Since 2012, Kayoko and I have been going to Kiraku in Berkeley for celebrations and impromptu nights out. We are consistently wowed by chef-owner Daiki Saito's creations. Before moving to the Bay Area, he worked at a French restaurant in Tokyo for 10 years. The food at Kiraku reflects this, as he fuses Japanese and French technique – without an ounce of the pretentiousness. Expect a loud and cramped atmosphere here, like a popular izakaya in Japan. What else would you expect from a place called Kiraku (ki 㐂 means "to have fun" and raku 楽 means "fun").
Kiraku's menu changes frequently depending what's in season or the catch of the day. I can say with full confidence (given that we've been here over 50 times), that everything on the menu is worth trying, whether it's on the regular or special menu. It might be the restaurant I've been to the most in the East Bay.
There are some items on the menu that Kayoko and I automatically order – the Fried Chikuwa Isobe Age and the Kiraku Salad. These are dependable mainstays on the menu that are perfect to get you warmed up for all the other explorations that you will encounter later on.
Fried Chikuwa is a great appetizer with sake.
In addition to being a culinary creator, Daiki is a potter and golfer. Many of the dishes and cups are made by him. You can indulge him in a conversation on glazes to grips.
Our latest visit to Kiraku centered around this month's Sake Gumi picks. We started with the first Level 1 bottle, Ippin Junmai, a sake that is always on the menu at Kiraku. Daiki made a special sardine tartare for us to pair with the junmai.
It was a winner as the fresh sardine sashimi and ginger were highlighted by the cleanliness of this sake. I suppose it's both the French and Japanese influence, but Daiki's dishes are always artful – it always look as good as it tastes.
I also highly recommend getting the daily special sashimi dish which features three or five fresh sashimi of the day – usually flown in from Tsukuji market. The sashimi we had was maguro, red sea bream, and scallop.
After trying the juicy and acidic Yamasake4, Daiki brought out some smoked duck. We were all in love with the combo.
He didn't stop there, and topped himself by bringing us a tender lamb skewer with yuzu kosho to pair with the spicy and citrusy Shichida Nama Muroka Junmai Ginjo.
But wait! There was more. A grilled sanma (Pacific saury, an oily fish) to pair with the mushroomy and earthy Tatsumigura Junmai Ginjo.
I think this was Daiki explaining how he plated the next dish...
... it's a Red Sea Bream head simmered in mirin and shoyu. Another great pairing with the Shichida Nama Muroka Junmai Ginjo.
And you can't leave Kiraku without ordering something off the "After Sake" portion of the menu. That night, we concluded the evening with ikura and salmon rice.
As I write this I realize how familiar the interior of Kiraku is. I assumed we had never written about Kiraku on the blog, but in fact, we have in this post back in 2012, very soon after they opened.
It's a place we've consistently gone for six years that never disappoints. Out of all the izakayas I've been to in the U.S., Kiraku most closely resembles the izakayas I went to regularly when I lived in Japan – in food, and most importantly, in spirit.
2566 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704