Stilt-walking geishas, sumo wrestlers, a DJ, a wall of sake, searchlights sweeping the sky, and recorded Japanese language lessons emerging from speakers in the restrooms — arigato gozaimasu — were part of last night's grand-opening spectacle at Jeremy Umland's Ozumo Restaurant in downtown Oakland.
Having played pro baseball in Japan for many years, Umland opened the original Ozumo in San Francisco in 2000. Its 8,000-square-foot new sibling is a city unto itself with a vast bar, vast slate-floored dining room, sushi bar with sunken kitchen, charcoal-fired robata grill with yet another sunken kitchen, shoes-off kotatsu room, shoji-screened private dining room, multilevel waterfall with faux koi, tatami-matted seating area, and such exotic features (created by Japan's AGE Design) as a twenty-foot-high paper lantern. The place was packed last night, with taiko drummers keeping a beat on the sidewalk out front as sleekly dressed revelers poured through the gargantuan wooden door: "This is the biggest thing to happen to Oakland since the Raiders came back," enthused manager Mel Collins, mingling with guests who snacked on sashimi, nigiri and grilled skewered meats and sipped everything from sake to amaretto sours to thick pumpkin soup served in shot glasses. Meanwhile, chefs dissected a humongous tuna that, when still whole, looked too perfectly formed to be real. Executive chef Jennifer Nguyen has worked with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. (Interesting detail, nothing to do with Ozumo or Oakland: Morimoto's Wasabi Restaurant in Mumbai's Taj Hotel is where grenades were lobbed last week marking the final standoff in Operation Cyclone, Indian forces' battle against invading terrorists.) Let's hope this place keeps Oakland omoshiromi (fun ... see, we listened very closely in the restroom) for a long time to come.