Growing up, Japanese food only meant one thing: sushi. As an uneducated child of heathenish Southern California, sushi mostly meant California rolls, with the occasional fried soft-shell "spider" crab roll mixed in. It was a sad time for my appreciation of Japan's culinary wonders.
Since then, my eyes have been opened. Ramen! Yakitori! Udon! Karaage! Miscellaneous izakaya food! The wonders never cease. Japanese food is one of the finest and most diverse cuisines on the planet, and my appreciation has only grown by the year.
Places like Izakaya Rintaro are largely responsible for that appreciation. They serve what you might call the "standard" non-sushi non-kaiseki Japanese menu — chicken skewers, noodles, some delicately-prepared vegetables, and the like.
And yet, once you've had enough versions of any dish, it's possible to become jaded. Is this the best version of chicken-meatball-on-a-stick in the game? Is anything particularly interesting going on with these noodles, besides their being served over ice for some reason?
Most of the food at Rintaro, as well as the atmosphere, falls on the "seen this before" side of the curve. It's all competently executed, and nothing we had was bad, or even less than solid. It just wasn't anything new. Were this the first meal of chicken skewers we'd had in a room tastefully decorated with bamboo and rolled wooden blinds, it would have been revelatory. But it wasn't.
So we suppose the question is: have you been exposed to quality Japanese food beyond raw fish? If not, this a nice intro. If so, we might suggest one of the secret best restaurants in town, instead.
Green and Yellow Wax Beans
A nice vegetal opener. The sauce is described as rich and walnutty, but is perhaps slightly oversold.
Tofu with Scallion, Katsuobushi, Ginger
A nice bowl of the white stuff. We would have preferred more katsuobushi, partially because we love the flavor of shaved hardened fermented fish, but mostly because it's such a fun word to say. KATSUOBUSHI!
Chicken on a stick is probably the best part of any meal. We went thigh and meatball and were not disappointed. The duck breast is a nice fatty curveball — get that in there too.
The fried chicken here is almost Sichuan in its tingling-numbing seasoning. Thumbs up.
We appreciate that there was some kind of subtle tribute to Japanese austerity going on with this dish, but we mostly just tasted ice-cold bland noodles.
Hot Udon with Broth
Delicious, and the two-fish broth is clearly at least twice as strong as a broth with just one fish.