Phenomenal Rustic Japanese Food: Full of Umami from Beginning to End - Iyasare Review (Berkeley)

I've fallen madly in love with Iyasare.  

Have you ever had a dining experience where your head nods up and down, bite after bite, and your mouth longingly goes "Ooh" and "Mmm" throughout an entire dinner? That was my experience at Iyasare during my first visit and not too far from that, my second visit, too. 

On my first visit, I went with my friends Sandy (Foodhoe), Christina (East Bay Dish), and Ben (Focus:Snap:Eat). Our evening started with thin slices of gorgeously marbled ocean trout, plated beautifully with compressed asparagus, english peas, snow peas and sugar snaps underneath an avocado puree, topped with ikura. The ocean trout crudo ($16) set high expectations for the rest of dinner and Iyasare delivered with the brightest of flying colors. Each dish after the next continued to impress us, both visually and through taste. 

A few weeks go by and I'm back. This time I took my sister, her partner and my niece out for dinner, already knowing that they'd love the food. One bite of the ocean umami and I fell in love all over again. The dish screams out vibrant colors. The fresh, tender sashimi scallops sitting over nori-infused ponzu were topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin and salty soy-marinated ikura that bursts in my mouth, leaving a rich and pleasant ocean taste. 

This is not your typical Japanese restaurant. Chef Shotaro Kamio has redefined modern Japanese cuisine using the flavors, textures and cooking techniques from the Tohoku region, a rural area in northeastern Japan where he grew up. After spending six years at Ozumo and seven at Yoshi's in Oakland and San Francisco, Kamio launched Iyasare on Fourth Street in Berkeley. Iyasare is focused on simple, yet inventive Japanese-California dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients. 

Simply put, the food is sublime and full of umami from beginning to end.  You'll want to slow down and savor each tantalizing bite. Here's a look at each dish during my last two visits, a few of which were ordered again the second visit(*).  

Ocean Umami ($16)

sashimi scallop, ikura, sea urchin, pickled wasabi leaf, nori seaweed ponzo

The ocean umami will blow your mind away. This is what my dreams are made of. 

Japanese Curry Roasted Baby Carrots ($10)

braised gobo, crispy gobo, curry carrot puree, fresno-orange coulis

A great way to showcase root vegetables and make them shine, very comforting and satisfying. 

Hachivo Miso Cured Duck Breast ($16)

duck fat roasted baby beets, mixed chicory, beet puree, shaved foie gras

The cured duck breast was done very nicely, slightly chewy as expected like salami. Overall, the dish has a great combination of flavors - salty cured duck breast, sweet and earthy beets, bitter chicories and rich foie gras shavings. Lovely. 

Maguro & Foie Gras ($18)

big eye tuna, shaved foie gras, avocado puree, lemon-tamari oil

The foie gras adds a rich component, acting as the flavor for the muscly big eye tuna. A tasty dish, but probably our least favorite out of all the other dishes we've ordered. 

Grilled Gyutan ($16)

prime beef tongue, grilled asparagus, cucumber kimchi, pickled radish, roasted garlic sendai miso 

A tongue that's tender to bite. A squeeze of lime brightens the dish overall creating a another level of sophistication. The flavors are incredible, like having a little party in your mouth. 

Hamachi Crudo ($15)

blood orange, fresno curl, endive, satsuma kosho, onion ponzu

A simple and pure, fresh hamachi dish. I enjoyed the added brightness from the blood oranges.  

Pan Seared U10 Scallop ($18)*

marble potato, scallion potato puree, bottarga, bacon-miso cream

Fresh, perfectly seared scallops and thick slices of bacon married together in a bacon-miso cream and added umami from the bottarga. Divine!

Sea Urchin Risotto ($22)

cauliflower puree, smoked oyster, crispy maitake mushroom

Fresh urchin on top of a creamy risotto served with a soothing and savory broth. You will want an entire plate of this amazing risotto for yourself. 

Okonomi Pancake ($18)*

savory cabbage, black tiger shrimp, scallop, bonito flakes, mentaiko aioli, chili ponzo

This okonomi pancake is doughy, sweet, tangy and full of seafood. It is Japanese comfort food at its best. 

Iyasare Berkeley Review

Spicy Mentaiko Spaghetti ($18)*

reef squid, jidori egg, bottarga, kaiware, shiso, garlic-ginger butter

A dish that left such memorable and lasting impression that I had to get two orders on my second visit to ensure there was enough to share all around. It's creamy and rich without being too heavy. Each bite was flavorful, slightly salty from the bottarga, with added fragrance and brightness from the shiso. 

Pan Seared Ocean Trout ($18)

salt and koji mold cured, smoky eggplant puree, sauteed eggplant, shoyu pickled onion

A gorgeous pink trout seared to crispy skin perfection. 

Buta-Charshu ($21)

tamari braised pork belly, asari clam, pea tendril, and pork bone broth

Pork belly in a savory, rich and salty broth.


Want to read more? See what my friends thought about Iyasare: 


VISITING IYASARE

Location

1830 Fourth St, Berkeley, CA 94710

Website

http://iyasare-berkeley.com/

Phone

(510) 845-8100

Hours

  • Lunch: Mon-Sun 11:30am-2:00pm

  • Dinner: Mon, Wed-Th, Sun 5:30pm-9:00pm

  • Dinner: Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10:00pm

Iyasare on Urbanspoon

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