Izakaya Rintaro opened in 2015, with Chez Panisse alum Chef Sylvan Brackett at the helm. Although Brackett’s roots are Japanese, he was raised in California, and both of these influences shimmer in his cooking, from the freshness and ultra-local-ness of the ingredients to the care and minute detail of the preparations and the design of the restaurant itself.
Chef Bracket’s father donated the slab of 100-year-old cedar that makes up the bar. Even the dirt mixed into the walls is meaningful:it is dirt Chef Brackett gathered near where he grew up. Such attention to putting his bones into the restaurant — much like the wooden “bones” that fly overhead (like the hull of a ship turned over) — tells you that this is real soul food.
On my first visit, I went with my sister. We began with the house-made creamy, sweet tofu made with Meiji milk, scallions, bonita shavings, fresh ginger and unfiltered soy.
A lovely, light dish, indulgent; the unfiltered soy had a bit of smokiness. Next, kampachi sashimi.
Gorgeous, pristine cuts of superbly fresh fish, at the perfect temperature (we hate it when the fish is served too cold). This was like eating jewels.
We then began our yakitori journey, starting with the chicken thighs.
Incredibly juicy, meaty, chicken-y, with the perfect amount of smoky char flavor. A dish certainly worth repeating.
Next, chicken livers with garlic.
Quite rich and livery, which was not my sister’s cup of tea. I liked them just fine, although the garlic was not discernible.
Finally, the trumpet mushrooms.
This was rather disappointing, without a lot of char or another flavor — the earthiness of trumpets just didn’t come through for us. Perhaps they were a bit under-grilled?
From the “fried” menu, we ordered the millefeuille tonkatsu.
Inspired by the famous, many-layered French pastry millefeuille, the tonkatsu here is made of thin layers of the pork itself, which are then breaded and fried. Unfortunately, we found the breading too thick, and so the millefeuille idea was lost on us. Again, disappointing, as this is a favorite dish in many, much more basic, Japanese restaurants. It came with a fantastic shredded cabbage, however, light as air, kissed with a lemony mayo concoction.
We didn’t finish the pork, as we knew we had still one more item coming — the “carbonara” udon.
Slippery house-made noodles, made creamy with the bright orange yolk to stir in, dancing katsuobushi for your entertainment, buttery, gingery … so much umami. By far our favorite dish of the night.
On Thursdays, on the bamboo patio outside, there is a pop-up chef making okonomiyaki on a charcoal griddle.
I actually stood in line for a minute after we paid our bill, considering splitting one as “dessert,” but came to my very-full senses. Another time!
Overall a good experience, although we weren’t wowed by every dish. It makes me sad when I don’t outright love places that most people do — as if I missed something, or maybe just came on an off night. So, I was very happy to get to pay a second visit to Rintaro, and it did not disappoint.
Rintaro boasts a sake menu, as well as wine and beer. On this visit, we ordered a carafe of what was described as a funky sake, and were not disappointed, although we suffered from a bit of sticker shock — $65 for three tall but slim pours.
The BF and I started out with the yakitori tsukune (chicken meatballs).
Scrumptious, juicy, and gingery.
Next came the duck salad with chrysanthemum and frilly mustard greens.
Pearly pink duck rested in the perfumey ‘mum greens. The BF was a little leery of all the greenage at first, but we finished all of it.
We then split the yakitori chicken oysters.
Known as the cook’s treat, these chicken oysters certainly were that. Perhaps not quite as good as the chicken-thigh yakitori from my first visit, but still very tender, juicy, and flavorful.
I’d heard so much about the Hanetsuki gyoza — touted in every review I read — and they just intrigued. We were so sad when we learned it was not on the menu, but immediately brightened when our server said they could make it for us.
Known as gyoza with “wings,” the famed dish consists of plump gyoza nestled under a lacy shell made of starch, giving the dumplings an extra bit of texture; a delicate, shattering crunch. The chubby gyoza were gingery and juicy — the filling includes chicken-foot jelly, so they’re soupier than most, to their credit. Wonderful. We were told this is street food in parts of Japan but has its origins in China. Another not-to-miss-dish.
Next, mapodofu pork.
Again, a dish with Chinese origins but slightly different here. The creamy tofu blended lusciously with the ground pork, and there were little breathtaking bites throughout of Sichuan peppercorn, with bits of crunchy tempura scattered on top for texture. A deliciously homey dish. However, as we still had another dish coming and were getting full at this point, we took half of it home.
Lastly, we got the karaage chicken wings.
Perfect finish. Crunchy/juicy little wings, highly seasoned with smoky tare, sansho pepper and wasabi arugula, these were sweet/salty and addictive.
Chef Brackett’s passion for pristine ingredients thoughtfully prepared makes Rintaro a destination restaurant in the neighborhood. I can’t wait to see how much further his menu evolves.
82 14th Street