Chikara Ono has brought some of the best Japanese cuisine to the East Bay, with restaurants like AS B-Dama, Delage and Masabaga in Oakland and Utzutzu in Alameda. During the pandemic, all of Ono’s brick-and-mortar restaurants have gone dark. But the Oakland-based Japanese American chef has remained busy, starting new concepts and hosting pop-ups at Berkeley Bowl West featuring food from his temporarily closed restaurants.
Originally from Kyushu, Japan, Ono moved to the U.S. in 1986. He was a student at the time and worked as a cook at a restaurant in the South Bay. He later graduated from community college and went back to Japan, working in traditional Japanese kaiseki restaurants for several years.
Ono moved back to the Bay Area in the mid-‘90s, when his former boss asked him to return and work at Kisaku, a now-closed Japanese restaurant in San Mateo. He worked as a chef there for more than 10 years, before deciding to open his own restaurant in Oakland. Ono co-founded and co-owned Geta near Piedmont Avenue for more than five years. (He is no longer involved with Geta.)
In 2012, Ono opened B-Dama, an izakaya restaurant on Piedmont Avenue. Two years later, it moved and became a counter-service izakaya at Swan’s Marketplace in Old Oakland, where Ono changed its name to AS B-Dama. In 2016, he brought his elegant, cozy omakase restaurant Delage to Swan’s. Two years later, he opened Utzutzu, an okimari (set meal) restaurant in Alameda on Park Street in the tiny, upstairs space that once housed Yume Sushi. And finally, in July 2020, he partnered with Michelin-starred sushi chef Masa Sasaki to bring fast-casual Japanese burger and sandwich restaurant Masabaga to Uptown Oakland.
When shelter-in-place orders forced restaurants to close their doors and do takeout only, Ono changed course on his businesses, many that focused on on-site, full-service dining. He turned to Berkeley Bowl, where he’s had a years-long working relationship selling ready-made sushi, bentos and onigiri at the market’s two locations. At Berkeley Bowl West’s cafe, Ono started offering takeout versions of his high-quality, chef’s choice sushi, sashimi and hot foods from Delage.
In the last year, Ono created two pop-up concepts that he’s also offered through Berkeley Bowl West: Dela Curo, featuring dishes made with his savory Japanese black curry sauce, and Sundo, a Japanese milk-bread sandwich concept.
Ono will do one last March pop-up at Berkeley Bowl West this week, from Thursday, March 25, through Saturday, March 27. He’ll offer a limited menu from Delage of premium nigiri sushi ($45), chirashi ($35), O-toro (bluefin tuna belly) tataki ($20) and wagyu beef tataki ($25). Pickup is from 4-7 p.m. on those days, and pre-ordering is available through the Delage website. Ono said he will likely continue the Berkeley Bowl pop-up in April, but it’s yet to be determined.
One thing is for sure: Fans of Ono’s restaurants know that whatever food projects he’s behind will likely taste great. Here’s a run-down of what’s happening at all of his restaurants:
Popular counter-service izakaya AS B-Dama at Swan’s Market is closed. Ono plans to turn the kiosk into an outpost for his pop-ups Dela Curo and Sundo (see below for details) in the coming months. AS B-Dama was at 907 Washington St. (at Ninth Street), Oakland. Follow AS B-Dama Instagram for updates.
Omakase restaurant Delage is currently closed at Swan’s Market, but Ono and chef Mikiko Ando are offering their chef-selected sushi and dishes for a limited time at Berkeley Bowl West. Order through the Delage website for pickup. Ono aims to bring back outdoor dining at Swan’s Market in the coming months. Delage, 536 Ninth St. (between Clay and Washington), Oakland. Follow Delage on Instagram for updates.
Ono temporarily closed Utzutzu, his eight-seater omikiri restaurant in Alameda, due to it being in a small upstairs space. However, Ono hopes to re-open this summer, depending on the state of the pandemic. (Former Utzutzu sushi chef Joji Nonaka started his own omakase-style sushi pop-up called Sushi Salon.) Utzutzu, 1428 B Park St. (near Santa Clara Avenue), Alameda. Follow Utzutzu on Instagram for updates.
Uptown Oakland fast-casual spot Masabaga, which specializes in fried toro (tuna belly) sandwiches and wagyu burgers opened in the midst of the pandemic, but had to close. Ono co-founded this spot with Masa Sasaki — who was the opening chef at Delage and is one of the Bay Area’s most respected sushi chefs. Before shutting its doors, Ono tested some curry dishes and sandwiches as a pop-up at this location. He is hoping to re-open Masabaga this summer with outdoor patio dining. Masabaga, 2022 Telegraph Ave., (near 21st Street), Oakland. Follow Masabaga on Instagram for updates.
Dela Curo is one of Ono’s newer concepts he debuted last year. Partnering with a curry company in Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture, Dela Curo specializes in black curry, a style popular in Kanazawa, known for its dark hue, rich flavor and thick consistency. Ono adds ground chicken or beef and other spices and vegetables to his black curry sauce, which he ladles over rice, fried chicken or pork cutlets, spaghetti noodles, rice omelets and more. The chef intermittently offers Dela Curo at Berkeley Bowl West, where it regularly sells out. He plans to bring Dela Curo to Swan’s Market this year in the former AS B-Dama space. Follow Dela Curo on Instagram for updates.
Sundo is a Japanese sandwich concept, using thick, soft, fluffy milk bread from Japanese bread company Pasco. Fruit sandwiches are mildly sweet, filled with fresh whipped cream, sometimes red bean or matcha flavored, and fresh fruit such as strawberries and kiwi. Savory sandwiches include Japanese egg salad or katsu. Ono emphasizes that Sundo sandwiches are more of a snack or dessert than a meal. He plans to bring this concept, paired with Dela Curo, to the former AS B-Dama location at Swan’s Marketplace. Follow Sundo on Instagram for updates.