Norikonoko has finally reopened after its kitchen fire incident earlier this year. It is a small, charming Japanese restaurant tucked away farther down Telegraph Avenue, run by Noriko Taniguchi and her husband, Takumi Taniguchi.
Entering through a sliding door, we could see the kitchen bar directly facing the door, with only six tables and bar seats around. We were lucky enough to be seated right away, even though the restaurant was bustling. While looking around, we could see Japanese decorations lining the walls, including antique tea sets and Daruma dolls. We felt comforted almost at once, as Noriko Taniguchi smiled warmly at us and handed us a menu.
Because Norikonoko is notable for its delicious chawanmushi appetizer, you should order it ahead of time, because they often make it on the spot. chawanmushi — “chawan” meaning rice bowl and “mushi” meaning steamed — is a savory type of egg custard combined with chicken, gingko nuts, enoki mushrooms, narutomaki fish cakes and soy sauce with mirin. It has very unique and soft textures.
Another appetizer that is rare to see on many Japanese-restaurant menus is the onigiri rice ball: a triangular shaped rice ball with salty or sour ingredients and wrapped in nori. First bite in, we could already taste the tarako and salty roe mixed with the perfect proportion of rice. Everything is hand-made right in front of you, so you can see the care and attention to detail put into presenting the food.
Our main course consisted of grilled New York steak and boneless chicken breast drizzled in teriyaki sauce, served with a light salad with vinaigrette and nut dressing. There was a potato korokke on the side. The steak was cooked perfectly and not overdone, with a little bit of pink left in the middle. The chicken tasted fresh and had just the right amount of teriyaki sauce for the portion. The potato croquette was still steaming-hot when we received our plate of food, and we did not wait even one second to take our first bite. The potato was soft, and the aroma of onion within its stuffing was distinct.
The service was splendid, and the food came out slowly enough that we could have time to enjoy each dish without overstuffing ourselves. Although Norikonoko leans toward the pricier side of restaurants in Berkeley, we believe the quality and freshness of the food, the ambiance and the service make up more than enough for the price.
All of the dishes were delicious, and we were immensely pleased with our first time back at Norikonoko since its reopening. The owners of Norikonoko waved goodbye with a warm “arigatou” right before we left the adorable restaurant. It is really the people who make a restaurant feel as comfortable as a home.
Norkikonoko is located at 2556 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, CA.