The story: The one-month-old Shinmai brings another ramen shop to Oakland, and surrounds its noodle offerings with high-end izakaya small bites in a hip, splashy big space on the outer edge of the Uptown neighborhood. It’s the brainchild of Yingji Huang, who also owns Montclair’s Kakui sushi restaurant.
Why I went: Always on the hunt for a good bowl of ramen on the East Bay, I decided to check out Shinmai last Saturday night. I went early to beat the crowds, but it only took a matter of an hour before the restaurant began to fill up.
The vibe: Young and hip, the beautiful space has touches of modern Japan and California cool. The service is friendly, and while the Shinmai has aspirations for Michelin stars, it is not pretentious or stuffy. A large bar, communal table, ramen counter and dining room provides a variety of spaces to fit in.
The booze: The drinks menu (like the food menu) is limited, offering only wine by the glass and beer. But it looks like it’s curated to match the food and provide variety. There are five specialty cocktails, and I tried the “West Ridge” ($11), a martini-like cocktail made with St. George Terroir gin, calvados, peach tea-infused dolin blanc, salers gentiane and rosemary. St. George’s gin is one of my favorite (so smooth) and all the ingredients were balanced to make it an enjoyable glass to start my dinner.
The menu: Like I said, the menu is also limited with just 13 items to choose from, starting with two raw fish options, five dishes from the izakaya, four from the robata grill, and just two ramen options: a tonkotsu broth and vegetable broth.
The dishes from Chef Jerrod Doss reflects his homage to Japanese style of cooking but with his fine-dining influences having worked previously at Chez TJ, Aziza and The French Laundry. For example, a simple dish of broccolini ($11) is elevated by Chef Doss by adding a Japanese-style cooked egg that’s crumbly like goat cheese, and broccolini dressed in a miso-honey mustard glaze. The dish garnished with ikura and black sesame.
Hamachi ($15) is also innovative with saffron and peach, but with the added twist of toasted rice for a bit of crunch. The fish was fresh and meaty, although a bit overdressed by the soy and jalapeno oil.
The ramen is especially made for the restaurant and handled by ramen chef Andy Liu. Unlike the rest of the menu, the ramen is straight-forward. My tonkotsu ramen ($15) in a red plastic bowl was topped with tender chashu slices, a well marinated shoyu egg, and the typical wood ear mushroom, onion and bamboo shoots. The broth wasn’t as rich as other tonkotsu broth I’ve had, but it had a nice underlying sweetness of pork bones.
Side note: For now, there’s only one dessert item of panna cotta ($6) with seasonal fruit.
The last bite: Shinmai in Japan means the first rice harvest of the season, and Shinmai (the restaurant) brings a freshness to Uptown that already has a couple of ramen spots within walking distance of each other. Shinmai is probably more than its ramen and brings a stylish spot to a neighborhood going through transition.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Shinmai, 1825-3 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. PH: 510.271.1888. Open Monday through Sunday, 5 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Reservations, major credits accepted. www.shinmaioakland.com
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