A Creative Spin on Ramen from New Ramen Shop in Bay Area’s East Bay

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Due to open at the end of December 2012, is RAMEN SHOP, the new spot opening on College Avenue in the former Tachibana Sushi Bar space in Rockridge in the East Bay, across the bridge from San Francisco. The project is from Sam White (previously maître d’ at Chez Panisse and a founder of OPENrestaurant), with partners Jerry Jaksich (he lived in Japan for six years, working in ramen and yakitori places, in addition to some higher-end Michelin-rated spots) and Rayneil De Guzman (who worked at Chez for nine years, and also at Café Rouge).

Their spin on ramen is going to be very ingredient-based, using seasonal produce and top-notch products like Llano Seco pork (there’s a rotisserie in the kitchen, where they will be spit-roasting the pork instead of braising it for the chashu).

The menu will feature three kinds of broths (light: shoyu, medium: miso, and heavy: tonkotsu), plus a vegetarian version. Noodles will be housemade with a machine brought over from Japan, the first of its kind west of the Mississippi! Right now they are still fine-tuning the noodles, trying different flours (like from Community Grains, Central Milling in Utah, and Riverdog Farm), and finding the right balance of the wheat’s flavor.

Some ramen toppings being tasted and tried right now are a variety of mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, and morels), sautéed nettles from the wok (they have a double wok station in their kitchen) with tonkotsu broth, and crab miso with puntarelle. Yup, seasonality in effect. There will also be appetizers, like fish tartare or fried smelts, and salads, like chicory-persimmon.

The front of the 50-seat space is dominated by a bar area, which is where Christa Manolo (previously Beretta) will be holding court with her cocktails (look for some special offerings from St. George Sprits, and the team ponied up for a Kold-Draft machine for quality ice). The bar is made from raw steel with nosing made from beautiful redwood. There will also be excellent wine selections (cohort Jonathan Waters from Chez Panisse will be helping with the list) and beers (Magnolia, Mr. Tam pale ale, Calicraft, and Dying Vines).

Need a pick-me-up? Coffee and espresso will be provided by Four Barrel Coffee. There’s green penny tile on the backsplash and elsewhere throughout the space, and some custom metalwork shelves by architect Wiley Price (he also did Fatted Calf and Prizefighter). There won’t be any seats at the bar—it’s meant to be more of a drink-and-wait area.

The actual dining counter is a bit further back under the large painting of a smelt by Jessica Niello (she also made the beautiful ceramic ramen bowls). The 16-seat counter is long and looks right into the kitchen (cooks will be able to serve guests directly). It’s made from old-growth Douglas fir and was a 1890s factory floor in Portland—above is a curving, eye-catching shape made of layered lath and plaster. There are also some tables, plus a semi-private back area that has a table with room for 8-10 that can be partially obscured by a curtain. More design details are being added by Kelly Ishikawa from The Perish Trust, and the lighting is by Kevin Randolph. I liked the unique pattern of the soundboard on the ceiling above the bar area, which will help counteract the noise that’s sure to be bouncing off the epoxy concrete floor.

It’s an exciting neighborhood to be in: A16 is opening their new location just blocks away, along with James Syhabout’s Box and Bells—and many will already know the location since Zachary’s is literally just across the street. The best part will be the late hours, open until midnight!

Congrats to the team on their new clubhouse—it’s a beauty. So many people contributed to make this project what it is—it’s very much a shining example our Northern California/bohemian/creative way of doing things. Yup, it takes a village. There is also likely to be some soft opening activity. 5812 College Ave. at Oak Grove, Rockridge in Northern California, USA: 510-788-6370.

Note that photo of ramen in blog post is random shot of ramen, not made in the new restaurant.