San Francisco was calling me. As it has many times before. I'm a fan of this city and the region that surrounds it for so many reasons.
My brother and his then girlfriend, now wife, moved to the Bay Area of California in 2000 to do his PhD at Stanford. (He's also managed to write a few novels along with that dissertation. I know. I am obviously the slacker in this family. More on that another time.) I've never been to LA, but I've been to visit my brother several times, so my view of what is California is entirely coloured by what is in the area that surrounds where he lives: Silicon Valley, Stanford, SF, Napa, Sonoma. Redwoods, the Pacific, good coffee and wine, great restaurants, shopping. Urbane, yet relaxed. To the south, the Central Coast, Carmel-By-The-Sea, and Monterey. It has ever since been my favourite place to visit south of the border.
In fact, so enthralled was I with this place that I travelled there five times between 2004 and 2009. After that, life very much happened and I was spending my travel time and dollars on other destinations like Barcelona (by now we've been to Spain three times), Taipei, and Miami and New York. And more life happened. San Francisco was not on my travel radar. But for a number of reasons, including the fact that my brother's second novel was about to be released with a celebration in Menlo Park, and because my husband had never visited that part of California, we decided to return this past spring. AND we decided to bring our son with us, who was just over a year old, for his first ever trip. ADVENTURE TIME.
It was a short trip, and my husband and I knew we only had one (Monday) evening for dinner sans baby, so we wanted to make it count. Hard to choose in a city with as much culinary richness as San Francisco. I stumbled upon the America's Best New Restaurants of 2015 in Bon Appetit just a couple of weeks before we departed (I know, disorganized). Izakaya Rintaro is number eight on that list, and caught my eye for a number of reasons. Just our luck, they had a spot for us.
From the moment we walked in, we knew we had made the right choice. Chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett has managed a rather perfect marriage of Japan and California at Rintaro. Which makes perfect sense, as he was born in Kyoto, grew up in California, and honed his skills as a chef at Chez Panisse. The space - which Andrew Knowlton refers to as "Shinto shrine meets tree house" in BA - is Japanese design, carved out of salvaged California redwood. The food matches a dedication to California ingredients sculpted and showcased by Japanese technique. The result is warm, inviting and exceptionally flavourful.
Here is a sampling of the dishes we tried, and thoroughly enjoyed. (Menu changes seasonally, of course).
Oh - one more note should you choose to visit San Francisco: Don't call it "San Fran". No. Just don't. It's worse than over-pronouncing all the T's in Toronto.