The notable restaurant openings of April were Hitachino Beer & Wagyu (soft opening in March, officially open in April), Mestiza Taqueria (at the end of March), Black Jet Baking Company and Kagawa-Ya Udon Noodle Co. in SF. Kagawa-Ya is fun, fast-casual Sanuki-style udon (from Japan’s Kagawa Prefecture, an area known for having hundreds of udon houses with a distinctive square shape with flat edges. Training in Kagawa (and from Honolulu, hence the house musubi on the menu), chef Sean Lim (formerly of Kyo-Ya) and his wife Katherine Chiao serve a few order-at-the-counter, made-to-order udon, my initial favorite being Lim’s heartwarming beef udon curry.
It was also a busy East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Emeryville) opening month: Slainte, The Kebabery, Pompette, Paradita Eatery and Neptune’s. I have been to each in SF and am still working my way through the East Bay openings.
Here are my top two newcomers of the month… and why they stand out.
HITACHINO BEER & WAGYU, TenderNob/Lower Nob Hill
Though the official opening per their website is April, the long-anticipated Hitachino Beer & Wagyu has been in soft opening mode for almost all of March — and very difficult to get a reservation to. No surprise given the years of love from beer drinkers the world over for Hitachino beer which the saké-producing Kiuchi family (since 1823) brew to worldwide acclaim.
The chance to drink Hitchino on draft/from kegs is enough to draw many — and there is a standing room-only kappo bar that opens Tuesday through Saturday at 4:30pm which is just the place to head for a beer. But this is also a restaurant.
Kiuchi Brewery dates back to 1823 as a saké brewery but beer lovers know it as the home of Hitachino. The beloved beer’s first US restaurant/bar opened this spring in SF with rare kegs shipped across the Pacific. While some beer fans may just want a bar, Hitachino Beer & Wagyu is also an intimate dining destination. Chef Noriyuki Sugie (who has cooked at Michelin-starred restaurants from France to Japan, with Charlie Trotter in Chicago, and as chef de cuisine at NYC’s award-winning Asiate) goes kappo bar-style (meaning cut/raw and cooked/warm dishes) with elegant tasting menus and wagyu in many iterations, often using a teppan grill.
Eat This: For hardcore foodies, Sugie’s tasting menus (reservations necessary; $78 plus $30 for drink pairings) are worth going alone — look for dreamy bites like American Wagyu beef and rare bafun uni over silken tofu burrata in tomato dashi. But if you’re there mainly for the beer, the tiny, standing room kappo bar opens at 4:30pm, serving Tokyo-inspired bar snacks in glass sake jars and a la carte dishes.
Given the beer focus as Hitachino’s first draw, I suspect menu offerings will displease some due to small sizes or what might seem too chichi. But when it comes to dishes like tantanmen noodles in spicy miso sesame broth, I sense the ideal marriage of modern, low-key comfort with delicacy and tradition.
Drink This: There are 10 exclusive, rotating Hitachino beers on draft (like the delightful Dai-Dai Ale, a Japanese indigenous pale ale brewed with Fukure Mikan oranges), but don’t let that keep you from skipping the refined sakés and wines produced by the same family, rarely found on draft outside of Japan.
Sláinte (pronounced slon-cha) is a Gaelic toast, essentially meaning “good health” and common when sipping a dram of whiskey. It’s also the name of a new Irish pub open in April in Oakland’s Jack London Square from chef and Irish native (from County Donegal) Jackie Gallanagh and beverage director Jenny Schwarz (also of Oakland’s Hopscotch). Gallanagh shares family recipes and even her brother recently moved from Ireland bringing that warm, Irish welcome to the relaxed restaurant. Throw darts (under a pic of Bono) or cozy up to the fireplace surrounded by paintings, photos and books of Ireland legends, from Oscar Wilde and W.B. Yeats to Sinead O’Connor, while Enya might play in the background.
Eat This: Try chips in curry sauce, the all-day Irish Breakfast platter with Irish pork sausages, rashers, black and white pudding (shipped straight from Ireland) and housemade soda bread or Gallanagh’s family recipe for shepherd’s pie. Save room for that dense, delicious Guinness ginger cake.
Drink This: Irish whiskey (try a pot still great like Redbreast or Teeling) and a pint of Guinness are a given. But there are also classic cocktails, including a Gibson or Whiskey Sour. An ideal, boozy dessert? The Shamrock Shake: soft serve, creme de menthe, Irish whiskey, fernet.