A stylish and bustling part of West Berkeley, Fourth Street boasts a quaint, yet urban sort of organic upspring of boutiques, home dÃ©cor and body care shops””plus a high ratio of great restaurants, like O ChamÃ©. I arrived at O ChamÃ© 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 ChamÃ© 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 ChamÃ©’s famous udon noodle soups, which are otherwise fish and meat-based.
To drink, I had the fermented Oolong tea, which gave me a deliciously warm caffeine boost. It did not have the typical kombucha carbonation and fermented taste and was light and refreshing on the palate. The most substantial dish I had was the green onion and crimini mushroom pancakes that were satisfying and indulgent. Other notable dishes were the grilled shiitake mushrooms and lotus root. The flavor was roasted near the edge of being burnt, without crossing that delicate line.
The pricing is quite fair for a posh place in Berkeley. It was about fifty dollars for a lunch for two that included appetizers and drinks. It is a great place for special occasions or for a date. A meal at O ChamÃ© is sure to impress and the romantic setting is perfect for such a purpose.
O ChamÃ© has proven to be a favorite with Berkeleyites since it opened in 1990. The food helped me feel clean from the inside out, and the dÃ©cor is very charming. Carnivores and fish lovers will most appreciate the offerings, but anyone will appreciate O ChamÃ©’s expertise in simplicity and creativity infused in each dish.