The pandemic hasn’t been easy for downtown Berkeley’s Fish & Bird Sousaka Izakaya, which opened just a few months before shelter-in-place as one of the East Bay’s most exciting new restaurants. Since then, like so many local spots, the Japanese restaurant has pivoted and then pivoted again, shifting away from its more stylish modern izakaya dishes to serve takeout-friendly items like shrimp katsu sandwiches and heat-at-home Japanese meatballs, and, more recently, serving a more extensive menu to customers seated outdoors on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.
Now, with restaurants in Berkeley and the rest of Alameda County once again allowed to open for outdoor dining, Fish & Bird has launched what might be its most exciting offering yet: yakiniku, or Japanese charcoal grilling, featuring A5 wagyu beef and assorted seafood — all cooked on a small tabletop grill set up outdoors.
Co-owner Yoshika Hedberg says she hopes customers in Berkeley will be drawn in by the smell of the binchotan coals and grilled meat wafting down the street — and by the fact that the East Bay doesn’t really have any other restaurants that specialize in yakiniku. It’s a style of barbecuing in which the meats are typically cooked over a wire mesh–topped charcoal grill and then served with a dipping sauce. Apart from one spot in San Francisco — Camp BBQ in the Inner Richmond — Bay Area yakiniku enthusiasts generally have to travel down to San Mateo or San Jose to find a dedicated yakiniku restaurant.
In Japan, yakiniku restaurants are all indoors, Hedberg says — but she notes that there’s a long tradition of families bringing small tabletop grills for outdoor picnics, which is essentially what she wants to create at the restaurant. “I think that this is something that could only be experienced with al fresco dining,” she says.
For now, the yakiniku is a fairly high-end option, at $60 a person (for a minimum of two diners) — a result, Hedberg says, of the quality of meat and seafood that they’re using, as well as the expense of using high-grade, clean-burning binchotan charcoal. Each order comes with thinly sliced A5 Miyazaki wagyu rib cap; various cuts of American wagyu-style beef (boneless kalbi, outside skirt, rib eye, tongue); and assorted seafood (often shrimp and scallops) — all for customers to grill at the table and eat with a housemade sauce.
Because the coals take about 45 minutes to heat up, it also tends to be a fairly long dining experience, but customers can call in to have the restaurant start heating the coals up ahead of time. According to Hedberg, Fish & Bird might later consider a more affordable option, using less expensive meat, if there’s a demand for it. For now, more budget-conscious diners can consider trying the restaurant’s sukiyaki-style hot pot — which also features A5 wagyu — at $23 a person.
And for customers who aren’t quite ready to dine out, or who simply prefer to fire up the grill (or the hot pot burner) at home, both offerings are also available as takeout meal kits.
Fish & Bird is open for outdoor service — including its yakiniku and sukiyaki offerings — during dinner hours, 4 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., Thursday through Monday, and also during lunchtime on the weekends.