When Iyasare opened on Fourth Street in Berkeley in 2013, it replaced the beloved O Chamé a 23-year institution known for its clean, locally-driven Japanese food. The buzz about what might replace it—in essence, what would appeal to the city’s most devout shoppers who frequented the upscale shops in the neighborhood—didn’t last long. The space was quickly sold to James Syhabout (Commis, Hawker Fare) and Sho Kamio, who had been blowing people away with his cooking at Yoshi’s on Fillmore.
Kamio had been the opening chef for Fillmore Live Entertainment Group’s Yoshi’s on Fillmore, developer Michael Johnson’s push into Lower Fillmore that breathed new life into the jazz scene in 2007. Though the restaurant was ill-fated because of financial troubles, Kamio's cooking notched up San Francisco’s Japanese dining game considerably. I remember stopping in early on and being transported by Kamio’s restrained, masterful creativity with traditional Japanese cooking, which seemed transformative in a town of tired sushi. Despite early success, the project couldn’t survive financially, and it closed in 2015, after much floundering. (Kamio left in 2013 to open Iyasare.)
The chef, from northwest Japan, named his new restaurant “Iyasare,” which means “to be healed,” in homage to his homeland after the devastating earthquake of 2011. His ramen is an unheralded beauty, served only at lunch and only in three forms: Sendai miso, charshu (often spelled chashu) miso and vegetarian shoyu. These traditional offerings are characteristic of Kamio’s bent toward elegant simplicity, made with impeccable ingredients and obvious care.
We ordered two bowls, the charshu miso and vegetarian shoyu, both designated by their soup bases. The meat version has a base of dashi miso broth and is laden with rich tamar-braised pork belly, minced chicken, which gives it a nice texture, and vegetables, including crunchy bean sprouts and bamboo shoots. We added ajitama, a seasoned soft-boiled egg. The charshu pork gives the bowl a sweet, fatty depth, a compelling juxtaposition with the salty egg.
The vegetarian ramen is worthy of a monastery kitchen: spinach, mizuna, seaweed, bamboo shoots, tofu and bean sprouts in a deep soy broth, which we (not being monastics) enlivened with a side of spicy Sendai miso, something I wish I had a little jar of in my fridge. Alas, it seems to be a secret recipe, as is the formula for the noodles, made by a local company to Kamio’s strict specifications.
The dinner menu here is more diverse and more complex than the midday offerings, and there are a few dishes that feature the Sendai miso, but there’s no ramen. So, you’d better go for lunch.