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- 1738 Telegraph, Oakland, CA 94612
- Neighborhood: Uptown
- Phone: (510) 588-6924
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Yonsei – which translates to fourth generation Japanese – is not only the restaurant’s name, it also describes the status of Japanese American Chef/Owner Kyle Itani. Reflective of his multicultural heritage, Yonsei is not steadfastly traditional. While Itani is knowledgeable and respectful of Japan’s time-honored techniques and rituals, he embodies an American perspective and palate that makes its mark in the form of handrolls like the spam & egg with kimchi fried rice, or the lobster roll, which is torched to order on a pink Himalayan salt block that imparts flavor as it cooks.
Located across the street from the Fox Theater and adjacent to sister restaurant Itani Ramen, Yonsei is in Uptown Oakland at 1738 Telegraph Avenue. Yonsei is the fourth member of the Itani Restaurant family, which also includes Hopscotch, Itani Ramen, and takeout-only sushi business Nikkei Sushi.
Dedicated handroll bars are not a traditional Japanese concept; they were popularized by Chef Kazunori Nozawa, who founded Sushi Nozawa in 1987 (Los Angeles), and launched America’s first dedicated handroll bar KazuNori in 2014 (Los Angeles & New York). Handroll bars have since popped up in major cities across the United States including Seattle, Dallas, Denver, and Miami. The handroll formula is deliciously simple: crisp nori, sushi rice, and fresh fish, meant to be eaten right away. The appeal of handroll restaurants makes sense: It’s a fun, efficient, and more affordable way to enjoy made-to-order sushi.
At Yonsei, handrolls can be ordered individually or in the form of “omaka-sets” (curated sets of 5 handrolls). Served in progression, these sets reflect the idea of Japanese omakase style – putting yourself in a chef’s hands and allowing them to serve what they will.
Sake + Japanese Cocktails
A tight and right edit of 3 sakes sold by the glass ($10) or carafe ($34) includes Masumi Okuden with melon flavors and earth tones, and the juicy and bright Tenshii Namachozo, or order a sake flight of 3 one-ounce pours ($14) so you can sip and sample different styles alongside a handroll set.
Yonsei’s menu of classic cocktails with a Japanese twist ($10-13) feature Japanese liquor and ingredients. The Roku Negroni combines Japanese craft Roku gin, Campari, Montenegro amaro, umeshu Japanese plum liqueur, and vermouth rosso, and the Shibuya Manhattanshowcases Tenjaku whisky, which is distilled and aged in Japan.
There’s also a selection of 6 Japanese whiskies (Itani’s drink of choice, neat) with options like Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt or a coveted Yamazaki 18. Beers include Asahi on draft or a rotating selection of IPA, and wine people can opt for a crisp white or a sparkling rose. Unloaded beverages include various teas and yuzu lemonade.
Japanese American Minimalist Design
Don’t expect a sushi bar setup with a counter and open kitchen; Yonsei is arranged in traditional restaurant seating format, allowing guests to enjoy each other’s company and focus on having a great meal and a great time, set to a 90s hip hop playlist, surrounded by photographs of curious moments that occurred in restaurants in Japan during Chef Kyle Itani’s numerous visits.
The petite, 24-seat space embodies a minimalist aesthetic, with concrete floors, gray walls, and exposed bulb chandeliers that create a clean canvas to spotlight the handrolls. A suspended Japanese wooden slat ceiling adds a sculptural element to the 400 square-foot space, and a neon sign that spells ‘Yonsei’ in English and kanji characters is a nod to Chef Kyle Itani’s Japanese American heritage. A hand-painted textile art piece by Oakland artist Nigel Sussman features the restaurant’s signature fish design and was inspired by noren, traditional Japanese curtains affixed within door frames.
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481 Water Street, Oakland, CA 94607
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