When a diner requests the “omakase” menu in a traditional sushi restaurant, they are literally “leaving the choice to the chef,” asking for whatever the sushi chef feels is best on the menu that day. At a new restaurant located beside Swans Market in Old Oakland, owner and sushi chef Chikara Ono has taken this concept a step further, partnering with chef Mikoko Ando to create an elevated omakase tasting menu in a comfortable, welcoming environment. The goal of making their guests feel at home was so important to Ono that it even provided the inspiration behind the restaurant name. He says ““Dela” is my nickname, and “Ge” is my hometown. So Delage means my house.” And the tiny restaurant truly has the feel of a home, with its warm weathered wood and Ono’s collection of records lining the walls.
Each of the eight or so courses on the nightly set tasting menu is a feast for the eyes, plated with artistic precision – it almost seems a shame to disturb the beautifully presented food. Until you take your first bite. Then, the sheer deliciousness of what you are eating will overwhelm any desire to sit and look at it. The menu alternates impeccably fresh nigiri sushi with small plates focused on the fruit and vegetable bounty of our region. “I just pick ingredients that are inspiring to me” says Ando of her culinary motivations.
Their unique approach to traditional omakase menus also sets Delage apart. Ando says, “In Japan, omakase is totally different – all nigiri. Usually there are no salads, no vegetable dishes. Here (at Delage), it’s more California style omakase – fresh, not just focusing on sushi.” Ando began her career as a chef 20 years ago, working her way up to head chef at Yuzu restaurant in San Francisco – but she jumped at the chance to create a new style of omakase with Ono at Delage. “I know how to do traditional Japanese, but I like creating new things.” she says.
The menu has influences of both the traditional rigor and perfectionism of the Japanese sushi tradition, and unexpected French flavor profiles inspired by Ando’s time in the South of France. The combination is both unusual, and delicious. For example, radish pods and blossoms inspired a spring salad that also integrated an ume-orange dressing and early spring fruit. A slow cooked vegetable dish leverages both ponzu-truffle sauce, and nori with garlic to up the wattage of the flavors, and a dessert of crunchy sea beans alongside a strawberry sorbet delicately highlights the sweet and salty contrast between the two. The wait staff are trained in sake parings (ask them for recommendations!), which enables them to suggest the perfect sake to accompany your meal.
A close connection with the farmers that supply the restaurant also shapes Delage’s menu. Says Ono “I want to use good ingredients. Work with farmers who are taking care of the land. I try to interview the farmers, everyone I buy from.” Ono particularly highlights the produce from Hikari farms (an organic grower of Japanese vegetables) in Watsonville, and works to support them and other farmers that supply the restaurant, hosting pop-up dinners from time to time to highlight them. Join the Delage email list to get a heads-up for these events!
Ono also credits the welcoming chef community here in the East Bay for helping shape his cuisine and expand his culinary horizons. “It’s very different than in San Francisco. The chefs in the East Bay are very helpful. If I ask Russ (Moore, of Camino) how to make something, or call James (Syhabout, of Commis), they are very helpful. The (culinary community) in San Francisco, other cities is not always like that” he says.
Our East Bay restaurant scene is fortunate to have such an amazing addition. We can’t wait to see how the menu at Delage evolves thorough the seasons. But if you want to experience it for yourself, be sure to go soon – it’s truly becoming harder and harder to score a table!
Written by Samantha Nobles-Block, Photography for 24 East by Lauren Edith Anderson