Fresh back from my trip to Tokyo, it took me no longer than mere moments to start missing Japanese food. Rintaro is probably one of the best kept secrets of where to find exceptionally authentic and delicious Japanese food in San Francisco. The chef and owner of Rintaro, Sylvan Mishima Brackett, was born in Kyoto, Japan and raised in Northern California. As the former creative director at Alice Water’s famous Chez Panisse, and having trained with one of the great soba masters in Tokyo, Sylvan is more than qualified to introduce Japanese izakaya to Californian eaters.
Izakaya is a style of informal pub food found in Japan, and it smashes all notions of what most Americans think of as “pub food”. The food found in izakayas bursts with creativity and flavors–no two menus will match and every izakaya has their own house specialties.
One staple found at every izakaya, however, is yakitori, which is a Japanese style skewered chicken. All parts of the chicken are fair game: heart, thigh, liver, cartilage, etc. The bits of chicken come glazed, grilled, and in bite-sized form. They are also the perfect accompaniment to a light beer. At Rintaro, the yakitori is cooked over a binchotan-burning grill, which is a type of white charcoal enhances the flavor without releases an unpleasant odor .
Most of the ingredients at Rintaro are made from scratch, including the tofu, udon, umeshu (plum liquor), umeboshi (Japanese salt plums), and other fresh pickles. The food here bursts with flavor, which is likely why Rintaro was named one of Bon Appetit’s Top 10 new restaurants in 2015 (just 6 months after opening) and has been Michelin recommended since 2016.
The space itself also carries a story. Sylvan’s father built the space using hand-planed wood. The booths in the restaurant are made from 100-year-old Redwood wine casks, and the iron-rich soil of Nevada City (Sylvan’s childhood home) lines the walls. Most impressive is the bar, which is carved from a single slab of Hinoki cedar. The bar separates the guests from the team of chefs that work swiftly and meticulously, as they prepare every dish aiming for perfection.