Weekly Dish: The Ramen Shop Opens
Ramen Shop debuts in Oakland; also Stelle Bistro, Ravioli's, and Rosamunde open for the new year; $20 lobsters at Walnut Creek yacht Club; updates on A16 Rockridge and Duck Club in Lafayette; restaurant weeks galore; and more in this week's Dish!
Rejoice, all you closet ramen lovers: The highly-anticipated Ramen Shop from three Chez Panisse alums debuted at long last in Oakland's Rockridge District. And judging by the large crowds, there are quite a lot of lovers of this comforting Japanese noodle soup out there. As co-owner Sam White says: "It just shows how deeply ramen was needed in Oakland." I managed to finagle a seat over the weekend, and had a really nice meal. A few first impressions...
One, it's actually a pretty big space, that can pack a lot of people into it (which will be nice if they continue to be this busy). The front is dominated by the bar, while the back dining room has plenty of tables, highlighted by a large counter overlooking the kitchen and the cook staff doing their ramen busy-work. The interior is dark and cozy with plenty of warm wood and Japanese touches (red lantern, traditional awning entrance to the dining room, huge Japanese-style print of a fish on the wall).
As for the food, it was a small menu on the night I went (White said they would be adding a few more items as they go along), with just a couple of appetizers and three ramen choices: shoyu Meyer lemon, a veggie ramen, and a spicy miso version. We tried the shoyu Meyer lemon and the veggie. The latter was quite good, in particular the grilled Matsutake mushrooms and salt-cured egg (it also had some wonderfully delicate nori seaweed that White says is actually harvested and dried locally up the coast in Mendocino). Still, we probably preferred the shoyu because of the richer, meatier miso broth and (if I'm honest), the addition of the chashu pork, which was awesome. It's spit-roasted, organic pork sourced from Llano Seco ranch out in Chico, the same place that Chez Panisse sources from (which is where White first tried it). They're still tweaking the recipe for the noodles, which on my visit, had a chewier, doughier texture than most other ramen I've tried. The portions are perhaps a bit smaller, and the price a bit higher ($15 for the shoyu), than most other ramen places. But, I think you do have take into consideration the quality of the products, and the fact that they're making almost everything in-house (and in the grand scheme of things, $15 for a dinner entree isn't too bad in these parts).
Definitely worth checking out, and make sure to get the green tea ice cream sandwich for dessert—that thing was really good...
5812 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 788-6370, ramenshop.com.
Couple of other places that have opened recently. Stelle Bistro from Hugo Boye debuted quietly a few weeks ago. I finally had a chance to swing by the other night and had a nice meal. It's an interesting menu, filled mostly with standard Italian dishes as you might expect from the former co-owner of Caffe delle Stelle. But also (as you might not expect), there are a few South American specialties reflecting Boye's upbringing in Chile. It's a large restaurant, housed in the former Chili's on Locust Street, but segmented into comfy sections (there was some great Brazilian bossa nova music playing on my visit). A couple stand-outs on my visit were actually the South American dishes: tender, flaky beef and egg empanadas, and the lomo saltado—sautéed onions, fries, and marinated steak with rice. 1403 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 988-0604.
Also checked out Ravioli's, which took over for Toscana in Concord's Todos Santos Plaza. It's a really fun little place. It was described to me as sort of an Italian version of Chipotle, and that's a pretty apt depiction. It has a sort of DIY menu where for a set price you can choose raviolis with different fillings and then pick from among several sauces. Ditto for traditional pastas. There are also assorted meat entrées that are served on pasta or polenta, in addition to pizza, calzones, salads, and sandwiches. True, Ravioli's may give off a bit of a fast foody vibe, but everything is made fresh in-house—sauces, pastas, focaccia—and you can taste it. I'd recommend the raviolis (duh) for a first visit, in particular the mushroom and spicy sausage versions. They also have a marketplace where you can buy some of their pastas and sauces to take home. Great service, too. 2151 Salvio St., Ste I, Concord, (925) 689-3819, raviolismarket.com.
One more spot making its debut tonight (Wednesday), is Rosamunde Sausage Grille. This is a restaurant that's established a very loyal following in San Francisco with its large selection of top-shelf sausages and craft beer. It'll be the same formula in its new Old Oakland location, where owner Josh Margolis says there will be around 15 sausages on the menu, plus a few rotating specials, in addition to 16 beers on tap. Grand opening is happening from 5 to 10 p.m. tonight. Swan's Marketplace, 911 Washington St., Oakland, (510) 338-3108, rosamundesausagegrill.com/downtown-oakland.
And don't forget about the recently-opened Sweet Bar Bakery. Plenty of good buzz for Mani Niall's new spot on Broadway in Uptown Oakland. (a trusted source tells me the banana cake is the bomb...) 2355 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 788-4997, sweetbarbakery.com.
A couple of quick updates on some other high-profile spots coming up in the East Bay.
I touched base with James Syhabout about his new Box and Bells Rockridge project, and the Commis chef said not to expect an opening before May or so.
Also heard from the folks behind the very eagerly awaited A16 Rockridge project replacing Hudson, and it sounds like they're tentatively aiming for an April opening.
You heard it here first that the Lafayette Park Hotel hired a new chef, who has plans to reboot the hotel's formal dining establishment The Duck Club. No new details as far as the new concept, but I have heard that any changes likely won't happen until this spring, April or May.
Finally, sounds like the East Bay's beloved deep dish pizza joint Zachary's is almost ready to launch its newest Pleasant Hill location. Latest word is to look for your Chicago-style pie later this month.
Looking to eat out but cash-strapped after the holidays? That could very well be the reason that California restaurant month falls in January. Locally, things kicked off with Tri-Valley restaurant month (this week, Dublin's Oliveta is offering a sandwich, chips, cookie and drink combo for $10). Next week will see plenty of great deals with the start of Berkeley's Restaurant Week. More than a dozen restaurants are participating by offering special $30, three-course prix fixe menus, including hot-spots like Comal, Five, Gather, and Revival. Go to visitberkeley.com/berkeley-restaurant-week for all the details. And look for similar events later this month in Oakland and San Francisco.
Speaking of great deals, Walnut Creek Yacht Club is offering its annual January special of a 1 1/4-pound Maine Lobster (grilled or boiled) with drawn butter, lemon, fries, and coleslaw for just $20.13 (in honor of the new year, 2013). It's for "Loyalty members" only, but it's easy and free to sign up... CLICK HERE for details—you've got to reserve 24 hours in advance. 1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-3474, wcyc.net.
Sounds like the deal for the French bistro concept planned to replace Water Lounge in prime Rockridge territory across from Oliveto has fallen through (the owners had been looking to bring in a chef from San Francisco's Cafe Claude, which apparently didn't work out). E-mail broker Mike Nova if you're looking to open up a restaurant in a hopping Oakland hood...
Couple more Rockridge notes: I Squared, which offered the odd union of Italian and Iranian food, closed with the new year. Word is that the same owners will be re-opening with a new concept in the same location. Also recently closed on College Ave is Mian Mian, which dished out frozen yogurt along with unique designer kitchenware, and longtime corner bread bakery, Great Harvest. No word yet on what's replacing those two.
How can you tell a really great restaurant? You enjoy their food even after they messed up your order. I got take-out from one of my favorite taquerias, El Aguila (we wrote about them in August), and they mistakenly gave me the wrong meal. I don't mention this to complain (it's the only time it's ever happened and they apologized profusely). But rather to note that after our initial annoyance when I realized that it was too late to return the order since they had already closed, my wife and I promptly wolfed down the chicken torta and pork quesadilla (that we hadn't ordered) with great gusto and ended up full and content. (And I can only assume that someone else similarly enjoyed my chorizo burrito and mixiote). Anyway, great place, great food—check 'em out for your next Mexican fix if you haven't been. 1300 Contra Costa Blvd. Ste 12, Pleasant Hill, (925) 682 4444, ElAguilaMexicanCuisine.com
The long-vacant former SR24 space in Oakland's Temescal finally has a tenant. According to Tablehopper, it'll be Juhu Beach Club, an Indian fusion concept that chef Preeti Mistry had been running as a pop-up in San Francisco's Mission district. Per Tablehopper, she's shooting for a March debut. 5179 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Finally, congrats to chef Tanya Holland, who will be celebrating the fifth anniversary of her Brown Sugar Kitchen next Tuesday, January 15. According to her calculations, Holland has dished out more than 250,000 of her beloved cornmeal waffles at the über-popular West Oakland eatery. That's a lotta waffles... 2534 Mandela Parkway, Oakland, 510-839-SOUL (7685), brownsugarkitchen.com.