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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Noodling About Ramen Shop's New Bar

Posted By on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Scallion Pancakes - JEFFREY EDALATPOUR
  • Jeffrey Edalatpour
  • Scallion Pancakes

Five months shy of its third anniversary, Ramen Shop in Oakland has expanded its footprint, acquiring the space next door. According to the leftover awning still in place, it used to be a luggage store. Ignoring old signage is evidentiary chutzpah. Phantom hands have spelled out the restaurant's name in white letters sized for the eyes of an owl. With an abundance of bumptious bodies and snaking lines, the message is clear: “If you cannot find our coordinates, you aren’t meant to.”

  • Jeffrey Edalatpour
  • Crispy Tonkatsu

click to enlarge Giardiniera Pickle Plate - ROBERT CHEHOSKI
  • Robert Chehoski
  • Giardiniera Pickle Plate
Like every restaurant with a chokehold on the culinary zeitgeist, waiting for a table at Ramen Shop quickly becomes an endurance sport. The addition of the bar was clearly built to quell an impatient army of empty bellies with booze and sakana (a Japanese term referring to food eaten as an accompaniment to alcohol). But once you’ve made your way inside, a feng shui alarm bell starts to ring. The new entrance is stage left; the restaurant stage right, barricaded behind a burnished steel wall that holds it separate and apart from the bar.

Peering in at the crowded tables and the steaming bowls of noodle soup, what comes to mind is the scene in Stardust Memories when glamour-puss Sharon Stone gives Woody Allen the ultimate kiss-off from her fast-moving train, the visual equivalent of a passing fancy. The restaurant and bar here are running on parallel tracks in opposite directions. Someone decided to chop up logs and affix them to the walls, either that or a phalanx of animated tiki totems walked in and exploded when they were told the wait time. This considered décor is au courant and sound-absorbent, but is the aesthetic effect worth a lumberjack’s sweat and toil?

click to enlarge Interior, wood walls - NATHANIEL WILLIAMS
  • Nathaniel Williams
  • Interior, wood walls
Aimed right at the guts of sodden inebriates, the list of bar snacks is abbreviated and perfect for thin people and those who admire them. Scallion pancakes ($10) top the list. Crunchy and dense, they taste of deep-fried dough and oil, which overwhelms the oniony greens inside. A fig jam and a spicy yellow mustard accompany the Crispy Tonkatsu ($10). The jam is a light, sweet fig spread, the fruit denuded of its usual, pungent musk. These pork croquettes are tiny as tater tots and just as golden. A Giardiniera Pickle Plate ($6) disappointed a connoisseur of all things cured. Where the caraway, where the dill? The vegetables were all drowned in a monotonous vinegar. One fresh herb would have cut the burn.

Eleven varieties of Japanese whiskey, though, will wash that aftertaste away. If you must limit yourself to sampling only two, try the Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($14), a smoky blend reminiscent of scotch, or the Yamazaki 12-year single malt ($15), fruity and clean. The $12 cocktails succeed where the pickling juices fail. The Double Barrel Fizz (rye, cherry gastrique, lemon, cinnamon, angostura, and Grand Cru) inspired a double order, as did the Ribbonhead (Shochu, Whiskey, Punt e Mes, cacao, bitters). There were frothy, original virgin drinks, too: The Ginger-kaffir lime soda was mercifully easy on the ginger and a delight, while the Vanilla-pineapple soda could have gone a soupçon easier on the vanilla. If the riot of choice worries, you needn’t. There’ll be more than enough time to sample one of everything while the clock ticks and the folks in the other room sip and ladle away the night.

Ramen Shop, 5812 College Ave., Oakland, 510-788-6370.

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