Working together at the California restaurant Chez Panisse three years ago, the maître d’ Sam White, the veteran cook Rayneil De Guzman and the bartender Jerry Jaksich discovered a shared fanaticism for, of all things, ramen. A couple of pop-up restaurants, several pilgrimages to Japan and countless slurped bowls later, the three Alice Waters alums opened Ramen Shop, Oakland’s newest dining destination, in early January.
The menu, which changes daily, hints at the owners’ pedigree (in Chez Panisse style, farmers and ranchers are credited by name, and purity of ingredients is paramount) and reveals a confluence of food cultures. Authentic Japanese dishes are driven by local Northern Californian ingredients to create dishes like shio ramen cut with Meyer lemon, rich miso infused with the local Dungeness crab, and fried rice flavored with earthy wild nettles and Monterey Bay squid.
“Ramen is very regional, and practically every city in Japan has its own style that reflects people’s taste and what is available,” says Jaksich, who trained under a ramen “master” while living in Japan for six years and now hand pulls the noodles for Ramen Shop’s service daily.
Far from a Japanese-themed restaurant, Ramen Shop shares many of the design hallmarks of restaurants in this moment: exposed wood, reclaimed Americana furniture and Edison bulbs. However, the design of the deep, dimly lit room and long, curved counter where the cooks warmly acknowledge each guest is unmistakably influenced by Japanese hospitality. “We didn’t want to make a place that is like a Japanese place, but a place that our Japanese friends will like,” White says.
De Guzman attributes their shared time at Chez Panisse as the inspiration behind retaining the integrity of Japanese cooking while also creating “something unique, something Californian.”
© T: The New York Times Style Magazine, February 1, 2013, Photography Credit: Aya Brackett