B-Dama: Order Right and Drink Well

Note: B-Dama is now inside Swan’s Marketplace in Old Oakland.

The first time I came here was a Thursday evening around 8 pm. There was a group of four waiting at the door, every seat in the house was full, and small plates with towers of tempura vegetables and mystery skewers were steadily streaming out of the small kitchen window. I waited for about 10 minutes until a group of about six hipsters walked in, at which point I felt a strong sense of urgency to flag down the waitress and alert her very politely that I’d like to eat (preferably before those people) and was wondering if there was a list my friend and I could put our names on. Ten minutes later she put our names down and said it would be a thirty minute wait. Suffice to say that on a busy night the service at B-Dama isn’t something to write home about (or stick around for, we left that night and got tacos). The short ribs on the other hand, are another story.

B-Dama is the kind of restaurant that makes you feel like you’re indulging without actually over ordering. “I’ll have the chicken meatballs, the battered chopped vegetables, the short ribs with the quail egg, the short ribs without the quail egg, the salmon gyoza, the fried tofu stuffed with pork, the crispy chicken skin…” and so goes the list of small plates one can order here, each one meant to feed one to two people. Dishes range from $2.50 to $7, with stews and udons costing a bit more but presumably larger portions. There’s a healthy booze menu here too offering sake (and a nightly sake flight for $11), sochu and sapporo on tap (although I’m partial to sharing the large sapporo bottle).

This is a place to come to with people you know well- many of the dishes are yakitori, bite-sized pieces of food grilled and put on bamboo skewers- which makes them hard to share… politely, at least. You and yours will simply just have to bite off the same stick. The short ribs, tender, glistening, and perfectly fatty were delicious, and after spreading a small skewer of them around a table of five, we ordered a second round. Sadly, the assorted chicken parts on skewers we ordered (skin, wings and meatballs) certainly looked tempting, but were all short of amazing.

More easily shareable dishes included the sushi and agemono (fried stuff), both of which we enjoyed. The fatty tuna roll with green onions came off of the special nightly menu, and made us regret not ordering more sushi. This is not surprising, considering the owners here also run Geta, a hole-in-the-wall sushi joint down the street that has a consistent line out the door. The kakiage, a pile of tempura chopped vegetables, was a delightful plate of towering veggie fries. Another winner from the nightly menu was the kani cream croquettes: warm, fluffy, red crab croquettes that rekindled my love for fried mashed potates, and have since sent me to Gregiore’s hungering for their signature potato puffs that I only allot myself on special occasions (okay, okay, like lunchtime).

While ordering, I was thinking that B-Dama reminds me of a restaurant I used to frequent in the Yucatan when I lived there, called Eladio’s. It was basically a local drinking hole with small plates of food that were brought to you for free as long as you ordered drinks. Obviously I was a regular, and my host family and I would spend hours there switching off between ice cold beers and taquitos. The “free food” concept doesn’t transfer here, but the feel isn’t far off. The more small plates that came and went from our table, the more I wanted my beer glass consistently full. Not that you have to drink here, it just makes the kakiage go down so nicely.

Update: I went for a third time recently and sat at the sushi bar— now this is where the service is on point! Freebies and lots of smiles!

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4301A Piedmont Ave.