Hisashiburi! Long time no see! I'm sorry I have not updated in so long. As you can imagine, with the move to Oakland, the job search, getting a SUPER busy job, and starting to plan for a wedding, I have been overwhelmed with everything. Moments to sit and relax, much less blog, have been few and far in between.
I have adjusted well to life in Oakland, although the lack of decent ramen and Japanese food has been hard to adapt to. Of course, now that I'm away from LA and I can't have excellent ramen and any Japanese food I could ever want, Japanese food is all I want to eat. Marc introduced me to Geta, a Japanese place with fresh, healthy choices, reasonable prices, and generous portions. It's become a regular to-go option for me (the restaurant itself is TINY and there's always a wait). I haven't started exploring the ramen choices because I don't want to be disappointed.
What I've REALLY been craving, however, is yakitori. Chicken and other meat on a stick, preferably cooked over a charcoal grill. We have Ozumo nearby, but their prices are high. We also tried B-dama, Geta's sister restaurant, but they stopped serving yakitori. Boo.
Tonight after a long week at work (these days, they're all long), we headed up to Downtown Berkeley and tried Ippuku. It's a little hard to see from the photo, but it's a small storefront that has carved a little nook on Center Street. With the wooden entrance and noren curtains, you feel like you've walked off the street in Berkeley and into a restaurant in Ebisu or off Omotesando in Tokyo.
I wish I could have gotten pictures of the inside, but they have a no cell-phone policy and I tried to be respectful. We were also standing at the outside bar, so we didn't have the best angle of the bar and the tables. There were sake and whiskey bottles galore, and cute little booths with lots of wood.
We couldn't get a reservation, so the host said we could wait at the bar and order food from the bartender until we got a table. The host said it would be a 30-45 minute wait. We never actually got a table and we were there over an hour.
BUT, it was an enjoyable hour if I tried not to think about how I spent the whole day standing and here I was, standing at a bar and eating my dinner. The bartender was a really cool guy and you could tell that he enjoyed his job. He was happy to help people select a sake and made drinks with precision like the bartenders you see on Japanese travel shows.
|The Ippuku menu is in Japanese and English (click to enlarge)|
|I didn't want the bartender to get mad so we had to sneak a photo of the umeshu jar. You can kind of see the little plums hanging out at the bottom of the jar.|
I knew we were in a good place when we walked in and the first thing I saw was their jar of umeshu nekasu-ing on the counter. My brain isn't working now. The right word is not marinating, but that's what those little plums have been doing in the alcohol and sugar for a year. Most places here (LA, the US) serve the bottled kind, usually the Choya brand. So Ippuku already got like 1,000 points for making their own. I love umeshu. It is such a perfect summer drink. I got an ume sour, where he mixed the umeshu with soda and ice. It was so refreshing. Marc had the Hibiki whiskey. All their whiskeys were aged for at least 12 years.
|Momo (thigh) Shio and Tsukune (meatball) with tare/sauce|
|Another angle of the tsukune|
|The momo/thigh up close|
Just so you know, they also had tsukune called tsuku-tama, which is also a chicken meatball that came with an egg yolk. This one had a red star next to it because the chicken is still pink inside. That's not what we ordered. I like the yolk, but I'm too American and I can't eat chicken that is not fully cooked.
|He serves water in hibiki whiskey bottles|
|Nama Yuba with Wasabi|
|Mune/breast with tare/sauce|
|Buta bara/pork belly with spicy miso|
|Yuzu and shochu cocktail|
|House made chicken gyoza|
We had yuba, which is made by cooking soy milk and pulling the skin off the top. It sounds unattractive, but it's one of my favorite things. It wasn't as delicate as the one in Kyoto, but it was still fresh and tasty, especially when you added shoyu and mixed in the wasabi.
Marc wanted chicken breast with tare/sauce and I wanted the pork belly. Again, they were both perfectly grilled, especially the pork belly. They grilled off most of the fat so that it was crispy and not flabby. The miso was a nice touch.
We had planned on ending with the chicken udon, but we were getting full so we ended with the chicken gyoza (probably should have started with these and the fried chicken)(with beer). They were also perfect, nice and crunchy on the bottom, very flavorful on the inside. They added the ra-yu spicy oil already and it was nice.
Ippuku was expensive, but I really feel like it was worth it. The food was delicious and there was just so much care put into all the details. Just make sure you call ahead and make a reservation because even though the bartender was super cool, I would rather sit and eat.
[UPDATE: Definitely make a reservation ahead of time. Ippuku was in the New York Times Travel section's 36 hours column. http://nyti.ms/1rhempt]