Discussing ramen in the Bay Area brings out strong words and opinions about the different styles, broth, noodles, and that terribly subjective and overused adjective: authentic. It's a word that is abused to describe a very narrow slice of what is really an organic movement and slow collective evolution.
It's no shocker that when a trio of ex-Chez Panisse alumni, Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman, and Sam White announced they were opening up the Ramen Shop, there were more than a few doubters. I may not be the most versed in broth or noodles, but the mix of seasonal-local-organic with Japanese techniques makes for one of the most impressive bowls of vegetarian noodles I've ever enjoyed.
While Ramen Shop is all about the noodles, some of the biggest surprises come from the bar, like the astonishingly refreshing and tart Nee-Guy Spritz ($10, Botanivore Gin, Campari, house-made cranberry syrup, lemon, mint, sparkling wine).
The Nee-Guy Spritz was inspired by owner-chef Rayneil De Guzman's love of Negronis and the desire to have something bitter like the classic, but also be a light and thirst-quenching way to start a meal.
The name comes from the phonetic spelling of the Japanese word for bitter (nigai), and what makes it so great is the balanced bitterness of the cranberry syrup with the complementary orange bitterness of the Campari. The tuft of mint garnish gets positioned so that its crisp menthol aromas waft into your nose with each sip, cooling you in a whole different way. Have one to build your appetite for the fantastic Monterey Bay Squid and Pork Fried Rice ($11).
Modeled after Japanese ramen places, the bar at Ramen Shop tries to be seasonally aware without being overbearing or overwhelming with just a few focused options that change daily. "Good ramen places anywhere you go have a wait for a table or counter spot, and part of the concept of the [Ramen Shop] restaurant was to have a comfortable place for people to wait and have a nice cocktail," explained Sam White. "Sometimes it's not about pairing with food, it's more about pairing with an experience."
The cocktail menu always has a punch, the bar's ready-to-go drink, like a Pimm's cup-inspired punch that was available recently. The other staple is the Shop Highball ($12, Hakushu 12-year Japanese whiskey and soda).
Scotch and soda may seem like an odd choice, but most Japanese whiskey is made to be lengthened with quite a bit of water, a process the Japanese refer to as mizuwari, or "mix with water." In Japan, you don't drink without eating, so the whiskey highballs are made to go with everything. "We were really struck by the highballs in Japan, easy to drink, straight forward and can be drunk alone or can pair well with everything, especially the bolder flavors of ramen," says White.
1 oz. of St. George Spirits Botanivore Gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Lemon Juice
¾ oz. House made Cranberry syrup
Sparkling wine (Ramen Shop uses Montlouis sparkling)
Mint (leaves for shaking, mint stem for garnish)
Combine gin, Campari, cranberry syrup, a few mint leaves, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with mint.
Ramen Shop, 5812 College Avenue (at Birch), Oakland, 510-788-6370