click to enlarge SUSHI TO GO: Itani's plans to open as a separate restaurant have been shelved for now.

Photo Courtesy of NIKKEI SUSHI

SUSHI TO GO: Itani's plans to open as a separate restaurant have been shelved for now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Takeout-Only Sushi Arrives in Uptown

Nikkei Sushi scales back its plans and starts operating out of Itani Ramen.

By S. Rufus
Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 7:23 PM

Celebrated chef-restaurateur Kyle Itani, who helms Itani Ramen and Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar in Uptown Oakland, has just launched a brand-new project: a takeout sushi spot.

Operating out of Itani Ramen and serving its fare via pickup and delivery, Nikkei Sushi will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 2 p.m.-8 p.m. during its soft opening with hours extending in the future.

Itani, whom the San Francisco Chronicle named a Rising Star Chef in 2013, began planning last year to open Nikkei Sushi in an Uptown location, but given the COVID-19 situation decided to operate the concept instead through Itani Ramen, which is located across from the Fox Theater.

"Seeing the private dining room at Itani Ramen empty for over a month now had me thinking about how we could adapt to better serve our community and our staff," said Itani, whose résumé includes winning an episode of the cooking show Knife Fight in 2014.

"Now more than ever, we are forced to be innovative and nimble because there is no road map for how to survive these circumstances," he said. "By creating Nikkei under the same roof as Itani Ramen, we are quickly able to create jobs and additional revenue to cover our rent and utilities."

He has loved working with sushi ever since his early days as a young chef at Yoshi's Oakland under chef Sho Kamio — who sent Itani to apprentice in Japan, then tapped him to oversee the extensive sushi kitchen at Yoshi's flagship San Francisco location.

Comprising classic and specialty rolls along with sashimi and nigiri and more, Nikkei Sushi's menu was designed specifically with affordability and delivery in mind.

"Everyone is struggling right now, so we are doing our best to keep the price point down so more people can enjoy sushi delivered safely to their doorstep, but also maintain the high standards of foods we have built our reputation upon," Itani said.

Diners also can add to their orders Itani Ramen starters such as gyoza or edamame — and even carry-out cocktails, sake, and Japanese whiskey.

Nikkei is Japanese for someone of Japanese ancestry not living in Japan. As a fourth-generation Japanese American, Itani is proud to launch another new project celebrating his roots.

Takeout orders can be placed by calling 510-788-7489. Delivery orders can be made through the Itani Ramen Caviar page. (Other platforms coming).

"Many of my colleagues and friends who own sushi restaurants have been forced to close," Itani said. "So I am planning to offer some of their team members' temporary work as well."

Benchmark Pizzeria Has Closed

Benchmark Pizzeria in Old Oakland has closed permanently. A notice now posted at the restaurant's website, addressed "to our Friends, Regulars, and Supporters," reads:

"We have made the very tough decision to close Benchmark Oakland permanently," the statement said. "Without a strong to-go business, we are unable to break even and adequately care for our employees. The end is nowhere is sight, and it is likely that our industry will be forever changed when this is over.  We lack the capital to navigate that future. Please come visit us in Kensington for some take-out, or email if you need to get in touch. All gift cards purchased here will be honored in Kensington."

Drawing the restaurant's name from the survey markers that his geologist dad enjoyed pointing out to him, chef/co-owner Peter Swanson opened the original Benchmark in Kensington in 2012 with his wife, Melissa Swanson.

The pair had met Rockridge's Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant, where Melissa worked as a host and server and Peter worked as a lead line cook. Later, Peter helped open, then worked as sous chef at, Dopo in Oakland. Melissa worked as a server at Chez Panisse.

The Oakland location opened in 2018 — serving pizza, pasta, and such cutting-edge cocktails as the Colorado Bulldog — containing vodka, cream, seltzer, New Orleans-style coffee, spiced cherry liqueur, and acid phosphate.

La Guerrera's Kitchen, Too

The brick-and-mortar Fruitvale location of La Guerrera's Kitchen is now closed permanently. Mother-and-daughter Ofelia Barajas and Reyna Maldonado decided against a new lease when their previous one ended in March, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. Instead, the pair will sell tamales online with pickups several days a week at the Ale Industries brewery.

Honoring their roots in Mexico's Guerrero region, Barajas and Maldonado sold handcrafted tamales on the streets of San Francisco's Mission district, attracting a loyal fanbase. Entering La Cocina's incubator-kitchen program in 2017, the pair operated pop-ups — then, last spring, they opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant whose most popular item was chicken tamales with green sauce, Maldonado said in an interview. Another brick-and-mortar restaurant elsewhere in Oakland sometime in the future is still a possibility, the Chronicle reports.

Free McMeals to Workers

Now through May 5, healthcare workers and first responders can collect free "Thank You Meals" at any McDonald's location nationwide.

Nearly all of McDonald's 14,000 restaurants nationwide are remaining open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, having implemented nearly fifty new safety measures to improve employees' well-being. The company also has donated more than $3 million worth of food — including more than 60,000 pounds of fresh produce and 1.2 million pounds of beef — to food banks and other charities.

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