(Photography by Sarah Chorey)

On a Maki Roll: Oakland chef Kyle Itani launches takeout-only sushi restaurant Nikkei

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants to shutter their dining rooms and chefs and kitchen teams to adjust to different business models. You've got Prairie and Lazy Bear selling pantry goods, Atelier Crenn and Lord Jiu's assembling meal kits, Che Fico and Manresa serving family meals, and many, many more offering their restaurant menus (or revised versions of them) for curbside pick-up and delivery.

The idea of opening a new restaurant these days may seem cuckoo, but some entrepreneurs are braving the new landscape. Tosca recently stuck to its plan to re-open under changed ownership; Square Pie Guys is now dishing fried chicken sandos under the brand Hetchy's Hots; and Benu's Corey Lee is planning a fresh Korean barbecue takeout concept to help make use of the funding he gained from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Meanwhile in Oakland, chef-owner Kyle Itani, of Itani Ramen and Hopscotch, is playing around with the concept of a "virtual" restaurant: new brand, a slew of fresh menu options to pump up sales, and no dedicated dining room whatsoever: Get ready for newcomer and takeout-only restaurant Nikkei Sushi.


The project was already in the works with plans to open in a new space in Uptown Oakland; when COVID-19 struck, the team pressed pause to adjust. Now, a few months into shelter in place, Itani felt ready to move forward with a slightly different incarnation of his new sushi restaurant. Instead of getting the Nikkei shop fully up and running, he's shifted operations into the Itani Ramen kitchen. From there, his team is crafting fresh maki rolls, sashimi, and nigiri that's suited for to-go dining.

"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 to maintain the high standards of food we have built our reputation upon," said Itani, who is also offering carryout sake, Japanese whiskey, and craft cocktails.

The menu is available for pickup at Itani Ramen or for delivery via that restaurant's Caviar page, which means you can also order up some ramen and gyoza to go with.

If you're craving a sushi fix (there's only so much sourdough we can eat!), check out some of Nikkei's signature dishes below.

Photography by Sarah Chorey

If you love both maki and nigiri, opt for the combo. You'll get four pieces of nigiri—tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and unagi—and your choice of a roll: spicy tuna roll (pictured), rainbow, Alaska, or caterpillar, to name a few.

// Open daily from 11:30am to 8pm and until 9pm Friday and Saturday; order delivery via Caviar or pick up at Itani Ramen, 1736 Telegraph Ave. (Oakland); itaniramen.com/nikkei-sushi.

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