by Benjamin Seto/Focus: Snap: Eat
One thing I never could understand about the extremely popular Ramen Shop in Rockridge is why it never sold food in its large front bar. Instead, the space was often where crowds dwelled (with some well-balanced drinks in hand) while waiting for a table.
Now, because of opportunity and the desire to reduce the wait times for diners at this no-reservations Oakland hot spot, in August Ramen Shop expanded into a former luggage shop next door, creating another bar area serving bar snacks and adding tables to the existing bar where you can now order the full menu.
This gives Ramen Shop, with its Chez Panisse pedigree — it was opened in 2012 by three alumni of Alice Waters’ Berkeley institution: Jerry Jaksich, Sam White and Rayneil De Guzman — an additional 20 seats to serve eaters. I recently dropped in to check out the space, and the new tiny bar with a wooden mosaic wall design had a bit of a cave-like feel. The expert cocktail menu offers a highball section with whisky and sochu, along with eight specialty cocktails that played with liquor like mezcal, rye and bourbon.
Cocktail love: Major Minor Love
I tried the Double Barrel Fizz ($12) because it was served long (basically in a tall glass) and full-bodied with rye, cherry gastrique, lemon, cinnamon, angostura, and Rodenbach Grand Cru. But I actually fell in love with my next drink, a daily special called, appropriately, Major Minor Love.
On a warm summer day, MML was frosty yet sexy with its rye, Campari, pineapple, vanilla, and lemon (served up). It was tropical and soothing, taking me away to the Caribbean or Saint Tropez.
The new bar doesn’t serve the full menu but offers bar snacks. I was disappointed at the tiny selection, which on this day was just three things. I tried the Sonam’s pork and shellfish dumplings ($9.50) because I’m not a fan of fried foods (the other two were crispy tonkatsu or sesame chips). The dumplings had great form but the skin was thick and slightly mushy. The filling was tasty and blended nicely with the slightly spicy ponzu dipping sauce.
In the old space, the large bar remains, and it’s surrounded with additional tables. I went for an early dinner with my brother who was visiting and we easily got a table near the noodle counter bar.
Familiar, seasonal menu
The seasonal menu hasn’t changed much since my first visit; it continues to offer a selection of starters that often include a couple of salads with some kind of protein and a fried rice (the only vegan option might just be the pickle plate for $10.50 and little gem salad). We tried a special smoked duck breast with chicory ($15.50) that was lovely. I wished there were more slivers of the duck breast — they melted in my mouth when I ate them with the kumquat-kosho larb.
The pulled pork donburi (a traditional rice bowl) came out looking like the toppings for a Korean bibimbap with pickled ginger, kombu, scallions, cranberry beans, peperonata, French breakfast radishes and a Hen Pen Farms raw egg yolk. My brother mixed all the ingredients and we dug in, enjoying the flavors but again wishing there was more of the pulled pork.
For ramen, there are still only three options that changes regularly (there’s usually one vegetarian option like a Meyer lemon shoyu ramen). Because my brother doesn’t like to eat a lot of heavy broths, we went with the shio ramen ($17.50) with roasted sand dabs, pork chashu, shoyu-marinated egg, blistered cherry tomatoes, bok choy, scallions and frilly red mustard greens. As always, the presentation was quite beautiful and the ingredients were all of the highest caliber.
It’s been a while since I’ve eaten at Ramen Shop and it seems like the noodles have improved in texture, with give yet still firm. Maybe having a second noodle machine from Japan has helped to make more fresh noodles.
The last bite
While slightly bigger with the new bar, the Ramen Shop hasn’t changed much in appearance or menu offerings. But that’s a good thing, as it’s been so popular for its quality offerings paired with sophisticated cocktails. The latest changes aren’t dramatic, but you could say they’ve helped to raise the bar in the noodle-dining experience on the East Bay.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Ramen Shop is at 5812 College Ave. (at Birch Court), Oakland. 510-788 6370. Open daily from 5 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.