The story: B-Dama, a Japanese izakaya (like a gastropub), originally opened on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, not too far from the owners’ longtime popular neighborhood hole-in-the-wall Geta Restaurant. But after maybe two years, owners Chikara Ono and Kosuke Muranaka closed the restaurant and decided to give the B-Dama concept a second chance as a counter-only food stand in the fancy food court area of Swan Market in Old Oakland.
Side note: Not sure the proper name for this reborn B-Dama. Its website has it as “As b-dama” but its Facebook calls itself just B-Dama. So I’m sticking with the simple B-Dama.
Why I went: Last Friday night, I joined my food blogging friend Brenda of Bites and Bourbon and her husband Patrick (the “bourbon” of Bites and Bourbon) to celebrate the birthday of our other food blogging friend, the unrelenting eater Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging. As typical of our gatherings, we ordered a lot of dishes and tried almost everything on the menu.
The vibe: B-Dama isn’t a restaurant as much as it’s a food stand surrounded by other popular eateries such as Cosecha and The Cook and Her Farmer. While there’s maybe eight stools at the counter, most people order their food, grab their number, and find a wooden table in the central dining area amongst the bustling crowds of diners trying food from the surrounding vendors. Early on, you get lots of families but later on there’s an after-work crowd that’s bustling in this naturally no-reservations eat-what-you-want environment.
The menu: The menu has several items, mostly small plates ranging from raw fish to grilled items (a lot of them seafood). There’s a few noodle dishes, including udon, which I actually had for lunch and wasn’t so thrilled by the light broth and everyday boiled vegetables. But the variety offered on the dinner menu makes B-Dama more interesting, and there are several daily specials, such as the white tuna tartar ($10.50) we tried with an amazing ginger, caper, and plum sauce, or the uni and ika (squid) sashimi salad ($10). Being an izakaya, there were several deep-fried dishes (which the birthday girl enjoyed but I refrained from, of course), such as the agedashi tomato ($4.50) and nankotsu karaage ($5.50) or deep-fried chicken cartilage.
The booze: There’s a nice selection of sake, sochu and Japanese beer on tap, but since you’re in the food court, you can easily get booze from other vendors, such as the organic strawberry margaritas Brenda and I tried from nearby Cosecha.
My favorite dish: I think it’s probably the white tuna tartar because of that unique dipping sauce of ginger, caper and plum. As for the sushi we tried, the presentation of the halibut negiri was amazing with a shiso leaf between the rice and translucent halibut fish meat.
Insider tip: Among the daily specials, you can expect some kind of uni or sea urchin dish. Brenda actually wasn’t a fan of the uni and ika sashimi that we ordered that night (I didn’t mind it, but it wasn’t mind-bending), but see if you can get the often-asked-for uni chawanmushi or chilled uni custard.
The last bite: B-Dama can easily fit into a busy alley in Tokyo with its vibe and cooking, and while lunch isn’t as inspiring, the dinner menu with the variety makes for a fun night out with a group. The dishes come out quickly, and while some might seem pedestrian, it’s the simplicity and costs that makes B-Dama a place to visit more than once.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: B-Dama, 907 Washington St., Oakland. PH: 510.251.1113. Open Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.asbdama.com
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