintapan. The menu is based on their favorite dishes: a Thai, Chinese, and Brazilian's take on Japanese cooking. Gong prepares the ramen, Da Silva the sushi, and Masintapan -- whose family owns several restaurants, including Eddie Hills Sushi & Thai in Hallandale Beach -- contributes specialty dishes, like his take on Korean-style chicken wings. The plan, they say, is to expand the menu to their other South Florida restaurants and possibly open more.
"These are our favorite dishes," says Masintapan. "Everything on the menu is something we like. We don't want any frou-frou. You come here to eat, and everything should be edible. Your plate should come back empty."
What's not empty is the dining room, which can feel a bit cramped on a busy night, despite loft ceilings and murals of a Tokyo streetscape. A handful of tables are close enough that you chance rubbing elbows with your neighbor. But it makes it easier on the chefs, who make everything to order, and the wait staff, who need time to tell you about the secret menu (Masintapan's take on weekly specials). It also makes you feel lucky to have nabbed a table on a busy Friday night. If not, you're stuck with the bar-like shelf at back and a narrow wooden stool.
GoBistro's menu is small. Start with a few hot and cold appetizers, like Da Silva's stellar jalapeño himachi or tuna poke. Or try the avocado fries, a novelty dish that sells out daily: panko-encrusted slivers of avocado fried to a golden brown.
Chicken-wing connoisseurs, take note: The Gangnam wings are Masintapan's specialty, fried Korean-style and smothered in ginger soy or spicy hot sauce. They're prepped for 24 hours and flash-fried in a two-step process to yield tender meat encased in taut, crispy skin.
Late-night bar eats known as yakitori, the Japanese version of tapas, round out the menu. There are more than a dozen variations, tiny skewers of meat for $2 to $4 apiece. The baby octopus, pork belly, and beef are the most popular.
The hungry patrons who congregate at GoBistro aren't there for the sushi or the yakitori, however. They've come for the ramen.
All good ramen -- be it shiyo, shoyu, or tonkotsu -- share a few basic characteristics: a dense pile of chewy, crimped noodles; a meaty, opaque broth; ribbons of slow-cooked pork; and a pile of bean sprouts, green onion, and possibly a soft-boiled egg with a molten golden center. GoBistro ramen adheres to these requirements but also makes no pretensions.
"[We] hate using the word 'authentic,' " says Masintapan. "Yes, we execute the food in a traditional manner. We have respect for the dish. But we're only being authentic to ourselves."
Authentic or not, Gong's tonkotsu ramen is breathtaking. It certainly tastes authentic, but the Chinese chef -- who learned from his father and was never classically trained -- says his recipe was created after months of trial and error in his own kitchen.
The broth is made from scratch, a golden-opaque kotteri packed with emulsified goodness from long-boiled pork bones, the result of a two-day cooking process. Fat-laced and fragrant, the surface is like an oil slick that leaves a gelatinous sheen on your lips as you slurp away, revealing firm, crimped noodles and succulent slices of pork belly.
Before you order a bowl, ask the waitress if there's a secret ramen that night. If she offers a tom yum take, say yes -- even if it's not how ramen is done. Why? Because you're there for GoBistro's unauthentic ramen, that's why.
The only lament is that plans to make noodles in-house versus using fresh-frozen from a Japanese vendor are not yet underway. Despite being part of the owners' original vision to have an establishment that serves only ramen, Gong admits it can be a time-consuming process that doesn't make sense for GoBistro just yet.
"We'll get there," said Masintapan. "The plan is to special-order our own ramen next and make our own noodles in-house soon after.
"This restaurant really gave us our voice, and we're ready to keep the momentum going. Now, we wait and see if South Florida is ready for more ramen."
GoBistro is located at 2035 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Call 754-263-2826, or visit eatgobistro.com.
Himachi jalapeño: $14
Gangnam wings: $10
Pork belly bun: $9
Tonkotsu ramen: $11
Yakitori: $2 to $4
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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