In the Eye of Tea

    After a 5-course afternoon tea, the three of us felt our stomachs’ calling. The wind blew chilly moisture from the sea. A hearty dinner of noodle in hot broth would hit the spot, one that was saturated with oolong. Quite appropriately, we walked into O Chamé, meaning “eye of tea”(*) literally and “playful little one” colloquially. It’s Mother’s Day, no reservation, we couldn’t be any luckier that the guy found us three seats at the end of the bar.

    Of course, who would skip the appetizers. And of course, we couldn’t decide on just one appetizer, so we ordered three. The potato and snow crab croquette ($8.50), buttery but mild, tastes ten times better after a dip in the plumier-than-usual-and-not-too-sour tonkatsu sauce. Usually I don’t dip my stuff, but the sauce is a must here.

    The grilled, caramelized eel ($10.50), Kristen’s choice, is great. Little Mom loves eel, and she would love this. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! 🙂 A bite into the crisp endive releases a burst of sharp, almost minty air to balance the eel’s fatty sweetness.

    Another fatty, sweet thing is the braised pork ribs with ginger and lemon ($8.50), so sweet I could detect neither ginger nor lemon. The leaner pieces looked soft but not too thrilling. One must go for the pieces with lotsa fat and semi-charred ends, those are gold.

    Then came the reason we decided on O Chamé: the noodle soups. The broth is light yet hearty. Actually, I’m still in tea mode so I can only think of the word “full-bodied” to describe it. Tender pork as the base, smooth spinach for texture, and thin strips of takuan (pickled daikon) to freshen it up. Both Tiana and Kristen settled on this pork shoulder udon ($14.50). My normal self would, too.

    But I chose the tofu udon instead. Lately I’ve decided that I should gauge a restaurant based on their vegetarian/vegan numbers because it’s hard to make vegan stuff taste good (unless it’s a dessert). This shiitake-spinach-aburage (fried tofu skin) udon (13.50) passes the bar, but it would be nice had it been entirely vegan. The broth is a fish stock flavored by the earthy sweetness of mushroom. I prefer the vegan udon at Anzu, whose broth has the more refreshing note of chrysanthemum greens.

    Our face bathed in the steam, our stomach getting packed. It was hot. We were dead full half way through the bowl. I did my best picking up all of my spinach and mushroom, but shamefully left half the broth and a third of the noodle. We thought we couldn’t eat anymore, but then we flipped the page and stared at the desserts, then looked among ourselves and grinned: “I don’t think we’re ever too full for ice cream”. 😀 Just one dessert is not gonna hurt. The agony was when we narrowed our choices to four (from nine): sherry custard, poached pear with berries, truffle torte, and what we ended up getting following the waitress’s suggestion: two scoops of caramel balsamic gelato ($5).

    The first spoon was, well, interesting. But it grows on you. It has a bite to it. Kinda feisty, or in Kristen’s words, “like yogurt”, which makes sense because both balsamic vinegar and yogurt are products of fermentation, works of microbes, and sour. Definitely worth squeezing in at the last minute.

    Address: O Chamé
    1830 4th Street
    Berkeley, CA 94710
    (510) 841-8783

    Dinner for three + tax: $81.56

    (*) At first I pronounced it |oh-shah-mei|, like a French thing, you know. But seeing its meaning, I guess it must be |oh-jah-mei|, like “cha” (tea) in sencha.

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