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Rintaro: East Meets West in San Francisco

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Mar 14, 2015 01:03 AM
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by Sarah Lonsdale last modified Mar 13, 2015

It was inevitable that Sylvan Brackett would one day open a Japanese restaurant. He was born in Kyoto to a Japanese mother and an American father (Len Brackett, a temple carpenter apprentice, the first foreigner to be invited to tackle the ultimate in Japanese architectural woodwork and the owner of  East Wind ). After a five-year apprenticeship in Japan, Len moved the family to the West Coast, settling in the Sierra foothills of California’s Gold Rush country near the Yuba River. There, Sylvan and his younger sister Aya (who shot the photographs for this post) grew up in a traditional Japanese-style house in the woods built by Len (think precise Japanese craftsmanship, tatami flooring, and drafty paper-thin walls). Japanese cuisine was very much part of their lives; their mother cooked traditional meals, and summers were spent in Japan, where Sylvan fell in love with the simple home cooking of his grandmother. When he headed off to college, he had already started thinking about opening his own restaurant (he did stints in restaurants in Japan; France; Portland, Oregon; and Northern California, where he worked as creative director at Chez Panisse). Sylvan's catering enterprise, Peko Peko, was a hit, and Rintaro is the natural evolution. Book a table now. Photography by Aya Brackett .  Above: The entryway to Rintaro (the origin of the restaurant's name? "Rintaro was the name given to me by the abbot of Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto, where I was born. It's a direct translation of "Sylvan"). The small wooden window above the Rintaro sign is a device used in Japanese temples to allow outsiders to get a partial view of the interior without revealing too much. As Len says, "The aim of Japanese architecture is to create surprises. If you see everything all at once, it's too much and you don't see anything." Above: Frost Tsuji Architects came up with the general layout and navigated restaurant building codes and the like, while Len created the interior, including the sugar pine timber-framed trellis and supporting posts. As Len says, "The posts are the most important element in a Japanese structure. The size of the posts dictates what follows, from beam size to the ceiling."  Above: The charred beams were all that remained of the former restaurant, Chez Spencer, which burned down. As Sylvan notes, "The arches really have been central to the character of the building. I liked the idea of keeping them in tribute to the restaurant before. I also thought they would fit the mood I was trying to create. We brushed the charcoal off with wire brushes, a technique used to make yaki-sugi [charred wood]." Flowers by Louesa Roebuck (see Louesa Roebuck: Renegade Florist ). Above: Sugar pine was chosen for the posts and trellises because it's resistant to warpage and shrinkage. As in typical Japanese joinery, no nails are used. The booth seats and tabletops were recycled from old-growth redwood used over a century ago as wine tanks for Sebastiani vineyards, with the occasional wine stain in evidence. Above: The walls are made in the traditional Japanese manner with mud plaster. Len mixed soil from the Sierras with straw and sand before applying acrylic to make it waterproof and tough—a technique he learned from building Japanese houses stateside. The flowers are a mix of nasturtium and magnolias. Above: Sylvan sourced many of his cooking utensils and dishes in Japan at flea markets, speciality shops, and junk stores.  Above: A bowl of kumquats. Sylvan's mission is to create Japanese food using what's current and seasonal on the West Coast, not a literal translation but a Northern Californian rendition of an izakaya, a traditional Japanese watering hole/restaurant. Above: In the back room, the wall features a partition made from thin Japanese reeds. The flat wood ceiling is made of western red cedar in a matching grain, a traditional technique in which each board is numbered as it's cut and then placed in sequence to create a coherent and calm look. Above: Yakitori on the grill. Above: Sylvan cooking behind a wood counter made from Port Orford cedar that had been sitting in the East Wind workshop for about 40 years waiting for the right use. The unfinished counter surface was hand-planed only and gives off a fragrance every time it’s wiped down with a damp cloth. Above: The outdoor area with timber-framed facade and a wall of traditional bamboo fencing. The wood-fired kamado was shipped from Japan and is used for cooking rice in iron pots. Rintaro is at 82 14th St. in San Francisco.  If you like the look of the charred beams, check out our post on Shou Sugi Ban , and you can also see a DIY from the Felted Fox . For ideas on arranging flora, see our post on Foraged Ikebana Floral Arrangements .   More Stories from Remodelista An Insider's Guide to 6 Healthy and Happening LA Dining Spots The Velvet Underground: Retro Glamour in Los Feliz #RemodelistaTravels: Instagram Escapes from Remodelista Readers






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