Thursday, March 30, 2006

HFF Quickie: O Chamé

O Chamé--that California/Japanese noodle house on Fourth Street--has been another restaurant on my list for a while.

Like À Côté, O Chamé is maligned on message boards like citysearch for its prices and portion sizes. This is usually a sign that the restaurant is actually quite good as anyone who really cares about portion sizes is either lazy, a fat-ass, or a lazy fat-ass. Just saying.

Anyway, finally got to O Chamé for a Wednesday dinner with ex-roommate Cassie. I was impressed with the quality and value, though nothing was particularly interesting. The ingredients were very fresh, portions were plentiful, and the price was incredibly reasonable. I left full for a price half that of restaurants of comparable.

To begin we had vinegared cucumber and radish, tofu dumplings in broth, and fried Japanese eggplant with a soy dressing (served cold). The cucumbers were great, showing that well-picked cucumbers can be very flavorful and a touch sweet. The radishes were so small and sliced so thin as to be inconsequential to the flavors. The vinegar was bright and acidic without being vinegar-y. The tofu dumplings were the highlight--six large disc-shaped dumplings floating in broth flavored with bits of seaweed. Infused with the flavors of the O Chamé's ubiquitous fish broth, the tofu had a nice meaty texture with a clean, mild, seawater flavor. For those who malign O Chamé's portions, I question if they've ever ordered this dish--substantial and inexpensive. The fried eggplant was of a good quality, and a I didn't mind the that it was chilled, but I thought it was overdressed with the soy dressing. Cassie didn't mind as much.

Cassie ordered the udon with smoked trout, enoki mushrooms. and hiziki seaweed. Not sure if the trout is house-smoked, but it was great. Big chunks of fillet with a mild smokiness, not overly salted. O Chamé's fish broth is fantastic and just taste's "good for you." Enoki's were small and flavorless but the seaweed was bright and ocean-y.

I went with the soba with grilled Boston mackerel with mustard greens. This dish was even better than the smoked trout--the mackerel was grilled very nicely, skin on, and filleted and dropped into chunks into the broth. Oily and meaty, mackerel is in general one of my favorite fish and this was a perfectly prepared piece. The mustard greens were fresh and flavorful and great with that broth.

Both the soba and udon noodles were tender and tasted very very fresh and the mix of black and spicy ground pepper (and paprika?) added a great heat when added to the soup.

The noodle bowls seemed like excellent values too--while it's true you COULD get udon for half the price elsewhere, chances are the broth would be very salty and the ingredients would not be of comparable type or quality to that at O Chamé. The servings we both found to be just about right.

O Chamé's wine list is short, well-priced, with a nice selection of sakes and Japanese beer.

The one thing that sucked on the night that we visited was the service. It sucked. It sucked hard. I don't expect much other than promptness and attentiveness. Our server came to the table all of three times in the evening--to take our order, drop off our drinks, and to drop the check. I finished my glass of wine half-way through my soba and was neither asked if I would like another nor had my empty glass cleared. There was not a single check-in after food was dropped. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt a lot in terms of service, but the restaurant was small, the menu low-maintenance, and it wasn't terribly busy. We both felt ignored.

But with the great fresh food and reasonable prices, I'll be back--especially for lunch. I need to try some of the fish-oriented appetizers.

In closing, I'd just like to bitch in particular to those douche bags on citysearch who criticized O Chamé for not being "authentic" Japanese food. O Chamé makes no claims to being a Japanese restaurant--it fuses Japanese techniques with a mix of Asian and Californian ingredients to create California Cuisine. To complain that O Chamé isn't authentic Japanese food would be the same as bitching that Chez Panisse isn't authentic French food. Breadfruit and kumquats people. Breadfruit and kumquats.

O Chamé

Cuisine: Japanese-centered California Cuisine
Price range: Starters: $3.50-$10; Udon/Soba: $10.50-$12; Entrees: $18-$22
HFF's cost for two (three starters, two soups, one beer, one glass of wine, tax, tip): $68
Reservations: 510-841-8783
1830 Fourth Street
Berkeley, Ca 94710

No comments: