When I visited Ramen Shop last year, I was impressed: straight out of the gate and without any official bar manager, this restaurant was producing some fantastic drinks. Now that Chris Lane 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 over there: making great drinks without falling into the trap of forcing everything into tasting "Japanese." They're just damn good.
While 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 at 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. "Its 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 -- its great to be in any setting where the creative wheels are always turning."
1 ½ oz. Findencio Classico Mezcal
¾ oz. Lemon juice
½ oz. Honey syrup (2 parts wild flower honey to 1 part hot water)
¼ oz. Ginger syrup (2 parts sugar to one part fresh pressed ginger juice)
6-8 sage leaves
Combine all ingredients including sage leaves in a shaker with ice. Shake hard for seven seconds and strain into a glass with fresh ice. Garnish with sage tips.
Ramen Shop, 5812 College Avenue (at Birch), Oakland, 510-788-6370