Chris Lane. [Photos: Noelle Chun]
Don't let Chris Lane's humility fool you. The tattooed, ear-studded lead bartender of Ramen Shop downplays his dedication to the craft, but he's a technical perfectionist, with an eye for cohesive flavor combinations. In a cocktail city celebrated for its use of fresh ingredients and innovative new techniques, Lane's program at Ramen Shop has a different focus: flawless execution.
"I love the cocktail scene here," he says, "but I think we started resting on our laurels a little. We started relying on the fresh ingredients we have access to here, and let our technique go."
A Slanted Door Group alum, Lane views good ingredients as mere table stakes, much like his culinary cohorts at Rockridge's Ramen Shop, which updates classic Japanese noodle soup with top-quality Californian flair. Lane's drink list is savory-leaning and texture-driven, intended to complement the rich broth and tender noodles. It's a departure from the stiff, pitch-perfect, classically-driven beverages he spotlighted at his former post, Lolinda, where he showcased impressive range. But the real underpinnings of his work are close attention to detail and honed technical ability, something not seen at many bars in San Francisco.
Lane's bar is full of specific tools—small silver Japanese cobbler shakers, longer two-tin Boston shakers, and an ornate Japanese stirring glass. Lane, who moonlights as an illustrator, explains that different shakes and different tools can change the whole nature of a drink—the texture, the water dilution, the temperature.
Recently, Lane launched a new cocktail menu at Ramen Shop, which spotlights 11 drinks, in addition to one rotating staff creation. Through the restaurant recently announced an expansion that will give the bar a unique personality, it's currently centered around diners waiting for a coveted table. With a clientele made up of people waiting for dinner or looking to enjoy a drink with their noodles, Lane's menu is guided by drinks that go well with food.
A major source of inspiration for this genre is, naturally, the highball, the celebrated Japanese combination of spirit (typically whisky) and soda. A whole section of Lane's menu to this drink. The Shop Highball combines St. George Spirits' Baller Whisky (made in collaboration with Ramen Shop), seltzer, and a refreshing touch of mint. The Sendai Highball has a small, nontraditional touch of lemon oil that accentuates the malty notes of savory Takatsuru pure malt whisky, while a simple Hakushu Highball just adds seltzer, letting Hakushu 12's floral notes shine.
Lane's Grass Cutter is a foamy, Eastern-inspired drink made to go well with food. The creamy drink draws on a foundation of St. George Spirits Shochu and adds the strong, dry botanicals of its Terroir gin, fluffing it up with lemon, ginger, vanilla, orgeat, and matcha. His Double Barrel Fizz, meanwhile, has spicy and subtle notes that match the umami characteristics of ramen. The long drink plays on the savoriness of Rittenhouse rye, lightening it with lemon, cherry gastrique, cinnamon, and a pour of Grand Cru sparkling wine. In a departure for Lane, the Double Barrel Fizz incorporates spicy notes, like cinnamon; they also appear in his distinctive tequila- and lime-based Broken Flower, and his Old Golden, with mezcal, ginger, and sage. Whether you're saying cheers or kanpai, Lane has a memorable drink in store.