“For us, it was important not to look too Japanese. There’s a certain Berkeley craftsman style with Chez Panisse that’s warm and welcoming that we wanted to bring here,” says owner Sam White, on the need to reclaim a sense of California cool.
Designed by Wylie Price, the restaurant is styled with nods to traditional oriental aesthetic, such as jade-colored tiles on the wall separating the kitchen or a lantern that quietly hangs in the corner without being too literal. Its touch of classic Americana lies in the interior’s earth tones, military-style light fixtures, as well as a mix of heavy ￼metal seating. The Ramen Shop’s notable characteristic, however, is a long ramen bar made of naturally oxidized wood from Oregon that stretches around the length of the dining room, offering a clear view into the open plan of the kitchen.
The architecture itself hovers between two separate spaces and transports patrons as they make their way from the front of the house to the dining room. Out by the freestanding bar, the area is dominated by a high ceiling and wide surface area. Then the ceiling drops with a fabric canopy enclosing the dining space and suddenly it becomes a ramen bar that’s neither noodle house nor fussy restaurant—it’s an inviting place to come together for conversation that’s as warm as the broth used in their soups.
“There are a lot of ramen places elsewhere that involve time spent waiting, as I saw when I was in Hokkaido [Japan],” White explains, “so we wanted to create a restaurant inside of a space with an intimate setting so it’s about honest food, the company you’re with, or a place to enjoy your favorite beer.”
As The Ramen Shop takes everything we thought we knew about ramen and makes it new again, it makes hovering that intermediate space between Hokkaido and Oakland a venture worth taking.