Miso ramen with watercress, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and black garlic oil. Kim Westerman
Miso ramen with watercress, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and black garlic oil. (Kim Westerman)

First Bite: Itani Ramen Offers Pop-Ups Prior to Official Opening in Uptown Oakland

First Bite: Itani Ramen Offers Pop-Ups Prior to Official Opening in Uptown Oakland

Hopscotch has long been a popular cocktail and dinner spot on San Pablo Avenue in Uptown Oakland, but its vibe couldn’t be more different from the new project chef-owner Kyle Itani is launching just a few blocks away. A San Francisco Chronicle Rising Star Chef in 2013, Itani’s classic cooking at Hopscotch draws diners in for fried chicken, freshly shucked oysters and burgers with hand-cut fries. Itani Ramen has a different mission: to bring homemade ramen to the neighborhood. Various delays have held up the opening, but the restaurant began holding weekend pop-up dinners last Saturday and will continue to do so until the doors officially open and the full menu is available.

We stopped in on Sunday night to see what’s in store. Though there was a steady drizzle and virtually no protection from the rain, there was a line forming by 5:40pm for a 6pm opening.

Lining up for Itani Ramen’s weekend pop-up.
Lining up for Itani Ramen’s weekend pop-up. (Kim Westerman)

Once inside, the many servers and kitchen were synchronized and downright fast filling orders placed at the counter.

The fast-paced open kitchen at Itani Ramen.
The fast-paced open kitchen at Itani Ramen. (Kim Westerman)

The pop-up menu featured two types of ramen, a shoyu and a miso. The shoyu (soy sauce) broth was made with both chicken and pork, and also included bonito tuna, which gave the whole concoction a beautiful, lean depth. Standard toppings were pork cha siu, bamboo shoots, yu choi and green onion. We added a jidori egg for $1.50. The pork cha siu, a classic Cantonese marinated pork, made the dish with its complex spicing and rich, fatty texture, and the crisp, bright green yu choi was a nice counterpoint.

Shoyu ramen with pork cha siu, bamboo shoots, yu choi, green onion, and jidori egg.
Shoyu ramen with pork cha siu, bamboo shoots, yu choi, green onion, and jidori egg. (Kim Westerman)

The miso ramen was a compelling vegetarian dish, the all-vegetable broth hearty and earthy, and the toppings included watercress, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and black garlic oil. The garlic oil added a sweet depth to the overall experience of the bowl and gave it a resonance that most vegetarian soups don’t have.

Miso ramen with watercress, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and black garlic oil.
Miso ramen with watercress, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and black garlic oil. (Kim Westerman)

What further distinguishes both recipes is Itani’s homemade noodles, which are beautifully cut and cooked to a perfectly al dente texture, slightly chewy and, frankly, addictive.

The addictive homemade noodles in the Miso ramen.
The addictive homemade noodles in the Miso ramen. (Kim Westerman)

We also ordered two appetizers, the first a beautiful, thin-skinned, hand-formed pork gyoza, and the second, a bowl of bright pickles of burdock root, cucumber, spicy mustard greens and carrots.

Handmade pork gyoza.
Handmade pork gyoza. (Kim Westerman)
A bowl of homemade pickles.
A bowl of homemade pickles. (Kim Westerman)

The Sohomare Tokubetsu Kimoto sake was just the right medium-dry junmai accompaniment. For beer drinkers, there’s Asahi on tap, and there’s one shochu (a barley spirit) as well.

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Service was incredibly organized, composed and proficient for a restaurant not even fully out of the gate. This is going to be a neighborhood hot-spot in no time.

The long, high-ceilinged dining room at Itani Ramen
The long, high-ceilinged dining room at Itani Ramen. (Kim Westerman)

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Itani Ramen
1736 Telegraph Ave. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: (510) 788-7489
Tentative hours for weekend pop-up series: March 25-27; April 1-3; April 8-10 6pm-midnight (first come, first served, no reservations).
Facebook: Itani Ramen
Twitter: @ItaniRamen
Instagram: @itaniramen
Price range: $$ (ramen $12-$14)

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