Chez Panisse alum Sylvan Brackett has mastered the Japanese set meal format.
Izakaya Rintaro is widely considered among the best Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area, but until late last year served only dinner. That menu is divided into classic categories of sashimi, yakitori, fried, and “final dish,” with special sections for fresh tofu and house dish, along with dessert. There’s a lot going on in each main category’s few selections, resulting in numerous possibilities for composing a meal.
The new lunch service (Thu-Sat, 11:30am-2pm) offers a teishoku menu, or set meal, straight-shooting and traditional, but nonetheless invigorated with an abundance of local bounty, chef Sylvan Brackett’s calling card. Brackett, who was born in Japan and grew up in the Sierra Nevada, has been a mainstay on the local Japanese food scene since opening Peko Peko, a Japanese-influenced catering company (after six years in the Chez Panisse kitchen), then launching Izakaya Rintaro in 2014.
The beautiful, postcard-sized food list, printed on copies of artful menus Brackett has collected from Japan over the years, features five set meals, each served with miso soup with manila clams; southern barbarian anchovy nanbanzuke; gindara no sunomono; wasabizuke, senmaizuke and ume boshi; and chimpira gobo (descriptions to follow).
There are also two two a la carte add-ons, Japanese fried chicken wings and pork gyoza with chicken-foot jelly with “wings.”
Though we knew from the start we were planning to over-order, as everything on the menu is irresistible, we began with the gyoza: local Riverdog Farm Berkshire pork with a viscous jelly made from chicken feet, wrapped in thin dumpling pastry and pan-fried. The wings described on the menu are the fried batter that connects all the gyoza in the pan and forms them into a sort of cake; but the willowy stalks of fresh chrysanthemum greens, a nice bittersweet partner for the rich gyoza filling, were also quite wing-like.
Then, after much debate, we decided on two main dishes, the sashimi no tataki mori don and the tori katsudon. I honestly felt, though, like we could’ve just closed our eyes and pointed, so impeccable was each dish we saw coming out of the open kitchen from our perch at the counter.
The sashimi was an extravagantly California pleasure: big-eye tuna, kombu-cured halibut, striped bass and swordfish, all cubed and served over sushi rice with wasabi from Half Moon Bay.
The little dishes that come with each plate include anchovy nanbanzuke, a fried fish pickle that remains tantalizingly crisp; a generous bowl of miso soup sweetened by clams in the shell; gindara, or black cod, under a pile of tiny cucumber slices just off the mandoline; a dish of three pickles: wasabizuke (pickled wasabi), senmaizuke (pickled turnip) and ume boshi (salted plums). The wasabizuke, in particular, was a revelation, mildly spicy, but more vegetal than the raw wasabi root that typically accompanies sushi because it’s made from the stems, leaves and flowers of the plant, rather than the root. There’s also a tiny dish of chimpira gobo, picked burdock root.
The other main dish we tried, tori katsudon, involved delicately fried Riverdog Farms chicken, sliced and served over rice, with a Riverdog egg and sweet dashi (kelp and bonito stock).
An Echigo red rice ale, tartly fruity and ever so slightly hoppy, was a good pairing with all the dishes, as was a homemade soda with lemon and plums.
We had no business ordering dessert, but we persisted and thoroughly enjoyed the genmai-cha aisu, roasted rice and green tea ice cream served with little langues de chats, or cat-tongue-cookies, named for the shape, not the ingredients, sprinkled with coarse sugar resembling the roughness of a cat’s tongue.
While nearly $100 for lunch for two might be a bit of a splurge, this is a good entry point for experiencing Brackett’s cooking, as well as the teishoku style of dining. Every dish is thoughtfully considered and prepared before your eyes with care, and the wood-framed space is especially nice in the daytime, when the sunlight is filtered through high windows over the courtyard and into the dining room.
82 14th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103 [Map]
Ph: (415) 589-7022
Hours: Sun, 5-10pm; Mon, 6-10pm; Tue-Wed, 6-10:30pm; Thu, 11:30am-2pm and 6-10:30pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30am-2pm and 5-11pm
Price Range: $$$ $19-$27 teishoku (set meal); a la carte dinner $$$-$$$$
Facebook: Izakaya Rintaro