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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Shiba Ramen: Two Former Chemists Open Brainchild Ramen Shop

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge JAKE FREED
  • Jake Freed
In the 1980s, Emeryville's Public Market with its rows of neon and introduction to approachable (i.e. fast) ethnic food was all the rage. Three decades later, the dilapidated social space is getting a much-needed facelift and a whole new slew of contemporary eateries that promise to create "a current, authentic environment," according to Mark Stefan, president of the realty company that currently owns the space. 

click to enlarge JAKE FREED
  • Jake Freed
Two of the fresh faces to grace the developing Food Hall, are newcomers are Jake Freed and Hiroko Nakamura, two former chemists (and Harvard Ph.D's) with a love of noodles, an obsession with shiba inus, and a desire to provide an East Bay ramen shop that is exquisite without being extravagant.

Their brainchild, Shiba Ramen, features the lower prices, speedy service, and casual comfort of a traditional Japanese ramen bar. Offering cold draft beer and a streamlined menu of all-inclusive ramen options (with a few add-on options for those who really need such things), Shiba promises precision and efficiency, as well as carefully-constructed compositions that have been chemically tested by their developers.

click to enlarge JAKE FREED
  • Jake Freed
From the start — which was a mere 17 months from concept to customer, a quick turnaround for industry newbies — Shiba has been a DIY project for the husband and wife duo. With a background in law, Freed serves as Shiba's CEO and "baron of a ramen empire" (which he blogs about at length). Shiba opened in December of last year as one of the first new food concepts in the renovated portion of the Food Hall. They're located in what used to be a ball pit area from Freed's understanding and have been through the arduous process of securing a space in the selective venue.

"They're really taking their time and being selective, looking for new concepts and talent that can launch their brands from the Public Market," Freed said of the market's developers.

Spicy ramen - JAKE FREED
  • Jake Freed
  • Spicy ramen

Aside from a 10-day immersive "ramen school" experience in Japan, Nakamura, the chef, is completely self-taught and has gone through countless trials to perfect each of her seven broths, all of which are made daily. Her spicy ramen is made with a creamy sesame tonkotsu broth that has been concentrated three times over and is higher in fat than I'd like to remember. Served with spicy ground pork, bean sprouts, bok choy, green onions, shredded togarashi peppers and a soft-boiled egg, it is comforting, filling and best of all, fast.

Clear ramen - JAKE FREED
  • Jake Freed
  • Clear ramen

The artistry in Shiba's ramen happens in the recipe-development stage. The clear broth, for example, went through countless iterations of subbing in less expensive ingredients (dried mackerel for sardines, for example) and adjusting the flavor balance between ocean, animal and vegetable. The result is a nourishing, light broth that has been tuned on a molecular level and is affordable and fast.

Shiba Scream - JAKE FREED
  • Jake Freed
  • Shiba Scream

Shiba also serves buttercorn, miso, white bird (chicken), soy milk and dry varieties of ramen, as well as sweet and salty fried chicken wings and gyoza (pork or vegetarian dumplings). They offer sake, tea, and two beers on tap, which rotate on a regular basis and are dictated by the personal preference of the owners. "We both need a lot of beer these days," Nakamura joked.

I highly recommend the Shiba Scream—ice cream sandwiches that consist of Fenton's chocolate or green tea ice cream squeezed between thin crackers of baked mochi that serve as a sort of collapsed cone. The crackers are hand stamped with Shiba's trademark emblem. They may not smack of chemically-altered umami, but they're certainly my favorite way to end a meal.

Shiba Ramen: 5959 Shellmound St #10, Emeryville, 510-985-8309

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A. K. Carroll


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