Delage is a restaurant serving original recipes combining Californian and Japanese cooking. It opened in 2016 in Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco.
The owner, Ono, came to America after graduating high school. He returned to Japan temporarily to train as a chef at a traditional Japanese restaurant, then returned to America when he had a chance to work at an American restaurant. After working there for over 10 years, he opened his own restaurant in Oakland. Since then he has participated in opening a few more stores in the East Bay, including Delage, B-dama, and Utzutzu.
East Bay in Oakland is known as the origin of Californian cooking, which is influenced by Asia and Europe and uses plenty of organic and seasonal vegetables. Delage’s menu follows in the same lines. The head chef, Ando’s philosophy of food is “beautiful to look at, delicious to eat, and good for the body.” Her cooking shines with delicate, feminine style of food plating and she uses local, organic, and seasonal produce where possible. They cooperate with small local farms to buy organic vegetables and either Ono or Ando will go to the farmers market to choose the best ingredients.
Even so, some things have to come from Japan. For example there aren’t enough good quality fish available locally, so they use fish from Japan. In addition, red vinegar, which is used in sushi, is made from rice malt for a mild and gentle flavor, but it’s hard to find vinegar made like this in America. They also use Japanese rice. Old Japanese rice has more moisture, but is not too sticky either. Also, its quality is less likely to decline when cooking over time compared to fresh Californian rice.
Delage is particular about its ingredients, but its concept is casual. The name Delage comes from Ono’s nickname as a child “Dela” and “ge” which means house or family in Kyushu’s dialect. In other words, it has the secret meaning of "come and eat at my place". The 50-60s style interior design actually uses the owner Ono’s vintage items, like old records and posters, as well as old lumber for the walls, giving it a warm atmosphere.
When Ono had a child, he concurred even more with the part of Ando’s philosophy about food being good for the body, and let Mikiko (Ando) set the menu. Ono said, “I’m happy if Mikiko makes what she wants to and the customers are happy.” The menu is an omakase, or "chef's choice" course. The menu changes every day and is based on Japanese food, but also uses Italian and French techniques. For example a salad might have a plum dressing to give it a Japanese flavor. Having said that it’s not as intimidating as San Francisco’s high-class restaurants that also only offer omakase courses. It’s a place anyone can enter. The price is moderate and it has an unusually large number of regulars for an omakase restaurant. Perhaps that is why Ono says, “Sometimes there is a sense of unity between the customers and staff.” And those times make him the happiest.
Ono says, “Opening a restaurant is the most fun.” He already has plans to open 2 or 3 more new places. He invites young people to open new restaurants with him. “Isn’t it hard to be stuck washing dishes all the time?" he asks them. "You can be a chef in the next place. Then, when the next one is opened, you can be head chef.” This way, he continues to help the younger generation achieve their dreams.
Delage is a place where you can feel the warmth of Ono and Ando, both in their cooking and in the atmosphere.