Chikara Ono’s East Bay restaurants come back to life

Chikara Ono’s East Bay restaurants come back to life

Chikara Ono, inside Dela Curo. Credit: Momo Chang

Back in March 2021, I wrote about how four restaurants owned by one of East Bay’s most productive Japanese restaurateurs had closed their doors. As of 2022, however, Chikara Ono – the kaiseki-trained chef behind restaurants like BDama and Delage – says three of his seats are now open for business, but the reopening date for a fourth has not yet been decided.

Ono was a tough spot as Bay Area’s pandemic restrictions only allowed restaurants to serve takeaway. Most of his seats were built for full service on site, so the closure seemed like the only option. Instead, he opened a pop-up restaurant inside the Berkeley Bowl West cafe, serving take-away sushi, hot food from the menu at his Old Oakland omakase restaurant, Delage, and other dishes that had eaten guests in line at the iconic market.

Ono’s Berkeley Bowl venue was so busy, he said things were almost at a “pre-pandemic” level. When his restaurants reopened, he withdrew from the grocery store and turned his focus back to his business. He also opened a new operation, one that has already garnered great praise from critics.

PPlease note that some of the restaurants listed below only offer indoor dining. While indoor dining is currently permitted in the Bay Area, most local health experts say they do not eat indoors themselves because of the risks associated with unmasked, indoor gatherings.

Vegan curry at Dela Curo. Credit: Momo Chang

Dela Curo is the newest restaurant from Ono, opened in June 2021 at Swan’s Market. The restaurant specializes in black curry, a popular Japanese dish known for its dark hue, rich flavor and thick texture. Ono adds minced chicken or beef and other spices and vegetables to his black curry sauce, which he pours over rice, fried chicken or pork chops, rice omelettes and more.

Not so long after the opening, SF Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho Delo called Curo’s curry “unlike any other in the Bay Area.” But commercially, Ono says the place has been challenging to maintain as the pandemic continues to reduce pedestrian traffic and the overall business of Swan’s. While there is still a volume of lunch, Ono says it is much smaller than in days before COVID. With the cold weather of winter, early sunset and the rain, it has also been harder in the restaurant’s noon hours.

Ono told Nosh that he hopes to expand the menu further if there are more customers, perhaps to offer a new noodle option. Right now, omu curry, fried chicken and curry and traditional tonkatsu curry are the most popular dishes; his katsu is made from black pork, which is more tender and has a less firm texture than regular pork, he said.

There is also a vegan curry with lightly fried vegetables and a tomato and onion based curry. The restaurant also serves beer, sake and wine. It is currently open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, with indoor and outdoor seating in their parquet and nearby patio. Takeaway is also available. Dela Curo, 907 Washington St. (at Ninth Street), Oakland

A well-thought-out cooked raw fish dish at Delage. Credit: Delage

Ono’s splurge-worthy, Michelin-listed sushi place reopened its dining room in June, but limits guests to 10 people per person. seating with two seats at night. Diners who want to see head chef Mikiko Ando hand-pick their fish can still take a seat at the bar, which is now protected by a clear plexiglass panel.

Like Dela Curo, Delage is located inside Swan’s Market food hall, so outdoor seating is not an option. And since its experience is meant to be a personal one, takeaway is not available. For those willing to dine indoors, reservations for Delage are available at Resy, for $ 100 per person. Reservations canceled with less than 48 hours notice will be charged the full fee, so plan carefully. Delage, 536 Ninth St. (between Clay and Washington), Oakland.

Utzutzus needlefish and bluefin tuna nigiri. Credit: Momo Chang

The jazzy upstairs prix fixe Japanese restaurant reopened in September and again sold out of seating filled with diners eager for its Michelin-starred eight-course okimari menu with raw and cooked fish dishes. The restaurant still has two seats Wednesday through Sunday; but its rule of eight persons per. seating has been reduced to six in the cozy room due to the pandemic.

There is no outdoor dining or takeaway available for the $ 125 meal per person, but reservations for the indoor dining experience are available at Resy. leave it, 1428 B Park St. (near Santa Clara Avenue), Alameda

Masabaga’s saba sandwich is unfortunately not available for now. Credit: Masabaga

This Uptown place opened early in the pandemic, a Japanese sandwich place run by veteran sushi chef Masa Sasaki. But the fish here was not raw and on rice, it was fried and served on a bun, with tuna belly or mackerel as an option. There was also a wagyu beef burger, served American cheeseburger style. Opened in July 2020 in the space Hutch last occupied, closing during the winter wave.

Ono told Nosh that he is still talking about a reopening plan with Sasaki and another investor, but due to the current rise in coronavirus cases, he does not expect to reopen soon. He also mentioned construction near the restaurant as an additional obstacle. Despite these challenges, he confirms that the restaurant will reopen with time. Masabaga, 2022 Telegraph Ave., (near 21st Street), Oakland.

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