Yakety Yakitori

Japanese drinking food pairs beautifully with a locavore ethos at Rintaro

The classic Japanese izakaya is mostly about the drinking. But at the Mission's Izakaya Rintaro, a Chez Panisse-influenced restaurant serving Japanese small plates, the ingredients take center stage.

Rintaro is the brainchild of chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett, a CP alum who, after spending time in Japan, launched a successful Japanese pop-up/catering business called Peko Peko. Rintaro's menu is derived from both Peko Peko and that fateful research trip; the restaurant is meant to evoke a regional Japanese restaurant (if SF happened to be a region of Japan).

The space is beautiful in its simplicity: Just-smooth bare wood dominates the dining room, the delicate smell of which is evident in both the restaurant's booths and around the cozily appointed bar (the latter has a prime view of the grill, too).

Back to those ingredients: The menu of small plates showcases everything from local Mendocino uni to house-made tofu. We fell in love with the most straightforward preparations, which allowed each individual element to shine.

Begin by pondering the age-old conundrum of chicken versus egg; this time, you'll be debating which one you'd like to order seconds of. A duo of yakitori is a fine place to start. One, featuring chicken oysters ($7 for two skewers), proves why these juicy dark meat nuggets are little treasures; they pick up the deep flavor of charcoal from the grill, finished with an unfussy sprinkle of chile salt and a squeeze of lemon. The tsukune ($6.50 for two skewers), or chicken meatballs, are also excellent, coated in a salty-sweet glaze and studded with delicately crunchy onions.

As for the egg, the house specialty dashimaki tamago ($8.50 for a small order, $15.75 for a large) is a tenderly sweet iteration of the classic Japanese rolled egg omelet. The buttery richness of the eggs is nicely contrasted by the bitter and salty crunch of shaved radish and soy.

You may get attached to some of the ever-changing seasonal dishes (we already are), such as kani sarada ($10.50), a salad of bitter greens and Dungeness crab dressed with sesame and soy. Or the yaki onigiri ($8.50), two sizable sticky rice balls filled with flaked salmon soboro, lent an extra punch of texture and flavor, thanks to a barely burned bottom of crispy rice.

All things considered, every dish is excellent on its own, but each is made just a little better with an accompanying glass of sake, which goes particularly well with kabocha korokke ($6.75 for two), a just-greasy-enough kabocha squash fritter.

Our takeaway? Rintaro is proof "thoughtful locavore fare" and "drinking food" need not be two mutually exclusive concepts.