Hopscotch in Oakland: American Comfort Food With Japanese Flair
Hopscotch is a hip new restaurant in Uptown Oakland with a cozy and casual feel. It seems smaller than it should be, judging from its popularity with the after-hours crowd and the sophistication of its cuisine.
Asahi beer, usually brewed and bottled in Canada, comes to Hopscotch from Osaka, Japan. It arrives in kegs, and a special cooling machine puts this tap variety a notch above the rest.
The original cocktails, such as the Black Tea Birdie made of tea-steeped vodka, honey, ginger, and lemon or the Kentucky Derby with bourbon, strawberries, lemon, and ginger beer, are well-balanced, aromatic libations created after deceptively simple recipes.
Jenny Schwarz, owner, general manager, and bar manager, comes up with new spins of classic cocktails herself, as does the bartender, Blake Cole. The menu is created by the Hopscotch chef/owner Kyle Itani, a fourth-generation American of Japanese descent. He boldly combines American comfort food with the distinct Japanese cuisine elements, be it ingredients, methods of preparation, or presentation techniques. The result is invariably and utterly delightful.
On the night we dined, the amuse bouche, served on a porcelain spoon placed in a black ceramic dish, consisted of green papaya salad with Fresno peppers and fresh shiso.
A delicate, raw Yonsei oyster came in a half-shell topped with sea urchin and salmon “eggs” swimming in a teaspoon of citrus soy sauce. I’ve never tried a better oyster in my life (and I’ve tried them all, on both sides of the Pacific and Atlantic).
Brick octopus is a wonderfully chewy tangle of bright baby octopus tentacles, salty ogo seaweed, bitter mizuna leaves, and sweet ponzu sauce.
The most intriguing starter must be grilled chrysanthemum (real stalks and leaves) with soft-boiled Jidori egg, squid ink, and gently pickled bamboo shoots.
It was hard to pick one main course out of a list of enticing choices so I voted for the most popular one: buttermilk fried chicken, deboned and marinated in buttermilk, soy sauce, and Japanese spicy mustard for several days, with a side of marble potato salad and pickled in house cauliflower, zucchini, and carrots.
My dining companion chose a succulent pork chop, which came from a Marin County farm, marinated in sake and soy to finger-licking perfection. It had a beautiful pink hue and was garnished with grilled lotus root, squash, and mizuna.
A great-looking seasonal dessert I finished up first was strawberries and cream, with granita, panna cotta, and a red seaweed tuile for a cookie. Then I still managed to try the super-nutty almond tart with grilled nectarines and freshly made vanilla bean ice cream.
Hopscotch is now officially my favorite place in the East Bay, and I have only one regret—no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to taste everything chef Kyle comes up with day in and day out. But I will keep trying.
Hopscotch is located at 1915 San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, California. For more information or reservations, call (510) 788-6217.