The best damn fried rice. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
One of the many delicious salads. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Spicy tantanmen ramen with miso-braised tripe. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Smoked black cod miso ramen with ground pork belly. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
I find myself thinking a lot about the fried rice ($11) at ~RAMEN SHOP~ in Rockridge. There’s fried rice, and then there’s this one. One night, the bowl of dark, dusky, just-crisp-enough rice came packed with plump oysters, squid, and little bites of chashu pork, plus wild nettles and cilantro, while another night was all about pork and padrón peppers and wild nettles. The one constant is the special, secret sauce: Siew’s spicy tobanjan chile paste (which deepens the flavor profile, amps the heat, and keeps you scooping it up). I always end up considering taking an order to go. Fried rice for breakfast, it’s a good thing.
The tricky part is to not fill up on the stuff, because you aren’t even close to the main event yet. The Chez Panisse pedigree of partners Jerry Jaksich, Rayneil De Guzman, and Sam White mean the salads are also a thing of beauty here, like curly endive with the thinnest pieces of Sierra Beauty apples, pink daikon, candied pecans, and buttermilk miso dressing (it’s like Japanese ranch!). This salad would be right at home in a French bistro, but when you think of placing everything through the frame of delicious (and seasonal), it makes sense that it’s here.
Almost everyone at the long wood counter that flanks the open kitchen is hunched over a bowl of ramen at some point. I’ve had moments where I am blown away: the tantanmen ramen ($16) with miso-braised tripe (!) and ground pork belly and a thick, juicy slice of chashu, for sure. Another night, the shio ramen ($17) with a marrow bone was too oily and didn’t quite become better than the sum of its parts, although it had such a gorgeous shoyu egg, and slices of my favorite, their housemade kamaboko (fish cake), which is the best I’ve had (they make their tender, flavorful version with squid ink, scallop, and shrimp). If you see a crab ramen on the menu, you gotta get it.
You’ll find three kinds of ramen each night, always with top ingredients (the seasonal vegetables are particularly gorgeous) and their ever-improving housemade noodles that stay springy in your bowl (which you will barely make it to the bottom of). The ceramic bowls are all so beautiful. The team goes to Japan as much as they can, always bringing back new ideas, although the farmers’ market seems to provide equal inspiration. You should probably find a little room for an ice cream sandwich ($6) or their brill white chocolate-dipped miso ice cream bar (on a stick) with puffed rice ($6).
The 50-seat space has a great look, full of wood and cool design details. It’s so busy, consistently. But there’s a full bar, and the team will make sure you have something balanced and refreshing and delicious in your hand while you wait. There are also well-chosen beers on tap, Japanese whiskies, French wines, take your pick. The staff will take good care of you—the place feels like it’s run by a family, and it is.
A couple of things to note: Ramen Shop is closed Tuesdays, FYI, and the kitchen is open until midnight Fri-Sat. Best of all, it’s only a couple of blocks from the Rockridge BART, so SF diners, make the trip!