The packed front bar nearly every night at the new Ramen Shop shows just how hungry the East Bay is for a good bowl of soup noodles on this side of the bay.
It helps that the owners are among the growing Chez Panisse alumni striking out on their own and apparently the whole world can’t get enough of ramen, if you believe this recent survey.
Since they don’t take reservations, the wait at the Ramen Shop can be as long as 1.5 hours, if people are even willing to wait that long. The owners – Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman and Sam White – were smart to create a large full bar up front, creating a community feel but also raking in the dollars from specialty cocktails that cost between $10 to $12.
The bartenders know how to keep the waiting diners happy (no food is served at the bar, not even snacks). They know how to mix some real balanced drinks. For example, the Arcadia Punch is a mix of three or four ingredients (including a bit of absinthe) but you don’t feel overwhelmed when drinking it. It’s just smooth.
What To Know About the Menu
The limited menu changes often, reflecting the owners’ dedication to seasonal ingredients and local sourcing. Even in these early days of The Ramen Shop, there have been several dishes that have come and gone – so it’s hard to have a favorite because it may not be on the menu on your next visit.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the changing menu:
- There are usually three starters. At least one is a salad (for now using little gems as a base) and another is a fried rice dish.
- There are usually three ramen bowls, with at least one offering a light broth and another being a vegetarian option.
- Dessert, for now, remains home-made ice cream sandwiches ($5), with a black sesame flavor consistently on the menu (so far).
I actually found that the non-Ramen dishes created the most excitement. On one visit, the little gem salad with poached shrimp ($12) was crisp and flavorful, with the shrimp meat of the best quality and cooked with respect. On another visit, the fried rice (also with Gulf white shrimp although I wished it had the squid and nettles offered soon after opening) was bold with a true umami flavor probably coming from the home-made shrimp paste.
Rating the Noodles
The ramen is served up in beautifully crafted pottery, the perfect vehicle for a quality bowl of house-made noodles. The noodles itself are thicker than most but is cooked with a nice springy, chewy texture. I appreciate how the noodles have been cooked to the right bite each time, compared to other ramen shops that sometimes overcook the noodles and present them soft.
While the amount of noodles may not be much (which is why it helps to order a starter), the broth and condiments keep things interesting. The burnt miso ramen ($16) was rich with almost a slight ashy flavor while the special tantanmen tsukemen ($15) presented an unusual ramen almost like a spicy miso ramen but using the ground pork sauce inspired by the Chinese dan dan mein.
On a recent visit I dined with fellow blogger Christina of The East Bay Dish, and I tried a sip of her shio yuzu kosho ramen broth ($14). The light and bright flavors of the citrusy yuzu was refreshing.
The ramen typically comes with Llano Seco (that’s the source) chashu. And while you only get one slice, it’s one tenderly cooked (spit-roasted to be exact) thick slice. On my burnt miso ramen, the bowl was topped with something crunchy (almost like fried shallots or toothpick fries) and half a salt-cured egg.
The Last Bite
In just a few weeks, the Ramen Shop is proving to be a sure-fire hit, and the owners seem to be adjusting things to address some criticism about the high price (bowls hovered around $15-$16 but lately have been closer to $12-$13). Early on, the ramen took awhile to arrive after the starter but now comes efficiently to the table.
And yes, the wait is extreme for a bowl of noodles, but that’s because Ramen Shop offers more than that (I could drop in just for a salad and fried rice). I think of ramen as street food to satisfy the hungry masses, but here it’s elevated to a restaurant entrée. The debate could probably go on about whether that’s right or wrong, so you can just taste for yourself and join the conversation. The quest would at least be worth the effort.
Ramen Shop, 5812 College Ave., Oakland. PH 510.788.6370. Open daily (except Tuesday) 4 p.m. to late. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.ramenshop.com
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