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I often find myself drawn to cookbooks that delve into the culinary sights and tastes of a place. It’s no wonder why I love flipping through the pages of Rintaro: Japanese Food from an Izakaya in California, an experience akin to soaring between the katsuobushi-scented streets of Makurazaki in Japan and the legendary farm-to-table kitchen of Chez Panisse.
There’s perhaps no better guide for this tour than Sylvan Mishima Brackett. As chef-owner of Rintaro, a Japanese izakaya in San Francisco, Brackett has dedicated himself to learning craftsmanship and seasonality from chefs in Japan and California and honing the recipes at his restaurant. In his debut cookbook, alongside Jessica Battilana, he writes about 70 recipes from Rintaro’s playbook and weaves in his experiences and charismatic friends along the way.
He introduces you to Kanji-san, the passionate chef-owner of Soba Ro in Saitama, Japan, who mentored Brackett as he mastered udon from scratch. You’ll see how his friendship with Nancy Hachisu, who introduced him to shira-ae and flea markets full of soba dipping cups, deepens as he returns to Japan year after year. Told through Brackett’s eyes, you’ll meet many others who have all been formative to Rintaro’s seasonal ethos. After the journey you’ll feel enthused about local produce and food research trips, and ask why there aren’t more restaurants like Rintaro, where you eat locally sourced halibut and tuna paired with sips of seasonal sake.
Who this book is for
Whether or not you’ve sat down for a meal at Rintaro, you’ll walk away from this book with a lasting appreciation for regional Japanese cuisine and California’s plentiful produce.
To get the most out of this book, it helps to nail down a few basic cooking techniques. (According to Brackett, the book seeks to mimic the training process for a new chef at Rintaro.) Beyond techniques, home cooks who get excited about researching and sourcing high-quality ingredients will enjoy stories about producers like Monterey Fish and Half Moon Bay Wasabi.
If you haven’t cooked Japanese cuisine before, not to worry. Brackett’s detailed prose and step-by-step pictures will boost your confidence in the kitchen whether breaking down chickens or slicing tuna loin for sashimi. (Brackett tapped his sister Aya Brackett for the book’s stunning and instructional photography, taken inside the restaurant and in the streets of Japan.)
What we can’t wait to cook
I’ve been looking for an excuse to learn the craft of udon, a homey bowl of noodle soup that’s always deeply nourishing. Though this hand-rolled project may seem intimidating, Brackett introduces the udon process with approachable steps, starting with a call to use the best flour possible (Japanese kyorikiko flour). Once I finish making these from-scratch noodles, I’m eager to swirl them into Rintaro’s kama tama udon or what he calls udon “carbonara” with katsuobushi, egg yolks and other seasonings.
Like a heaping spoonful of udon, simmered dishes have the astounding ability to replenish me. This broad category is called oden—think rich broth with long-simmered fish cakes, vegetables and tofu—and Brackett gives oden ample pages to shine. Gone are the days when I buy all my fishcakes at the grocery because from now on, I’ll be making these chewy small bites known as satsumaage at home.
Years of snacking on fruit jellies have led me to believe that it’s an easier dessert to buy than make. But once I saw the recipe for Rintaro’s Green Melon Ice Cream Parfait, towering in its bright green glory, I was convinced to try my hand at kanten jellies. With only two ingredients, fresh fruit juice and kanten, it is undoubtedly simple to make. Buoyant and fruity, it’s a dessert I’d serve to impress after any meal.