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