Omakase, the Japanese approach to dining at sushi restaurants where the selection is left up to the chef, seems to be all the rage these days when it comes to sushi dinners. Japanese restaurants like Ju-Ni and, of course, Omakase, are popping up serving omakase-only menus.
The latest is a quaint, tiny restaurant called Delage in Old Oakland, from the people behind the popular AS B-Dama. (In fact, Delage is right next door to Swan’s Market where AS B-Dama is located.) It opened quietly in April, with the sushi counter headed by Masa Sasaki, and has quickly grown in popularity as word got out about its affordable yet elegant omakase dinner.
I should point out that even though many people often refer to the dinner at Delage as omakase (the restaurant itself uses the term on its website), it’s not in its truest form an omakase dinner. Omakase is often an intimate play between chef and customer about what’s fresh and what’s the preferences of the eater, and then a meal is customized for a price agreed upon at the start. At Delage, the menu is already determined even before you sit down, with eight courses for $65.
I’m not saying it doesn’t offer an omakase-like experience. To me, I just feel it’s better positioned as a Japanese-inspired tasting menu. That’s because along with some expertly formed and fresh nigiri sushi, the dinner includes courses with French-style plating and execution that could be found at tasting menus at Lazy Bear or Atelier Crenn with maybe a tad less innovation.
The first indication comes from the amuse bouche, which on this night was a spoonful of hotake ceviche, or lime-cured scallops served with bits of cucumber and slices of chile that was a burst of color and flavor. And the impressive presentation continued with a lovely first course of mix cherry tomato salad with fresh figs and Alaskan pea shoots, served with a pungent ume shiso pesto.
My dining companions, Christina of East Bay Dish and Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging (along with her hubby Mr. K), marveled at the colorful plate. The ooohs and aaahs continued with what I consider to be Delage’s signature dish, a course of raw salmon and miyazaki beef with the sliver of salmon curing slightly on the pink Himalayan salt block and the slice of beef so tender and smokey it was like eating smoked butter.
Side note: The restaurant had a funky decor with vinyl album covers on display in the back wall and jazz music playing throughout the night. While tiny, the bright and airy space felt comfortable. The prime seats, of course, are at the sushi bar, but because we were a group of four we sat at one of the two large tables in the back.
Sushi comes twice during the course of the meal – near the beginning and toward the end – as sets of four nigiri sushi. They were all interesting varieties, some favorites like maguro toro or hamachi, and others less common like sea bream and yellowjack. Each nigiri sushi is individually dressed with an appropriate soy or sauces (no dipping bowls for your wasabi-soy mixture here).
The rest of the meal are more French-influenced, like the chilled cauliflower soup with black tobiko and chives, and the rye-crusted halibut served with kabu, baby squash, clam and squash puree. The meal ended with a simple bowl of homemade strawberry ice cream that was elevated in texture by folding in meringue and served with a strawberry coulis.
Note: Delage’s reservation system only shows two seating per night, but it must be slightly staggered because we saw crowds forming outside waiting as we left while other tables continued to eat.
The last bite
The overall meal is a refined and modern twist to omakase. But while the dishes may sound complicated on paper, they often turn out mostly one-dimensional, like the cauliflower soup (the tobiko only added a bit of complexity, and the smoked olive oil was undetectable) and the halibut (we were confused exactly what the rye crust was supposed to be since it mostly looked and tasted like a simple pan-seared filet).
Still, there’s no denying that this is one of the better omakase meals in town for the price. For just $65, you’re treated to beautiful plates and fresh fish. It’s an ambitious menu that hopefully will evolve into that next-level sublimeness often associated with high-end tasting menus. The potential is there, and for that I applaud the effort.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Delage, 536 9th St., Oakland. PH: 510.823.2050. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (Closed Sunday, Monday). Reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. www.delageoakland.com
I was so enamored by the presentation during my Delage meal that I decided to create the video below. Check it out to see all eight courses I dined on.
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