Michelin 2016 San Francisco Bay Area Bib Gourmand selections revealed

...74 Bay Area restaurants made the Bib Gourmand list for 2016, including 12 new picks: Diavola, Farmhouse Kitchen Thai, Farmstead, Izakaya Rintaro, La Perla, Millennium, Orchard City Kitchen, Poggio, Ramen Gaijin, Trestle, Wonderful and Zola’s.

The total number of restaurants on the list slipped yet again this year, dropping from 78 in 2015 to 74. Among the notables bumped from this year’s list: Flour + Water, Kin Khao and Perbacco in San Francisco, as well as popular East Bay restaurants Iyasare and Ramen Shop. Other restaurants that didn’t make the cut: Bellanico, C Casa, Domo, Donato Enoteca, Fey, Hot Box Grill, LaSalette, the Girl & the Fig, Troya and Willi’s Wine Bar.

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Cox: Sebastopol’s Ramen Gaijin is no ordinary noodle shop

You know what to expect at most Japanese restaurants: sushi, sashimi, gyoza, tempura, soba noodles, miso soup. But Ramen Gaijin in Sebastopol gives you something different.

“Gaijin” is Japanese for “outside person.” And the chefs, Matthew Seven Oaks Williams and Moishe Hahn-Schuman, would definitely be outsiders in Japan. Their new restaurant, housed in the space that was Forchetta in its previous incarnation, is a foodie’s dream of a noodle shop. It takes inspiration from Japan itself and from some of the unique Japanese restaurants in San Francisco, such as Yuzu. And it’s hip.

Williams and Hahn-Schuman come from the Woodfour Brewing Co. in Sebastopol’s nearby Barlow complex, where they were the talented sous chefs to the innovative Jamil Peden. When Peden left to take the reins at Applewood in Guerneville, these two packed up their talent and reinvented themselves as Ramen Gaijin.

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Ramen, the broth-based noodle soup hailing from Japan, has enjoyed a spectacular renaissance in the last few years. The seemingly simple dish incites a cult following, much like punk rock, obsessed with what ramen-lovers call “authenticity.”

When I ask Moishe Hahn-Schuman and Matthew Williams, the chef owners of Sebastopol’s Ramen Gaijin, how they respond to this fevered following, they shrug. “We’re not trying to be authentic,” Moishe says. “We’re a restaurant for this community,” adds Matthew.

Actually, ramen is traditionally prepared using ingredient and technique variables that are specific to different regions and traditions in Japan, so Moishe and Matthew’s philosophy seems to be just fine on the authenticity scale. And they are not trying to fool anyone into thinking this is “business as usual” ramen, either: The name the two chose for their restaurant, gaijin, is the Japanese term for a non-Japanese person. Ramen Gaijin is, affectionately, a couple of non-traditionalists adapting ramen to their own values, the seasons and the Sonoma County foodshed.

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