Why don’t I like spicy food? For the same reason I don’t like cupcakes, Chicago pizza or anything that has too much of something for me to taste anything else. For the same reason I shunned sushi for almost 10 years: the first time I had sushi I scooped a spoonful of the lovely green paste into my mouth.
Those were 10 years that I could have enjoyed so many hamachi nigiri. It’s sad. But that aside, for the same reason that I dislike spicy food, I like B-Dama so much more than I expected. It’s a tiny tiny Japanese restaurant in Piedmont. Its menu doesn’t boast anything particularly breath-taking to draw me out of the comfort of my home, except that I once saw Kristen post on Facebook a picture of the ankimo (monkfish liver) from B-Dama, and Kristen and I have had more than two failed attempts to eat there together just because the restaurant was either closed or too busy when we popped in. When you can’t have something, you want it more.
Then the day finally arrived. My friend and I tried the ridiculously popular Geta that serves possibly the cheapest sushi and fried chicken bits in the East Bay, were thoroughly impressed by how cheap it was ($35.30 for 7 items), and felt compelled to try its posher sister B-Dama. This time, we made reservation.
Let’s talk about the dish that implanted the name B-Dama in me from the very beginning: the monkfish liver.
This wasn’t the first time I had monkfish liver, or liver, or monkfish. I’m neither a fan nor an antifan of monkfish, but I love livers, so it’s a make-or-break deal for me. At B-Dama, the liver was so creamy yet maintained the smooth, bouncy resilience of freshness, and above all, the taste was so clean! If I didn’t know that it came from a fish, I would think that it’s just soft tofu flavored with cream and a pinch of salt, slightly chilled to shape into such medallion-scallop size. Considering the steps to prepare ankimo (the liver must be rubbed with salt, then rinsed with sake, then de-veined, then rolled, steamed and served in ponzu sauce), this dish requires such precise treatment to rid of the ocean smell and preserve the creamy nature. I think steaming is the most unadulterated cooking method, and this ankimo is the most unadulterated, freshest ankimo I’ve ever had.
The same theme resonates throughout the rest of the meal. The housho maki (raw tuna and salmon with sliced cucumber wrapped in daikon), the hamachi nigiri and even the nabe taste crystal clear. Daikon naturally has the daikon taste (a bitter, somewhat piercing pungency that sometimes reminds me of sake), but the daikon at B-Dama, in whatever form it’s served from grated to sheet, does not have that daikon taste. Its crunchy texture and cooling freshness are well preserved, only the pungency is gone.
The cold openings:
The fried and grilled dishes:
For reason unknown, the host gave us one of the specials of the day, the asari sakamushi – steamed clams cooked in butter and sake broth ($9.5). At this point, I was too busy chowing to remember taking pictures. I feel obliged to mention this because the host was so nice, but I should clarify offhand that the clams did not alter my perception of B-Dama.
So, at the restaurant, we ran into my friend’s colleague, who also works at another great Japanese restaurant in the East Bay, and after the meal we briefly mentioned how good we thought B-Dama was. I said that I was surprised that the food here did not have any strong taste, and my friend’s colleague commented that Japanese food in principal are not supposed to be overwhelmed with spices anyway. I knew that before, and that’s why I like Japanese food, but my comment might have failed to explain my thoughts properly. B-Dama especially succeeds in delivering that clean-tasting aspect of Japanese food more than any other Japanese restaurant in the East Bay.
4301A Piedmont Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611