Thanks to Gordon Wing and Morton the Mousse for pointing me towards Cha Ya. My friends and I went there for lunch early on Sunday and found the place only lightly full, so we got a table right away.
We ordered the gyoza and edamame as appetizers. My companions noted that the salt had penetrated nicely through the edamame pods, giving the beans a good flavor. After I got over the strangeness of vegetarian gyoza, I loved it, especially the juicy corn kernels.
Since it was a chilly morning, my friends all ordered steaming bowls of noodle soup with soba to warm their bellies. My vegetarian friend was delighted that she didn't have to worry about any fish seasonings in the broth and enjoyed her veggie-laden soup heartily. Her boyfriend, who grew up in Japan, pronounced the flavors authentic and happily slurped away.
I ordered the lightly fried eggplant stuffed with tofu. The first few mouthfuls didn't wow me, but I enjoyed the dish more with every bite. The light sauce that came with the eggplant was especially delicious.
Cha Ya was indeed the perfect place to catch up with an old friend. The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed; the hot barley tea on a chilly day was wonderfully soothing.
After lunch, we went to Sketch for dessert (the day warmed up enough for ice cream!). The plum sorbet I ordered had just the right trace of tartness. The staff said that they made it from ripe Santa Rosa plums which gave the sorbet its vibrant flavor. The apricot sorbet, on the other hand, struck me as a bit dull, but maybe I just don't like apricots enough.
Anyway, I will definitely be returning to Cha Ya. Thanks again for the recommendation!
Cha Ya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant
1686 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709
Sketch Ice Cream
1809 4th St
Berkeley, CA 94710
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