First Bite: Yonsei Ramen Shop at Hopscotch
Ever get that all-too-common, late-night craving for a hot bowl of ramen? Maybe you’ve been out drinking, maybe you’ve just been working late, but nothing says midnight snack like steaming ramen. Well, it's your lucky day: Hopscotch, a Japanese-American fusion restaurant and one of Oakland’s newest bragging rights, has been wowing ravenous late-night eaters with their Friday night pop-up, Yonsei Ramen Shop.
“Yonsei” in Japanese means great-grandchild, and it's Chef Kyle Itani’s way of paying homage to his Japanese ancestry. While most ramen shops in San Francisco have lines at all hours of the day, Chef Itani gives a nod to the traditional Japanese style of late-night ramen eating by serving his from 11 pm to 2 am only on Friday nights.
Itani’s ramen menu is simple, cheap, and to the point. Kimchi, edamame, and spring rolls cover appetizer options, while the $9 ramen is offered as either pork (with miso or chashu broth) or vegetarian (with soy-based broth). We ordered up the two pork soups (sorry, vegetarians), which are served with noodles, a few sheets of seaweed, bean sprouts, boiled egg, bamboo shoots, fish cake, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and pork belly.
I admit, I’m no ramen expert, but the depth of flavor in this soup is unlike any I’ve ever tasted. Chef Itani’s current batch of broth, he tells me, is made from a stock of not just bones, but actual pig parts. His latest project involved purchasing a whole pig to utilize in various dishes at Hopscotch (such as his Three Little Pigs dish). Lucky for me, the extra bits and pieces of that pig went into the broth I was eating. Dark, rich, and hearty, the broth is complex enough to stand on its own–as it should be. But add a perfectly soft-boiled egg whose yolk oozes into the broth, slices of thick-cut, caramelized pork belly, and chewy noodles, and you have a masterpiece in a bowl.
We sat at the bar and enjoyed a few of Hopscotch’s signature cocktails while we decided on our ramen. Their full bar is in effect, so you can grab a cocktail while you wait, but I recommend enjoying a glass of Asahi with your noodles. Most of the specialty cocktails are too sweet and complex for the simple, traditional soup. All you really need with a hot bowl of ramen is a cold glass of beer.
With the Fox Theater, the Paramount Theater, and Friday night Art Murmur in the neighborhood, there’s sure to be an abundance of guests flocking to Yonsei Ramen Shop. If you’re smart, you’ll arrive before the shows in the neighborhood end, so you can easily secure a place at the bar or one of the few small tables. But if you do have to wait, the bartenders will gladly fashion you a drink to enjoy outside. Trust me, it’s worth it.