25 is my year of trying new things. It’s also apparently my year of employing cheesy cliches.
In all seriousness, though, I’m making a concerted effort to challenge myself and engage with the unknown. This intention even extended to my birthday dinner last weekend. I wanted my meal to set the tone for the year ahead, so I eschewed fancy, conventional establishments for something a little less predictable.
The decision made itself once I caught wind of Iyasare, a new restaurant in my old ‘hood. Despite opening only months ago, Chef Shotaro Kamio’s izakaya has already received glowing praise for its modern Japanese cuisine. I can see why. Iyasare was an absolutely ideal place to kick off a year off all things new and exciting.
We began with a crudo romantically entitled “ocean umami”: Hokkaido scallop, sea urchin, ikura, calamansi citrus, Asian pear mignonette, and shiro tamari. This incredibly fresh, flavorful blend of seafood was our favorite of the night — an absolute must.
The Maguro tartare, another raw dish, soon followed. Within that flavor-packed round, you’d find crispy Maui onion, shichimi capers, quail egg, watercress, grated cured egg yolk, and chili oil; to accompany, a pair of delicate sesame-dusted rice crackers.
We moved on to the uni risotto, made with Japanese rice, topped with maitake mushroom, smoked oyster, and cauliflower puree, and bathed in maitake broth. While perfectly creamy and delicious, this plate was much more subtle than its predecessor. We both enjoyed it, though Jay was less a fan than I.
Next up was ika-maruyaki, or whole grilled marinated squid, served with Tokyo negi, spicy soy, spicy miso, and mentaiko aioli. The squid, even sans sauces, was a bit on the salty side for me, but its texture was spot on. The battered and deep-fried squid legs made Jay one very happy diner.
I had my heart set on trying the dungeness crab okonomi pancake, made with yama imo, shiitake, savoy cabbage, bonito flake, and mentaiko aioli. While you might be familiar with more omelet-like Japanese seafood pancakes, this one came meltingly tender — almost polenta-like. We poured the accompanying chili ponzu onto the sizzling-hot cast iron skillet, which immediately cooked into a thick, umami-laden sauce. Upon first bite, I died and went to heaven. I’m now posting this from the afterlife.
We were stuffed, but after spying our fellow diners’ plates, Jay and I had to order one more: the kakiage tempura. The components (burdock root, yellow onion, sweet potato, shungiku, shiitake mushroom, and black tiger shrimp) are deep-fried into impressive-looking slabs of savoriness. We were tempted to drink the dip, a bonito soy broth, straight out of the bowl.
To finish things off, we shared the Tokyo parfait. If my memory serves me well, this wonderfully light dessert included matcha tea ice cream, mochi, green tea gelee, and adzuki bean paste. It was a subtly sweet close to a fantastic, multifaceted meal.
The only rough patch during our time there was the seating process. Not every table is ideal. We were first placed right in front of the kitchen entrance, where waiters passed on either side constantly; then, we moved to a table that caught every gust of wind from the constantly-opening door. Once we pulled up to the bar, though, we were two very happy campers.
I can’t wait to return to Iyasare, which says quite a bit, considering I hardly ever bother revisiting upscale restaurants in a market like San Francisco’s. This place, though, is special, with culinary style unlike anything else in the area. We weren’t the only ones transported by the food; throughout the night, we kept hearing our neighbors vocalize how thrilled they were with their meal. I wanted a totally vibrant experience out of my birthday dinner, and found nothing short of that in Iyasare.
1830 Fourth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710