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A stylish and bustling part of West Berkeley, Fourth Street boasts a quaint, yet urban sort of organic upspring of boutiques, home décor and body care shops—plus a high ratio of great restaurants, like O Chamé. I arrived at O Chamé at one o’clock on a Monday afternoon. The sun was bright for the first time in weeks, and several cars were circling the Fourth Street parking lot in futile hopes of a spot.
O Chamé is the type of place that is often preceded by its reputation. I had heard the name (pronounced “oh-sha-may”) and its praises, but never connected it with the sweetly understated patio with wooden tables and vines snaking up the wall next to Sur Le Table and across from 4th Street Yoga Studio.
Inside the restaurant, the ambience is romantically dim with deep ochre walls. A wall is graced with a mural-like image that is inlaid into its stucco texture. A circular opening in the wall separates the two sections of the dining room. The little rectangular windows into the kitchen are framed in homey curtains. My impression of the overall restaurant style was one of classic Japanese welcoming grace. The dishes are painted pottery, the tables and chairs dark wood. A giant vase with pink-blossomed branches sat on a table in the entryway as a reminder that hospitable charm is a priority here.
True to the Californian aspect of its California-Japanese fusion, the food is as close to the garden as it gets. The cuisine is light and clean, with a menu that changes daily. Yellow beets lent a colorful and tasty overtone to the otherwise uncomplicated—but extraordinarily fresh—watercress salad. The tuna sashimi was succulent and rich. Our favorite was a fried eggplant dish. While served cold, it was tender, steeped in marinated flavor, and retained a good deal of texture.
The vegetarian selection is limited to the salads and appetizers category of the menu, a collection of interesting and dainty samples of miso and vinaigrette concoctions. However, I am told that calling ahead to request a vegetarian broth is acceptable and also the best way for veggies to experience O Chamé’s famous udon noodle soups, which are otherwise fish and meat-based.