Kiraku (Berkeley, CA)

8:30:00 AM

‘Tis the Season to be Queueing

Fa la la la, la la, la laaaaa~

Note to Fellow Readers: If you are the type that hates to wait in line for food, this is the point where you want to hit the back button. If 30 minutes is your limit, turn back.

1 hour. Turn back.

1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn back.

2 hours. If you can somehow manage to wait 2 hours or more for a table, please continue with the rest of this blog post.

PC, YL and I made a day trip to Berkeley back in August and after a day of running about and exploring the city, we decided to go to Kiraku for dinner.

Kiraku was highly recommended by a coworker of mine and the restaurant also had a substantial amount of reviews on Yelp, so we were interested in trying it out.

The restaurant is only opened for dinner, from 5:30 to 11:00 PM that day, but we headed over relatively early. It was about 5:45 PM when we got there and the restaurant was already packed and there was a crowd of people waiting outside.

I put our name on the list and proceeded to wait.

Kiraku is an extremely small Japanese restaurant with enough room to fit about 30 people at a time. That seems to be the ongoing trend with Japanese restaurants. Very rarely do they have a large spacey restaurant that accommodates a large amount of people.

An hour past by and more people put their names down on the list.

Another hour rolled by and we were pushing 8 PM by this point. And then thank-the-chubby-baby-angels, we got called! The middle aged lady seated us near the window so that the other hungry crowd can bore their cold stares at us while we gleefully dive into our food.


Main menu
However, to be fair, we ate pretty quickly! So I say we were pretty considerate.

We started off with the Clams, which were steamed in butter. These were big clams with a lot of meat, sitting in the sweet clam broth. Very simple, but easy to mess up. There was no sand in my clams and the three of us were very happy devouring the dish in a matter of minutes. Add in the fact that we were waiting for such a long period of time… even the napkin might taste good with a bit of seasoning.

Next, came the grilled Beef Tongue Skewer. It was the first time I’ve ever seen beef tongue prepared this way. Usually it’s sliced thin and grilled, but this one was cut into cubes and stuck on a skewer. Which made me wonder the entire evening whether or not it was actually beef tongue…

We also ordered the grilled Jumbo Squid with teriyaki sauce. This is where PC realized that she may be allergic to grilled squid. The three of us tested this theory again recently when we were dining at Tanto in Sunnyvale, CA. And sure enough, PC had a mild allergic reaction to the squid. Odd because calamari never gave her a problem, but when it’s served grilled, she has a reaction.

The squid was nice and smoky with a teriyaki glaze and served with a side of Japanese mayo.

And the star of the show: Corn Tempura with Green Tea Salt. The first of its kind, I was definitely intrigued when I first heard of this from my coworker. And I see why there’s so much hype. I don’t know exactly how they manage to keep the corn kernels to hold its shape, but the texture is most delightful.

The tempura is light, crispy and airy, retaining a nice crunch when you bite into it without a mouthful of oil (that’s how you know it’s bad tempura). The corn kernels are sweet and if possible, they taste even sweeter thanks to the touch of green tea salt. I couldn’t taste the green tea, but the color is there.

The Buta-Kim came out next, which is sauteed pork with kimchi, topped with a poached egg. The dish came out piping hot and the egg was poached perfectly, so that when you mixed it all together, the kimchi was pork was nicely coated with the yolk. While this was delicious, this dish would do better with rice because of the strong flavors.

Our last dish on the menu before dessert was the Chazuke with salmon. It’s basically a bowl of rice, topped with dashi broth and chunks of steamed salmon. What you want to do is break up the salmon into pieces and mix everything up. If you’re eating this by yourself, just dig in like you’re drinking soup.

Carb-filled dishes like rice and noodles are usually considered “filler dishes” at an Izakaya. You’re meant to eat this after you’re done drinking. That said, traditionally, we would’ve eaten all the dishes above with alcohol, but all of us went for tea instead.

For dessert, we went for the Yuzu Mochi.

You hear that?

That’s the heavens singing.

It’s a delicate and citrus-y with a cream filling. Not too sweet. Just right. And it being a Japanese restaurant, we also had tiny little forks to eat our mochis with. Why use your hand when you have cute dessert forks?

The bill was just a bit terrifying, but I had a feeling it was going to be on the pricier end. But for the quality, I’d say it’s worth the price.

I’m just not sure if it’s worth the wait. The only other restaurant that I’ve visited that rivaled this wait time was Izakaya Sozai in San Francisco and that was also a dinky Japanese restaurant with bad ventilation, no cooling system and a hole on my table. But that’s a whole other story saved for another post.

Would I come back? Perhaps.

As I left the restaurant, a couple who arrived about 15-20 minutes after us was still waiting outside in the dark for a table. The fraction of a difference was the deciding factor between being seated and served and waiting.

The check holder
Have you ever waited ridiculously long for a restaurant before? I swear if I came with my parents, we would’ve left before I even had a chance to put my name down. And off-topic, I’m heading to Seattle this weekend for a short vacation, what places are must visits?

2566B Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704

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