Iyasare (former O Chame space) [Berkeley]
Opened this week. Inside Scoop reports that former Yoshi's chef Sho Kamio is making dishes inspired by his native Tohoku region.
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.
I miss O Chame as well. The new decor is awful IMHO. The walls are shiny off white and look plastic. The front room chandelier looks like it came from Denny's. the worst thing is that they apparently plastered over the lovely and serene wall etchings of Mayumi Oda. It was Zen-like but certainly not now. And, it was loud at lunch, probably due to having to talk over the canned music.
I had the soba and the broth was very salty, even for a shoyu broth. O Chame hadsubtle and delicious food. Iyasare is trying too hard.
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.
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 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.
We had dinner at Iyasare the night before Bauer's 3-star review appeared in the Chron.
Very different than O Chame. More upscale, feels intensely personal. We did not admire Yoshi's food but Kamio is clearly feeling liberated and stretching the boundaries of what Americans expect from a Japanese restaurant.
Although it is not kaiseki, it actually reminded me strongly of the (long, long gone) Kansai/SF, which had the best kaiseki my family has ever had. We went three times before Kansai closed and still mourn its passing.
There were six of us. This space is hard for parties over 4; three tables have to be shoved together so they were over 20 min. late seating us when a couple of people lingered at their table long after it was cleared, futzing around with their smartphones.
Conversely, a lot of the food is best shared by 5 or 6 diners; the plates contain small individual portions but the overall amount of food is generous. We had 11 dishes; everybody found something they liked.
Chef Kamio's Sake-Jime is what reminded me so much of Kansai (Gobo-smoked salmon, wasabi marinated apple, compressed cucumber (in long thin slices), yuzu-pepper dashi). It wasn't the dish everyone liked best. It wasn't spectacular or exciting or drop-dead-stunning. What it was....was subtle, complex flavors that were perfectly balanced. It was the essence of shibui, that elusive quality of a whisper. It was masterfully Japanese, and in concept and execution such is rarely seen in US Japanese restaurants. It is as far from dunking a wet sushi roll in gobs of virulent green wasabi as one could get.
The generally agreed winners/losers were:
- Winners: Uni risotto. Kakiage tempura. Unagi salad (a brilliant riff on the French salad Lyonnaise).
- Losers: Apple Seaweed salad (this is a warm weather dish, and serving it in February was strange). Nasu Miso (the eggplants were creamy and delicious, but...well, just eggplant).
- Maybes: Ika-Maruyaki (one person loved it, the others thought it plain. To me this dish points up the one real weakness of Japanese cooking--their sauces are uninteresting, just variants of the same few ingredients). Dungeness Crab Okonomi Pancake (two of us loved it; most were indifferent. It's not a traditional okonomi, tasting more like an upscale, more solid version of chawan mushi). Sendai Gyutan (beef tongue was chewy, thinner edges were actually rubbery. Great rich 'steak' taste, but again, sauces were dull miso variants).
My spouse had an issue with the Sendai Gyutan. In the interests of not making a fuss - this came last and we were mostly full and looking towards the end - he said nothing. But afterwards we agreed that although we ordered a double order of the Sendai Gyutan and were charged for it, he and I found it very, very hard to believe that a full 10 oz. of beef tongue was on that board.
The service was good, nothing remarkable. The front of the house seemed inexperienced for such a sophisticated restaurant and was clearly fumbling a little.
The kitchen does an excellent job of pacing the plates and putting the courses in order. Normally that's the waitstaff's responsibility but we got the feeling that at Iyasare it's the kitchen that directs the meal. Not a problem when it's done so well as it is here.
Summary: we would all go back. The quality is excellent, the execution outstanding, the concept imaginative and exciting. I liked O Chame and was sorry to see it close. But this is way beyond anything I'd expected from a former chef at Yoshi's. When my brother comes up next time from LA with his Japanese-born wife, we will make sure to take them to Iyasare (as a change from La Folie, LOL).
I was there a few weeks ago (mid-March), dining alone at the bar...there were several miscues, including never getting one dish, and I also had the impression that it was the kitchen driving the (somewhat off) pacing. The missed dish was the crab okonomi, but in truth I had ordered plenty without it, and it gives me an excuse to go back to try it. Go back I will, because the food for the most part was indeed delicious and exciting with outstanding execution. My tongue was not chewy, loved the flavor. I had a really lovely halibut dish, IIRC, but forget to take any notes and don't see it on the current menu. The scallop was also terrific. My favorite dish, however, was the Fuyu dessert, with lemon, black sesame, grapefruit: best dessert that I have had in a long time, anywhere. Perfectly balanced, vibrant flavors.
While groups larger than four or so might be difficult inside (though I did see a group of six crammed into one of the back booths), it should be noted that there is a fairly large outdoor patio, with heat lamps. It was cool and thus the patio was mostly empty the night I was there, but I suspect moving tables would work there to accomodate a slightly bigger group on a warm night.