Iyasare (former O Chame space) [Berkeley]
We had a fantastic meal there tonight, I dare say it is even better than O Chame. Many of the dishes had a brilliant combination of flavors.
My favorite was the scallop-uni combo. The uni gave the scallop more richness, and scallop gave the uni more sweetness. It was a pairing that I had never experienced so perfectly before.
The sea bream-chrysanthemum-ikura combo was another that wowed me. The fish preparation stood up well next to fragrance and bitterness of a few leaves of chrysanthemum.
And then there was the comforting purity of the clams - I would be happy as a clam eating this with a bowl of rice. No new surprises here, but it has been a while since I have had a bowl of clams with such intense flavor.
The only dish I did not enjoy was the okonomiyaki, but I attribute that to the fact that I don't like okonomiyaki. I ordered it hoping (but not expecting) that it would change my mind, but it didn't. Still, I appreciated the delicious aioli substituting for the kewpie mayonnaise as well as the ponzu substituting for the sweet brown sauce.
My feeling is that the food is fundamentally Japanese in flavor even though the menu may not describe what makes each dish Japanese. It is certainly less fusion-y than Slanted Door. Service was very good - our server hailed from O Chame and told me where to find the balsamic gelato that was on the O Chame dessert menu.
Thanks for posting this. It's at the top of my list of places to try after moving...even though it's not near BART.
By the way, I guess the name means "healing." I saw a couple of reviews connecting it to post-3/11 recovery (promotion of the Tohoku area is a big thing; NHK is all over it). However, "iyashi" (adjective) is also just more commonly used in Japanese than in English--or at least that's my impression. For example, if you go to BookOff in SD or LA, you'll find a music section named 癒し. Kind of like New Age music, maybe, though more sincere (IMO) and less twee. You can also find stuff considered iyashi on Youtube and images.google.com if you search for 癒し.
We went for dinner last night. The decor of the restaurant is completely different than O' Chame. Very subdued matte off-white, tan and gray colors. It was nice but almost too perfect looking. Zen but in a pottery barn kind of way. My husband sais this description is harsh and that he liked the decor.
The service was really good. Our waiter was very attentive and helpful. The simple comforting Japanese cuisine felt in some ways like a continuation of O'Chame.
Here is what we ate:
Beet cured Ocean trout. 4 pieces of tasty ocean trout. Flavors of dill and crunchy greens perfectly complimented and elevated the flavorful fish. Excellent.
Since it was talking a while for our Sushi to come (though we did not notice) they brought us some complimentary fried Brussels sprouts which were excellent.
We got one of the nigiri samplers. Came with a piece each of mackerel, shrimp, scallop, salmon roe, Santa Barbara Uni. All were fresh and excellent. The Uni in particular was outstanding.
Clams in broth. This dish could easily have been on the menu at O' Chame. The broth was wholesome with clean flavors of ginger, yuzu and sansho. Clams were tender. A perfect winter dish.
While we miss O'Chame we are happy that the space still has comforting Japanese food.
I'm no expert on Tohoku cuisine, but that menu looks more like a typical Asian fusion type place. A brief bit of Googling says that Tohoku cuisine is more like this:
Don't get me wrong, this place could well be excellent, but this seems to be far from the spirit of O Chame, which was cheap, friendly, and delicious. I will miss it.
I would be surprised if he doesn't change radically. A chef should have a lot more freedom and control in his own one small space like that compared having to crank out food for two huge clubs each with two or three menus (dining room, bar, and concert hall) where the food is not the #1 priority.