Like Jean in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and the actress who played her, Maggie Smith, Hopscotch is in its prime, and I hope it lasts a long, long time.

I expected Hopscotch to be good, I’d been there several times and knew that Michael Bauer gave them three stars, but I didn’t expect everything to be quite so exceptional.

Hopscotch started like all great projects, as an idea by two dreamy but driven professionals with experience and a desire to do things their way. Jenny Schwarz has been in the food industry for many years and in various capacities so she understands the business and the food. Kyle Itani is a chef who has trained in classical Japanese traditions as well as in the perfection of a meatball.

What more could you ask for?

They did what many of us hope to do which is take their idea and make it happen. Launched as a kickstarter with support that ended up being mostly from friends, family and colleagues, they set out to create a restaurant where they’d both like to work and eat.

Jenny Schwarz & Kyle Itani. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

Jenny Schwarz & Kyle Itani. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

What they ended up doing is revamping a diner into a stylish and inviting restaurant that is upscale without making a big deal out of it.

Hopscotch reminds me of the understated perfection of a New York restaurant where you might see Jake or Maggie Gyllenhaal sitting down to dinner. There’s nothing overdone, nothing over-the-top, nobody trying to do more than make each dish memorable and delicious with just the right ingredients.

Like that’s easy.

Inside there’s a small bar with a shifting menu reflecting changing fresh ingredients, whimsy and keen understanding of the balance that makes a great drink.

Photo: Granate Sosnoff

Photo: Granate Sosnoff

The food menu is compact and reflects a “Japanese sensibility” in American regional food.

Chef Kyle Itani is mixed heritage, from two strong traditions of Japanese and Italian-Sicilian ethnicities. He worked at Yoshi’s, lived in Japan and also put some hours in at the popular Meatball Shop in New York as well as other places.

The menu at Hopscotch is not huge, but everything on it seems carefully thought-out and executed.

Our first item was a tasting spoon of cucumber with soy, vinegar and something sweet, remindful of a Japanese side dish. What followed was Kanpachi & Heirloom Tomatoes with ogo seaweed, onion and wasabi. When combined and tasted in a single bite my friend Beth and I were both surprised by the new and delicious flavors.

Cucumber, Kanpachi & Heirloom tomatoes, Yonsei Oyster. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

Cucumber, Kanpachi & Heirloom tomatoes, Yonsei Oyster. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

The Brick Octopus was tasty, chewy but not as eventful as Beth’s Yonsei Oyster with sea urchin, salmon roe and citrus soy. She literally said “seafood party in my mouth.” I’m sure Michael Bauer chose other words but I’ve since discovered that it’s one of his “be sure to order” items.

We shared Pacific Salmon, in cedar miso, served with leeks and eggplant and it was perfectly cooked and presented, again surprising and precisely balanced. We jockeyed for the tender disks of eggplant.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken, soooooo crispy in (I believe) a panko crust I don’t understand could be so free of oil. Served with potato salad and zucchini pickles that had a Japanese flavor to it, we loved and ate all of it.

Chicken, Brick Octopus. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

Chicken, Brick Octopus. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

The large portions should have prevented us from indulging in dessert but alas we take this review thing seriously and did partake in eating a serving of Fig & Almond Tart with red wine and vanilla ice cream. We also ate Peach Melba with yogurt sorbet, raspberries and yuzu (no clue) syrup.

Lillet cocktail & Peaches. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

Lillet cocktail & Peaches. Photo: Granate Sosnoff

They have a long and impressive wine list. Since I was drinking by myself I had their by-the-glass sparkling of Allimant Laugner Crémant de Alsace Rosé, (a nice one) and also tried a lovely wine cocktail rendered by Jenny who whipped up something special for me.

I am a bubbly drinker and they carry some really delicious and fancy ones, Jean Vesselle Reserve, Gosset Rosé as well as a Shramsberg. Next time I will go with a drinker, believe me.

It was heartening to see a few wines from East Bay winemakers including Rock Wall and Donkey & Goat. I can’t report on the single malts but there’s a long list of them together with a long list of beers. (Sorry, not my thing.)

Kyle and Jenny took time from their busy night to talk to us and among other things I learned they like to share a bite at Kiraku, an under-the-radar Japanese “tapas” place in Berkeley. They also can be found having a drink with friends and staff at Prizefighter in Emeryville.

Kyle lives near International Blvd. in Oakland and has been known to frequent Chai Thai Noodles in that neighborhood. Jenny’s just returned from Italy and enjoyed some memorable food in Veneto.

Somehow Hopscotch matches and embellishes the neighborhood they are adding to, two blocks from the Fox Theater and near the New Parish (as well as the Greyhound Station). They seem like an important part of this developing and emerging corridor of lively business with a distinct Oakland feel.

I’m not one to talk… but there’s rumor that Hopscotch might expand. 

That would truly be a great thing.

Be sure to try it if you haven’t. Think of a special occasion (like dinner out) make a reservation and go:

Hopscotch

1915 San Pablo Avenue (at 19th)

Oakland, 94612

510.788.6217

Granate Sosnoff is a nonprofit communications professional frequently in need of a good glass of wine.

About The Author

4 Responses

  1. Beth T

    Um – yum. Sounds like yet another fantastic little Oakland gem. Will check it out for sure! And love the reference to the Prrrrrrrime of Miss Jean Brodie!

    Reply
  2. dave

    strong, strong recommend — a terrific and impressive spot. a cozy one, as well. this review really is free of hyperbole.

    Reply
  3. Kim

    What an incredibly accurate review! I agree whole heartedly with the headline!! Here’s a little secret: the chicken isn’t Panko crusted, Chef Kyle uses Japanese potato starch. The secret recipe can be found in 7×7’s archives 🙂

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.