In search of a great local spot with good food and a lively atmosphere? Then check out Uptown Oakland’s, Itani Ramen. Helmed by Kyle Itani, who helped bring the neighborhood to life when he opened near by, Hopscotch, it is a must-visit spot both for its food and cheerful vibe. They recently launched an expanded Izakaya-style menu, complete with small bites to share (or not!), and once you taste the Furikake Garlic Fries or Shisitou Peppers, you’ll wonder why you didn’t visit sooner. And for regulars, don’t worry, their delicious gyoza are still on the menu. Come see inside Itani Ramen and read what Kyle Itani has to say about the perfect sake flight and better yet, book a table for your next night out.
I asked Kyle Itani a few questions about sake and ramen:
24 East: What makes a perfect sake flight?
Kyle Itani: Sake flights are a great way to introduce someone to sake, or to sample what a place carries so one can try a few things and then make a selection for the sake they want to drink. Beginning with 1 junmai, 1 ginjo, and 1 daiginjo is a common place to start as those classes correspond to the rice polishing ratio. However, at Itani Ramen, we like to create sake flights based on flavor profiles: one light and nuanced, one crowd pleaser, and one well structured and complex.
24E: What do people commonly not know about ramen?
KI: I think a lot of people don’t know that in Japan, ramen varies by region. Some dishes are only found in certain prefectures, but ramen is found everywhere. There are so many different preparations of ramen, all based on the abundance of that prefecture. At Itani Ramen, we offer a rotating, prefecture ramen. We just introduced our latest prefecture ramen, Peking Duck Ramen, from the prefecture, Sendai, where I lived while in Japan. It’s made with Peking duck, chives, spinach, green onions, sesame seeds and a flavorful Shio Chicken broth.
24E: What is often misunderstood about sake?
KI: That good sake has to always be served cold and hot sake is hot to hide the impurities and flaws in it. That might be true in a broad scope, but I’ve done sake dinners where we’ve served the same sake three ways: cold, room temp, and heated, all with different courses. The mouth feel, forward flavors and the finish all change with variations in temperature.
24E: If you #slurpsohard, how long does it take to recover?
KI: The beauty of ramen is that it is the recovery. In fact, our most popular delivery item is our Recovery Meal through Caviar, that pairs a bowl of ramen with gyoza, a small rice bowl, and Pocari Sweat, a Japanese recovery/energy drink.
24E: What is the best thing about being in Oakland?
KI: Oakland is always on the cusp. I opened Hopscotch five years ago with my business partner there, Jenny Schwarz, who also manages the awesome cocktail program. Hopscotch really helped put Uptown Oakland on the map in terms of it being a dining destination. The food scene is thriving and we had a great influx of young, talented chefs coming in and making names for themselves. It’s gotten a lot tougher to operate a restaurant over the past 5 years, so you’ve seen that slow down quite a bit, but there are still opportunities out there.
For more on Itani Ramen, go here.
Original images for 24 East by Lauren Andersen.