The story: Restaurateur Jonathan Moon (Blackwater Station) closed his Temescal izakaya Kushido to re-imagine the space as an Asian fusion concept, but scrapped those plans and went back to the izakaya format with his newly opened Hina Yakitori, which focuses on grilled chicken parts.
Why I went: I was working on a piece for Berkeleyside’s NOSH food blog about Hina Yakitori with an East Bay roundup of other izakaya, which I still see popping up all over the Bay Area (and even while traveling). I wanted to check out how Moon is keeping the izakaya concept fresh with his chicken-heavy menu and by recruiting Tommy Clearly (who has cooked at Berkeley’s Ippuku and Oakland’s AS B-dama) to man the charcoal grill station. (You can read my complete NOSH piece here.)
The vibe: Since it’s been in soft opening mode this month, Hina Yakitori seemed a bit subdued when I visited, with diners quietly watching Clearly grill chicken skewers at the counter (where I sat) or chatting with friends at the tables up front. The contemporary space gives the place a modern feel, and so far the crowd seems to be neighborhood residents checking out the latest restaurant opening in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.
The booze: As an izakaya, there’s an emphasis on sake, sochu, and beer. Hina Yakitori sells several by the bottles, as well as wine by the glass. For sake, they had two by the glass, which is a bit pricey ($10-$12 each) but this didn’t come in the typical small sake cup but a real-size glass. I tried the Joto ($12), which is classified as a daiginyo sake, and it was a very soft, well-rounded and easy-to-pair sake with the food I had.
The menu: As mentioned, there’s an emphasis on chicken and Hina Yakitori’s kitchen staff breaks down at least 15 whole chickens on the days they’re open. The first section of the menu (kushi yakimono) list all types of chicken parts skewers, from chicken neck to cartilage to chicken tail (or the butt, which actually is my Mom’s favorite part of the chicken). I found the chicken skewers I had nicely grilled, with a balance between crispy grilled marks around fatty areas and juicy meat. This opening menu is still relatively small, with a few deep fried items, entree dishes and rice items (from porridge to an oyako donburi). There are also a few vegetable items that are prepared on the grill, too.
My favorite bite: While I did enjoy the chicken skewers I had, I also really enjoyed the hiyashi wonton, a special bowl of the Chinese-style dumplings ($7). But these are served cold with a ponzu sauce, which is a type of citrus-soy sauce that was refreshing and paired nicely with the thin-wrapped wontons.
Insider tip: Some chicken parts are limited, of course, so you want to go early in the night if you want the tail, for example, or the thigh “oysters” (sori maki), the round (dark meat) part of the chicken thigh.
The last bite: I never had the chance to try Kushido so not sure how similar this latest reincarnation is, but looking at Hina Yakitori on its own merits, the grill station is churning out professionally grilled items. While the menu might seem limited, the plates are sophisticated and refined for an izakaya. It definitely fits into the trendy side of Temescal.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Hina Yakitori, 4828 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. PH: 510.593.2152. Current hours are Wednesday through Saturday, from 5:45 to 9:30 p.m. No reservations, major credit cards accepted. Check for updated hours on its Facebook page.
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