Laurent Saussy, the executive chef at Santa Monica's new Brick + Mortar, has been cooking in pro kitchens since he was barely a teen. His career has found him working in a wide range of restaurants that span both coasts, from Jiraffe, Josie, and Waterloo and City here at home to New York's Bouley and Blue Hill. So given all he's seen, maybe it shouldn't be so surprising to find the chef's gastopub menu rocking its own ramen entree. After all, L.A.'s ramen scene has exploded as of late, making it one of the town'sde rigueur obsessions. Naturally, we had to dig in when we spied it and then bent the chef's ear a little to learn where his inspiration to start noodling around came from.
Saussy's ramen dish is a dark reddish-brown wading pool of pork broth tangled in fresh noodles that we found surprisingly flavorful and resilient for a non-ramen specialist. Spiced viciously hot with chiles, the heat conceals some of the shading in the pork broth's marriage of mirin, ginger, kelp, garlic, miso, and soy, and centers on cuts of pork loin a bit too massive to integrate into the broth or even be very manageable with chopsticks.
The chef simmers his pork broth for 24 hours and crafts his noodles in-house, accompanying the loin with braised pork belly, soy boiled eggs, and the less-traditional compliment of mussels, which sponge the pork broth up to mix in with their brine. To be sure, it's no purist's take, but still an intriguing dish amped up with fathomless levels of umami.
Saussy tells Grub Street his ramen was stimulated by a mixture of the moment, tradition, and his own passion for Japanese noodles. "I love eating ramen and there just isn’t enough of it on the Westside," the chef admits, "so I thought it would be a fun challenge to take on." As for his favorite ramen options left of Little Tokyo, he confirms, "My favorite spots are Tsujita, Santouka and Ajisen."
Steeped in established flavors, the ramen benefits from serious commitment among Saussy's crew to forge this rich broth. His more contemporary addition is the small scattering of bi-valves swimming in the dish. The chef sums up both his intention and pride in the recipe, telling us it's his celebration of a "big, deep, spicy pork soup with a hint of the ocean [with] tender and crispy pieces of pork and a big nest of noodles."
It may not tear you away from Tsujita or rival the porcine pornography at Yamadaya, but it's worth a taste for Santa Monica-strapped ramen obsessives to judge and also a promising development to see ramen take a place alongside L.A.'s never-ending gastro-spread of charcuterie, flatbread, and brussels sprouts.
Brick + Mortar, 2435 Main St. Santa Monica. 310-450-3434.