“I drove out to the East Bay looking for the right spot to open an Asian restaurant, and Oakley seemed like the right fit,” said Zhao, who moved to Oakley from San Francisco last year. “I looked in Brentwood and Discovery Bay, which are beautiful areas, but those towns already have options for Asian cuisine. Oakley didn’t have a sushi bar, so I wanted my restaurant to fill that need.”
Zhao’s vision, however, goes well beyond sushi. While his main focus is currently Chinese and Japanese cuisine, Zhao hopes to introduce a selection of Thai, Korean and Vietnamese dishes in the spring.
Renee’s Asian Island, named after Zhao’s wife, features Chinese main courses such as wild Mongolian beef, salt and pepper prawns and black bean sauce chicken, plus the popular Japanese sashimi. There are dozens of sushi options, including the Big Kahuna Roll, comprised of tempura shrimp, cucumber, tuna, salmon, avocado and spicy crab meat topped with tobiko and green onion.
Zhao, a native of China, wants Renee’s to be the first restaurant that comes to mind when people in Oakley and far East County plan to go out for a quality Asian meal. “I call it Renee’s Asian Island because I want to serve all kinds of food here. I don’t want to be limited to one type of food. This way, if I offer different types of food, maybe my customers will be brave and try something new. There aren’t a lot of places out here where you can try Thai food or Korean food, so I want this to be the place where people can be adventurous and try new things.”
Since trying new things will take customers out of their comfort zone, Zhao paid extra attention to detail to create a tranquil environment so that guests feel relaxed as soon as they walk through the door. He incorporated live plants and decorative fountains into the décor to create an open and natural ambiance that’s warm and inviting. To help his customers feel more at home, he offers free Wi-Fi service and two flat-screen TVs so that customers can enjoy sporting events while they dine.
Zhao has received a lot of positive feedback from customers since opening two months ago, but he’s also open to constructive criticism. “I want the truth from my customers,” Zhao said. “I don’t want to hear that you liked the food and never see you again. I want you to be completely honest with me so that I know what to do to keep you coming back. I was a chef for 10 years, so I know what I like, but it doesn’t matter what I like. The customers’ opinion is what is important. I want the customers to be completely satisfied when they leave, so that they’ll come back again and tell their friends that they had a great meal at Renee’s.”
With his customers’ tastes in mind, Zhao said he is more than happy to customize dishes and substitute items so that customers get their money’s worth when they dine at Renee’s. Also for customer convenience, Renee’s offers free delivery.
Renee’s Asian Island, located at 2525 Main St. in Oakley, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday; noon to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant closes from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for staff breaks. For more information, call 925-679-1888.