Typical. I had spent the day catching up with stuff this Friday, and had even shopped already for ingredients for a couple of dishes for that night– Filmjolkslimpa and Grillad Lammentrocote med Rora pa Rostade Tomater when my wife called about 430pm.

Spicy Shrimp Tantanmen Ramen

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“Weren’t we going to meet at Rockridge and finally check out The Ramen Shop?” she queried. Of course, thinking about Swedish dishes for that night, this had totally slipped from memory, so I assured her that the dishes could wait till another evening, then scurried home, put my purchases away, and walked off to the nearest bus stop to meet her at the (in)famous Ramen Shop.

So maybe it isn’t infamous, but in my small circle of folks who are regular restaurant goers, this place for the longest time simply…pissed me off. A bunch of Chez Panisse alums go to Japan for a couple of months, come back after somehow getting the classic basics of Japanese noodle and broth preparation, and put their considerable cooking expertise and cred to the test by opening a noodle shop, and charging 2-3x the going rate for a bowl of what in Japan would probably sell for anywhere from $2-5 in any chain, corner dive, or small restaurant.

I was so aghast at the…hutzpah that a couple of white-eye cooks could presume to think that I would think that spending $16-17 for a frickin’ bowl of noodles could possibly interest me. The only thing that interested me was …well, nothing. Give me a break.

So months had passed and the little shop of horrors (as I privately coined it) started selling their noodle and broth dishes. And it’s apparently quite successful cuz it’s packed most evenings and people seem to love it. Aagh! Their success bothered me. Irritated me. But I realized that I was judging without seeing. Without tasting.

I had to bite the bullet, pony up $16 for a #%@$ing bowl of noodles so that my inner rant could be justified, so in the pursuit of my self-justification for my opinion as well as, let’s face it, actual curiosity, I found myself walking along College Avenue toward the little shop of horrors where my wife waited.

While we waited, I ordered a couple of cocktails from the bar at the front of the shop. Two hipster-like, tattooed and bearded fellows pleasantly took my order, and by the time I turned around after watching their seemingly masterful use of the ‘Boston shaker’ to mix our drinks, we had apparently gotten seats and I took our drinks to the long bar that faced the cooking area.

I ordered the Grass Cutter, composed of sho chu, gin, lemon, pineapple orgeat, ginger, vanilla, and sprinkled with powdered matcha. Surprisingly good; tasty, layered. Was it worth $10? Given that we rarely succumb to cocktails when out to eat (though this may change), we knew that restaurants make their margins a good deal with drink costs.

My wife’s drink was a Badminton Cup Royal with gin, lime cucumber, mint and prosecco. It was ‘ok’ and didn’t wow either of us, but certainly an acceptable concoction.

The place had a nice bar with a fairly wide selection of wine, whiskey, beer, and ‘sour’ drinks–an aspect of drink I’ve rarely seen separated out as a category.

As we were here mostly for the ramen and broth, we eschewed the desserts and initially passed on most of the appetizers, but as we were seated right in front of the cold station where a woman was making salads, we noticed the bowls of Japanese pickles and couldn’t resist getting their selection of pickles fermented veggies ($8) which included sansho cabbage, turmeric daikon, mustard zucchini, and spicy carrots. Very nice, ample portion, and a good contrast to the noodles which arrived quickly after.

They provided a selection of three ramen dishes, each presumably tailored and utilizing their base broth which uses pork bones and the exuding marrow adds a delightful thickness to the broth not usually seen in most ramen shops we’ve been to. Their broth takes 24 hours to prepare, we were told, and it shows.

Wifey ordered the Burnt Garlic Shio Tonkatsu ($16) while I opted for the Spicy Shrimp Tantanmen ($17).

We both grasped our spoons, looked at each other, and sipped our broth. They were both…simply delicious. It looked like ramen, tasted a little like the broth you might expect, and we were…much to my chagrin, absolutely pleased.

Our entire bill, including a 15% tip as we found the service and help to be gracious and attentive, came out to $75. We both noted that the actual size of the ramen bowl was a bit baby-sized, or more the amount one might expect to find at a lunch set menu in any other Japanese noodle place, but nonetheless, we both walked out, feeling rather stuffed and staggered off to the bus stop for the ride home.

As a final note, later as we sat at the kitchen table, still in a mild stupor of fatigue, we both thought that our experience was delightful, the service was exemplary, and the food was, by and large, top notch. Maybe not typical ramen from a Japanese perspective, but still tasty and delicious.

We also figured–we wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon, despite it all. $75 for two bowls of noodles, a plate of pickles, and two cocktails is not a cuisine choice we think we are inclined to repeat–at least at those prices. While dropping the same or slightly more at a good French bistro or even Great China is something we might not remark much upon, choosing noodles…naah.

For what its worth, visiting this restaurant is a good thing to do if you believe in supporting a business that tries to take care of their staff with living wages, excellent quality ingredients, and which also promotes local farmers and suppliers. So many restaurants these days barely consider their staffs as much as in this light, and they are making a mark as an alternative to the standard factory systems for delivering food and produce to the people.

But you will pay for it. I’m not suggesting the other end of the spectrum where fast food workers are consistently underpaid and need to work two jobs to keep home and hearth together, but The Ramen Shop, in its own simple, expensive way, is trying to make changes. And I appreciate them for their efforts. Their food is good, their business seems to be doing well.

Yes. But $17 for a bowl of noodles, no matter how good, is still not so amazing an experience that I’m willing to pony up that much again.

The Ramen Shop
5812 College Avenue
Oakland, CA
510-788-6370

Burnt Garlic Shio Tonkatsu Ramen

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