Ever since Pizzaiolo started opening its doors in the morning, making its ramshackle stateliness available to the bleary-eyed, the local cafe scene hasn't been the same. Places such as A16, Homestead, the Boot and Shoe, and Adesso soon followed suit — with mixed success. But particularly deserving right now of your early morning caffeine visions is the Ramen Shop's weekend service, with its Asian-influenced pastry menu and one of the spiciest cups of chai in town.
Pastry chef Brett Boyer, a former Chez Panisse intern, wanted the pastry selection to fit in with the Ramen Shop's Cal-Japanese theme. "Although a lot of Japanese pastry has been influenced by Italy, France, and Germany, the Japanese just took those traditions and made it really beautiful," he explained. "I wanted to start infusing the flavors I was around all the time here [at the Ramen Shop]. Once I decided to dump a bunch of kimchi purée into a gougère — and it's become one of the most popular things."
Get there early and the kimchi gougère — umami-rich and tickly with chili — will still be warm, along with most of the pastries when the doors open, including the matcha-glazed bear claw, another customer favorite. At that hour, the bear claw's glaze shines a grassy green, sticks to your fingers, and lends a whisper of astringency to the not-too-sweet walnut filling.
It pairs beautifully with the chai, made by Steep Tea, a soon-to-be mobile tea outfit located in West Oakland. Co-owner Molly Gaylord brews it fresh each weekend morning for Ramen Shop, where she also works in the evenings. Abundantly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper, the chai is pre-sweetened and already mixed with milk. A haunting note of nutmeg makes it go down smoothly past the pleasantly lingering slow burn of ginger at the back of the throat.
Also heavenly is the chashu pork croissant, with its tender, sweet-smoky filling and buttery, crackly crust.
There are more customary offerings, such as the well-executed morning bun, which pulls apart into cirrus cloudlike shreds. Four Barrel is the Ramen Shop's choice brew, because its light, brighter side plays so nicely with the delicate flavors of its pastries.
The Ramen Shop's morning service operates from 8 a.m.–12 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays (5812 College Ave, Oakland; (510) 640-5034; RamenShop.com).
Shanti Charan Wants You To Make Good Indian Food
In the first installment of Mixing Masala, a web-based cooking series shot in Shanti Charan's Hayward home, the comedian demonstrates how to make sautéed okra good enough for a die-hard carnivore to like — and she doesn't hold back. "Turmeric just aids in taking a good solid poop," she says, with an enthusiastic jab of her fist.
With Mixing Masala, Charan seeks to demystify Indian cooking — not just for non-Indian folk, but for first-generation Indian-Americans, too, who, according to the comedian, look to their parents and restaurants for good butter chicken.
"Not even we know how to make our own food," Charan explained. "There are so many different ingredients, it may be a little overwhelming. We want to inspire people to feel like it's more approachable, and make it seem fun — not like an Indian grandma teaching you."
This certainly holds true when it comes to the web series, although Charan did learn to cook Indian food at her mother's side. The comedian shares the kinds of tips and tricks you might receive were you actually standing beside her at the stove — such as how the spices should sizzle on contact with hot oil, and how to properly prep okra.
"You want to wash okra before you cut it, or you're going to goopify your shit," she explained.
Adding to the free-spirited feel of the show is local rapper and radio personality Arthur Ballesteros, who directs, produces, and provides the beat-heavy soundtrack. Guest comedians are also on kitchen duty, timidly adding onions to the pot, or not so timidly adding cannabis butter, as Leslie Small did in one episode to gulab jamun, a syrup-soaked Indian doughnut.
New ten-minute episodes of Mixing Masala air on YouTube and at MixingMasala.com every Tuesday.Correction: In the original version of this report, we described Brett Boyer as a "Chez Panisse alum." Boyer was an intern at the restaurant.