Friday Late Night at Yonsei Ramen Shop [Hopscotch, Uptown, Oakland]
Images on Facebook of the smiling pig head burbling away for a ramen lover’s pork stock drew me irresistibly to the Yonsei Ramen Shop, the after hours alter-ego of Hopscotch in Uptown. The late night noodle fest launched in the fall to feed the crowds for Art Stroll, and has continued each Friday from 11PM to 2AM. Two weeks ago I joined the ramen-seekers gathered outside on the sidewalk. The veterans knew to put their name on the list to get called for a seat. Eagerly we waited for the red ramen sign to appear, signaling the change over to Yonsei.
The first order of the day was a cocktail from the Hopscotch menu. I must admit I loved seeing mostly $9s and $10s for drink prices. My Agricole Mule --- agricole rhum, lime, ginger, mint --- dashed away the cares of the work week with a savory tropical wave. Though enjoyable as could be for a drink to wind down, I would later find it a poor partner with my ramen.
The simple menu changes regularly to feature one or more ramen made with meat and one vegetarian ramen, plus a few starter bites. Again, the affordable prices made me smile. Ramen bowls are $9 apiece and include a full range of toppings in that price though one can add more chashu or an extra jidori egg. Here’s the ramen menu from my night,
Chef Kyle Itani can maintain impeccable sourcing and still keep prices down because his main ingredients are by-products of his menu at Hopscotch that would otherwise go to waste. This week’s 253-pound pig came from Petaluma’s Langley Farm, butchered by Itani, and most of it served up to Hopscotch customers. The heap of bones, depicted pig head, and meaty scraps were devoted to making an extra rich pork base for the ramen without MSG. His chicken bones come from Amish chickens raised in Idaho on a vegetarian diet.
In addition, to the shoyu, miso and veggie stock choices, Yonsei prepared a few orders of a secret, off-menu selection called Ninja ramen. A lighter and less-filling stock choice, milky and nearly white in color, my server said. And that’s what I chose to order. Served thermally hotter than most, the Ninja stock was indeed less heavy but full bore in flavor. A lovely harmony of smoky/sweet seafood tones, golden chicken-y flavors, and deeper notes of pork rounded out the umami-laden finish. The Ninja started as kombu dashi, then was built up with chicken bones, and the addition of the pig neck bone. A rapid boil emulsified the stock for the opaque creamy ivory hue, and bonito flakes were added near the end. Delicious through and through, the sole complaint about the stock would be that there was not enough of it in the bowl in proportion to the other elements.
Ninja ramen came topped with spinach, bamboo shoots, fish cake, shimeji mushrooms, jidori egg, nori (dried seaweed), and chashu pork belly. The mushrooms were especially wonderful. Still some crispness to them, the juicy shimeji were infused with a sweet-salty marinade released with each bite. Likewise, the whole leaf spinach was prepped and seasoned with considerable care, not just unadorned. The slices of bamboo shoots were also slightly sweet but did not seem fermented. I would have welcomed the herbal bite of negi (scallions) that were not provided.
Meltingly tender in the mouth, the generous slab of pork belly stayed intact and did not disintegrate in the bowl. Served with rind on, one edge of the skin was a little tough but most had softened.
Besides the delicious soup base, the other major highlight was the gorgeous jidori egg. I’ve had my fill of jiggly whites, runny-yolked, unseasoned 63 degree C. eggs served up in modernist attempts at ramen-making. Give me a traditional soft-boiled, seasoned egg any time. Yonsei's has beat out Orenchi’s organic egg, my previous top egg in these parts, and is the equal of Tsujita’s Los Angeles ovum masterpiece. Orange-yolked, cooked to a semi-liquid custardy set, and very lightly seasoned, the über-rich eggs come from happy Rhode Island Reds in Chino. Next time I will certainly order an extra one.
The main ding for this bowl would be the noodles. In the more experienced ramen shops, the skeins of uncooked noodles will be fluffed up to separate the strands just before they’re cooked. Then after boiling, swirling the noodles in the individual bowl of stock ensures they don’t stick together. My bowl had an undercooked clump that those QA steps could have prevented. The medium-thick noodles from San Jose’s Yamachan were also somewhat gummy on the surface. As mentioned above, a little more stock was needed to be in proportion to the serving size of noodles.
For dessert, housemade matcha ice cream with azuki beans infused with Sauternes, $5. Some extra powdered green tea was scattered over the lusciously creamy and barely sweet scoop giving each bite added and varying amounts of tannin and tea intensity.
Service was attentive and the staff had no trouble answering my many questions. Yonsei Ramen Shop enters the ramen ranking at #9, and is a good bet to rise higher.
Yonsei Ramen Shop
(located inside Hopscotch)
1915 San Pablo Ave, Oakland
Friday, 11pm to 2am
PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Tsujita, 2057 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles
3. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
4. Orenchi Ramen, 3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
5. Santouka, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
6. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
7. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
8. Gaku Japanese Charcoal Grill, 5152 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
9. Yonsei Ramen Shop @ Hopscotch, 1915 San Pablo Ave, Oakland
10. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
11. Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
12. Ramen Dojo, 805 South B St, San Mateo
13. Shalala, 698 W Dana St, Mountain View
14. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
15. Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
16. Alexander’s Steakhouse Lounge, 10330 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino
17. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo
18. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
19. Ramen Tenma, 487 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
20. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
21. Orson Restaurant Bar + Lounge, 508 4th St, San Francisco (closed)
22. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
23. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
24. Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
25. Ken Ken Ramen, pop-up at The Corner, San Francisco (closed, moved)
26. Kyora Japanese Restaurant, 1217 Wildwood Ave, Sunnyvale (closed)
27. BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
28. Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
29. Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
30. Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
31. Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland
32. Muracci’s, 244 State St, Los Altos
33. Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
34. Tadamasa, 34672 Alvarado Niles Road, Union City
35. Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
36. Ippuku, 2130 Center St, Berkeley
37. Nombe, 2491 Mission St, San Francisco
38. Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
39. Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
40. Ramen Misoya, 3541 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
41. Chubby Noodle, 570 Green St, San Francisco
42. Ame Restaurant, 689 Mission St, San Francisco
43. Yu-Raku, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
44. Namu, 439 Balboa St, San Francisco (moved)
45. Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
46. Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
47. Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
48. Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
49. Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
50. Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
51. Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco (closed)
52. Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
53. Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
54. Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
55. Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
56. Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
57. Saiwaii Ramen, 2240 Irving St, San Francisco
58. Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
59. King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco
60. Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
61. Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
62. Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
63. Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo (closed)
64. Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose (now Dan Izakaya)
65. Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
66. King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
67. Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco (closed, moved)
68. Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
69. Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
70. Dan Izakaya, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
71. Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
72. 100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
73. Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
74. H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
75. Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
76. Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
77. Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
78. Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
79. Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
30. La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas (closed)
81. Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
82. Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
83. Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
84. Bushido Izakaya, 156 Castro St, Mountain View
85. Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
86. Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco (closed)
87. Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
88. Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
89. Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
90. Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
91. Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
92. Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
93. Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley
I stopped by last Friday ~ 930 just wanting to check out the space but ended up staying well into the noodle zone. People were quite friendly and it was easy for me as a solo to engage with my neighbors. Usually I'm a cocktail fan but my eyes widened for the liquor-beer pairings for only $10: Templeton Rye+Coedo, Yamazaki 12+ Asahi Black, Caol 12+Drake's IPA. They have a nice Scotch list and serve them with a tiny bottle of water and rocks on the side so you can adjust to your liking. A couple next to me were having an improvised amaro tasting; they're very accommodating in the bar. I'm not sure if it's their intention, but this very much feels like a place to stop to have a drink and a bite rather than a full dinner, which I can appreciate. On to the ramen: This is a traditional bowl and very tasty. Noodles were perfect consistency and pork belly particularly flavorful. All in all, a sweet little spot for a nightcap and a bowl of noodles (you know, the meal after dinner).
Glad you tried it, and even more so that you enjoyed it. I've heard from friends that the crowd for ramen seems to be growing. How'd it look to you? Perhaps an early arrival for cocktails at the bar as you did might be the way to avoid a long wait.
To me, ramen is for lunch or for soaking up alcohol after a night of drinking, so I'm jazzed that this late night option exists.
re: Melanie Wong
I think there's an initial rush at 11 and if you are a group more than 4 you'll have a wait bc the place is not that big. But solos or couples can prob find a spot sooner. When I left 1230 there were seats avail at the bar. Definitely arrive earlier for a drink and they'll bring you a bowl right at 11. Yes, late night places are great esp ramen for the very reason you state.
Thanks for the tip. Was able to visit recently and was favorably impressed. It was quite busy; arriving at 11:15 we did not eat until about midnight. Croquettes were nice although could have been firmer; served with tonkatsu sauce and a nice hot mustard. The ramens were quite nice; the broths were clean with a nice body. I thought my spicy miso was under seasoned criminally until I saw the blob of miso hiding underneath the chashu. After stirring, it was a good, quality soup. It irritates me a little though that I had to stir it up myself given that the egg was only half an egg. Stirring then forces you to set it aside or eat it first, which is annoying.
The tonkotsu that my companion has was also good, and didn't require stirring. I thought both soups could have had a little more character or punch, but they were good, much better than Sobo but not as good as Ramen Shop. Certainly worth the $9. Did not have the noodle issues that Melanie had; they were fine and cooked well. Chashu was good but I think I am definitely developing a preference for the rolled loin versions over the pork belly versions, especially if the latter is super soft. Too much like pure fat.
Will return if I am still awake and hungry on Friday night, not a given these days given my advanced age.
"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."
You're welcome, Eric. It's too long since we've had a spot of mutual interest to chew the fat on. Guess I need to get to the East Bay more often, though you're hardly so old and infirm that you can't tag me somewhere else. :)
Good to hear about the two mainstay soup stocks that I did not try. I wonder if the stock is less deep on the nights there's no giant pig head to brew. The soup-making here is what I found most remarkable and the more still since this is only one day a week. As I've tried the Ramen 2.0 versions in SF from chefs trained in western technique who try their hand at ramen, the soup base tends to be the weakest link though they can impress with their toppings and sourcing. This was the first one to really grab me soup-wise.
I'd received a nice note from the GM thanking me for my feedback. So I'm glad that the noodle issues have been corrected, a quick and easy fix.
And I have tried Sobo, the next day in fact after Yonsei so very easy to draw a comparison. It was good enough but rather soulless, sort of like checking off the ramen boxes but not really living the spirit of a ramenya as Yonsei managed to do for me. Any others in the East Bay, besides Ramen Shop, worth checking out?
Sobo Ramen in Oakland