It’s easy to get lost in the so-called “Berkeley bubble,” even in a city that gourmands tour for its four-star establishments and specialty cuisines. College dining quickly digresses into the Asian Ghetto, whatever cafes take meal points and a lot of pizza. Students flock to these establishments for many reasons: because they like that kind of food, because it’s cheap and because they can get in and out of there quickly and go on with their lives.
But every so often, it’s important to slow down the pace. If you take a detour off of Telegraph Avenue, past the buzz around Pieology and Cafe Mediterraneum, you’ll find yourself at Joshu-ya Brasserie on Dwight Way.
The first thing you’ll notice about Joshu-ya is that it’s a tiny restaurant. The restaurant looks small, and while it does expand in the back, you can expect to be rubbing shoulders with other patrons as you enter and are seated at your table. The front courtyard, also part of the dining area and with gas fire torches, is miniscule as well, closed in by a red wooden fence.
It’s interesting that Joshu-ya is so tiny when you see how many people are trying to get a table there. The place is packed on the nights that most people usually go out. For a Friday night, you should definitely make a reservation, or you will wait at least 40 minutes to be seated.
While you’re waiting to be seated, or if you somehow already are at your table, you’ll start to look down the menu and notice that these are not your standard college student prices. The price range is interesting when you notice how close Joshu-ya is to student housing. While you may pay $20 to $30 for a single entree, this isn’t in the typical public university student’s general fare. This is a nice place for when your parents come to town.
So why do people keep coming to Joshu-ya, even though it is small, the wait is long and the prices are moderate? There must be some reason it’s packed every weekend. It could be the quality of the food. Joshu-ya has a menu ranging from sushi platters to cooked soups and stews to sandwiches and other dishes that would be served in a standard Californian restaurant. You might order a sushi combo while the person at the table next to you chows down on the Bone Marrow Burger, which, if you’re a carnivore, is quite mouthwatering to even look at.
Joshu-ya’s sushi combo is $20, but it’s worth it. You get six pieces of sushi and six rolls. The rolls were standard, but overall, the platter was very good. Joshu-ya serves thick slabs of fish, which is not typical of run-of-the-mill sushi places, and the fish is draped over the rice, covering it entirely, rather than just sitting on top of it.
If you’re not into sushi, Joshu-ya serves many other cooked dishes. One of them, the $14 chicken udon, is a dish that could most easily be described as a chicken noodle soup with shrimp tempura, fish cakes, dumplings, carrots, broccoli and thinly sliced radishes in a kombu dashi broth. The chicken is tender with a hearty roasted flavor to it. The udon noodles are less enjoyable — thick and round and hard to handle. Maybe if you’re a master at chopsticks, you would be able to wrestle with these, but they’re quite slippery and unmanageable even if you eat them with a fork.
As you eat, you might notice you’re no longer in the typical milieu of college student that dominates every other eatery. If you’re an undergraduate, you will find yourself surrounded by different types of Berkeley residents. There’s a grad student on a first date (or maybe a second? it seems to be going pretty well). There’s a family gathering that reserved three tables (no wonder you had to wait so long without a reservation). There are a couple of 20-somethings wining and dining at the sushi bar.
As mentioned before, going to Joshu-ya is a waiting game. First, if you don’t have a reservation, you’ll wait a long time to be served. Then, once you’re seated, you’ll wait a while to get your food. What was surprising was that the chicken udon, a cooked dish, came pretty soon after it was ordered. The sushi, on the other hand, arrived much later.
If you have the money and the patience, Joshu-ya is worth the wait. The sushi is delectable, and it’s right around the block from most Southside student housing.