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When we visited Ramen Shop last year, we were impressed: This restaurant was producing some fantastic drinks straight out of the gate and without any official bar manager. Now that bartender par excellence Chris Lane, formerly of Lolinda, is at the helm, the drinks are even better.
Playing off the herbal qualities in mezcal, Lane's Old Golden ($10, mezcal, sage, lemon, honey, ginger) is a great example of what he's doing: making great drinks without falling into the trap of forcing everything to taste "Japanese." They're just damn good.
But though the drinks are not designed to pair with any particular menu items, Lane is conscious that certain styles and flavors are more appropriate to the Ramen Shop than others.
"I do think that on a whole, one has to be mindful of the overall flavors presented by the restaurant.... at Lolinda I could get away with making lots of stirred boozy drinks to go with a steak or a pork chop," says Lane. "At Ramen Shop, the last thing I would want with a big bowl of rich, hot broth and noodles would be a Manhattan. We are definitely focusing on longer drinks with slightly more citrus. The flavors in the drinks need to be a little more understated without sacrificing clarity."
That focus shows up in menus that change nightly to highlight seasonal ingredients, but often include the Tiki-inspired First and Last ($10, Niesson Blanc Rhum, Sapins Herbal Liqueur, lime, pineapple gomme, and Velvet Falernum), which perfectly primes the palate for a large plate of fried rice, Japanese-style pickles, or pristine salads.
While the new gig has been a homecoming for Lane — who used to work at Cole Coffee down the street, while attending the California College of Arts — it's also been a nice challenge for him. "It's amazing the depths of flavor the guys and gals in the kitchen keep attaining with their nightly menus...[which] makes me look like a lazy ass by comparison," says Lane. "Which actually can be a good thing — it's great to be in any setting where the creative wheels are always turning."