The Ramen Shop on College Ave in Oakland has been making a big splash in foodie (and ramen) interwebs, and it’s been high time that I made it over there to visit. It’s probably best characterized as hipster-foodie ramen. It has varying menu offerings, depending on what’s available locally, as might be expected from Alice Water’s trained veterans of Chez Panisse.
Before going, I was already totally supporting what they are trying to do with this shop. Similar to the amazing David Chang, they are creating a fusion of American, fresh, local ingredients with Japanese comfort food. I also had high hopes for the taste and the whole experience.
It’s a great space. They have a bar in the front, and then an open kitchen, with surrounding counter, and then many tables around the outside. There is a lot of reclaimed wood around. Even their wine rack comes from Chez Panisse, showing their roots. The bar was great, with lots of tasty, well prepared drinks, including some fun non-alcoholic drinks like a lemonade with pink peppercorns.
At the counter, they have a fantastic set of bowls of interesting fresh pickles.
Ramen Shop Pickles
Ramen Shop Pickle Plate
The pickle plate has five offerings. Interestingly, even though the printed menu had the day’s date on it, we didn’t get exactly same pickles as listed. There were two kinds of daikon, the first was a traditional yellowish daikon, like Takuan, colored with tumeric. There was a bright red daikon, very spicy and a little sweet. I’m not sure how exactly they flavored it, but it was quite good. The cabbage was good, and the green beans were tasty, but the black Spanish radish was really exceptional. I have seen these big black radishes have been on sale at local farmers markets in the Bay Area for several years, and they are quite strong in flavor. Pickled, they were very tasty. Sliced and pickled, they looked a little bit like scallops, but they had a bright flavor and really nice texture.
We ordered two different kinds of ramen, the shio ramen ($16) with chanterelles, chashu, egg, mustard greens, and nori which is apparently made locally in Mendocino. The other was a dungeness crab miso ramen ($17) with ground pork belly, fried eggplant, leeks, and chrysanthemum greens (shungiku).
Ramen Shop Menu
Ramen Shop Shio Ramen
Ramen Shop Crab Miso Ramen
Now for the real review of the ramen. I had very high expectations for this $15+ ramen, so maybe it was inevitable that I was a little disappointed. Now I understand that the Ramen Shop is doing its own thing, but in most ramen shops, a typical shio broth is quite light in texture. Shio means salt, so it is definitely salty and it is typically a relatively clear broth. What I got here was incredibly thick, what would be described as kotteri (thick) instead of assari (light), with a surprising bit of seafood flavor. The mouth feel was very gluey and fatty, and it felt actually a bit unpleasantly so. It definitely felt like it was thickened by some sort of surfactant or something, or something gooey. I understand that thick brothers like a typical tonkotsu broth are very popular, but it is definitely not what I was expecting, and was not subtle. It was so extreme, I didn’t enjoy the mouthfeel. The noodles were rather blah, maybe not enough alkaline salt to make them chewy, yellow, and flavorful enough. The softboiled egg is really the sign of someone who knows what they are doing, or at least is being precise with their ramen, and the egg here was really superb, very well cooked and flavored. I wasn’t too excited about the mustard greens for a similar reason to the broth, the mouthfeel was unpleasantly rough, and the chanterelles were gooey and slimy. I have not really loved chanterelles in the past, for that reason (I just generally don’t dig the texture), so there was nothing new there for me, as I was hoping they had discovered something interesting with the mushrooms to make me like them in ramen. So overall, my summary was that the flavors were okay, but the mouthfeel was not a good fit for me for almost all the components. For something like ramen, where the consistency of the noodles, and the tender pork and soft broth is part of what makes it so good, texture is half of the experience.
The crab miso broth was much better, a seafood umami flavor, a little spicy, not really subtle. However, they were the same noodles. The crab was good, nice texture and flavor. The eggplant and greens were decent. Again the egg was very good.
They had a vegetarian shoyu yuzu ramen on the menu, and although I usually associate vegetarian ramen as being a bit bland, given the lack of subtlety of the other two broths, it was probably quite good, and seeing people nearby eating it, it looked quite good. I could have added the chashu and egg as add-ins.
They had some fun desserts, things like a popsicle made from pluots and ginger, surprisingly strong in ginger, so that it might be called GINGER! There was also a matcha (green tea) version of the old strawberry shortcake kind of ice cream bars of Good Humor kind.
Overall, I like what this place is doing. I will come back eventually and see what new flavors have arisen on the menu. I like that they have what looks like a good vegetarian ramen, as real vegetarian/vegan ramen can be very hard to find. However, the price is high, and I’m thinking they are maybe trading experimentation for deliciousness, and overcompensating a bit with stronger flavors and textures than necessary.
If anyone has any comments, I’d love to hear your opinions or input.