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Ippuku - Izakaya in Berkeley

Opened a couple of days ago, 2130 Center St., right-hand space in the the new building where the movie theater used to be.

Some of the best Japanese food I've had. I especially liked the chicken knee cartilage and minced chicken yakitori and the agedashi tofu. Reasonable prices. Beautiful space.

They're supposed to be open until 11 but last night they ran out of food at 10.

Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/umamimar...

Not much on their Web site yet: http://www.ippukuberkeley.com/

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  1. Five guys next to me at the bar got this drink, the bartender gives you a tall glass with ice half full of shochu and you squeeze your own half grapefrult to fill it up:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/umamimar...

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks, I enjoyed looking at the photos (skip to the end to see the dishes of food). I especially liked seeing the sake taps. The fresh grapefruit half for a squeeze your own soju/shochu cocktail is common in the izakayas in the San Jose area. This is encouraging.

      Do you recall the per skewer price, e.g., $1.5, $2, $2.5?

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      Ippuku
      2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I think most were $4 for two skewers. There's also a 5-stick omakase for $10.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I went back again and the skewer prices had gone up significantly.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Sorry to hear that. The range I stated above is typical for the South Bay places. Sumika in Los Altos is the exception, charging $3 to $4.50 per skewer, but it is probably the best of the lot and has the highest rent. Oakland's Ozumo charges from $5 to $7 for a pair of skewers.

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            Sumika
            236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

            Ozumo
            2251 Broadway Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Well they had gone up to $12. Which I think is OK. Can I say that I haven't been more excited about a place in Berkeley since the original Cesar opened? Can you sense a pattern here - superb sense of place, something only a dedicated and geeked out Gaijin could do well- plus a really great beverage list. Food ranged from middling to delicious, but looking forward to trying everything on the menu. YUM.

          1. We just came back from there. The food is certainly not cheap, but everything we had was high quality and well flavored. I'd say about 1/3 of the menu was $7 or over. The space is lovely, in a rustic Japanese way.

            Oh, plus the woman's room has a high-tech Japanese toilet.

            3 Replies
            1. re: PegS

              You'll need to check out Ozumo to offer a comparison of the robata and high tech ladies room.

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              Ozumo
              2251 Broadway Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                How does this place compare relative to Kirala?

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                Kirala Restaurant
                2100 Ward St, Berkeley, CA 94705

                1. re: D Hound

                  We had dinner at Ippuku today. An enjoyable experience. We had: whole squid; chicken skin; pork belly; beef tongue; chicken livers; shishito peppers; mochi w bacon; eggplant with bonito flakes. Most dishes were quite good. The only weak one imho was the eggplant one. A couple of dishes would have been nicer if a little bit crispier (in particular the chicken skin skewers). Overall enjoyable as I said. Extra thanks to Zen, our super nice waiter, who was very endearing. We will be back.

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                  Ippuku
                  2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

            2. We checked out Ippuku on Monday night. Not at all crowded. We sat on the no-shoes side of the room, tried a few of the Sochu cocktails, a dozen of the robata skewers and a few of the other items too. Everything was delicious. Agedashi tofu was nicely done. Nihama (chicken and green onion skewer) was both crispy and juicy. Bacon/mochi skewer was chewy/fatty/fabulous. Grilled squid was one large cephalopod, artfully sliced and reassembled on the plate. A small pitcher of dry sake, poured from a larger bottle was refreshing and perfect with the meal. The bare wood and slate decor created a nice atmosphere. The staff was as friendly as could be. Food came out in a steady, unhurried stream. At one point the whole place filled up with smoke from the grill but it soon cleared up as quickly as it had arrived. We ate and drank with abandon and ended up paying $50 per person. It was a bit of a splurge but we all loved it. Hard to find a down side here other than wanting to abandon all our other local favorites so we can hurry back to try more stuff. Natto, fried cartilage, raw chicken salad will have to wait for next time.

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              Ippuku
              2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

              2 Replies
              1. re: flavorenhancer

                Those last items you mention have me wanting to run there now. Raw chicken?! I've heard of medium rare... but raw? Awesome!

                1. re: flavorenhancer

                  My wife and I ate there once...earlier in its incarnation and felt there were hits and misses, but worth returning for another try.

                  Unfortunately, I have spent many an evening at izakayas in Tokyo when I lived there and, while prices may have gone up somewhat in the intervening few years, the bottom line is that izakayas are bar food with very little pretentiousness--and usually cheap. I mean...cheap such that college students visit there to stretch their yen. Given that sensibility, wadr to the fine folks at Ippuku, its hard for me to rationalize paying the chichi prices.

                  Yeah, it's MY issue I realize, and for the same reason I don't order paella or Spanish potato torta...I can make it as well at home rather than blow money at Barlata's.

                  Still, one fine day I shall return...if only for a good Asahi.

                2. We totally enjoyed our Saturday dinner. Love the decor, love the used skewer holder, have not seen them used in SF yet. Service was just right.
                  We had:
                  bitter melon tempura, grill shishito, grill abura age with natto filling,
                  chicken thigh oyster, grill shishamo, grill beef tongue, mini chicken ramen,
                  grill onigiri, spicy raw chicken, grill chicken heart, chicken sashimi,
                  chicken cartilage, green tea sundae.
                  Everything was very good except chicken sashime on the boring side.
                  Their grilling skill is very good. Meats were moist with just the right smoky and crunch exterior. Ramen's broth is so rich, no wonder is a "mini". Noodle is al dente. We left very very happy, finally something decent and comfortable.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: soyo

                    How does the pricing and food compare to Nombe in SF? I liked Nombe but thought it was too pricey for a casual izakaya.

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                    Nombe
                    2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    1. re: IanW

                      Ippuku is even more expansive than Nombe. Nombe's dishes are too complicated. We enjoy food in its real taste. Nombe works too hard to complicate a dish.

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                      Nombe
                      2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      Ippuku
                      2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                      1. re: soyo

                        I had only two or three dishes at Nombe so it is hard to judge but one of the dishes was a little fussy(I liked the beef hearts though). I will have to give this new place a shot if only to try their raw chicken dishes. It is nice to have a true Izakaya in the East Bay and relatively close to my house.

                        1. re: IanW

                          I went to Ippuku on Saturday with a group of about 15 Tokyo natives. What a great restaurant!

                          The grilled stuff was out of this world, particularly heart, knuckle and shiso maki. I agree with Soyo that the grilling technique was particularly awesome. Also had the raw chicken with wasabi sprouts, which I'd never seen outside of Japan. It was quite tasty, with a sashimi-like texture and a very clean flavor. Definitely not for the squeamish though. The goya tempura was also really well done, that's another one I'd not seen in the US. I had goya champuru in New York last month and was really bummed out at the crappy bitter melon they used, so this was a particular pleasure.

                          Prices were reasonable, between $5 and $12. It adds up, but that's kind of the way it works in this kind of place. Anyways, we went on to consume an ungodly quantity of shochu, including some varieties I'd never heard of - two shochus made from soba and one from carrots! The restaurant design and service were both terrific, and the location is a block from BART. Definitely a new favorite for Japanese food in the Bay.

                          I've not been to Nombe because of my dislike for the original Sozai but if it's in the same league as Ippuku I will eat my hat.

                          -----
                          Sozai Restaurant
                          1500 Irving Street, San Francisco, CA 94122

                          Nombe
                          2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                          Ippuku
                          2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                  2. Outstanding. Everything we had was delicious. My dining partner felt as if she was back in Japan. Nombe pales in comparison.

                    We had mostly yakitori, which were all grilled and seasoned perfectly, with a wonderful smokiness from the coals. My favorites were the tsukune (meatball with yolk), chicken skin, and chicken hearts which absorbed the smoke the best. We also tried the eggplant, the slow cooked egg, a delicate fish dish, and natto in tofu pocket.

                    Loved the spices on the table, and was surprised to discover ground Sichuan peppercorn. I asked about it since I felt the numbing sensation after a heavy hit of it.

                    The shochu and other "strange cocktail" selection is impressive. Everything was clean and refined despite the high alcohol content.

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                    Nombe
                    2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: DezzerSF

                      Wow I wonder if their yakitori is as good as Sumika or Sumiya in the South Bay. Talking about Sumika, I'd love to try their oyako don for lunch. If you have tried that, please comment!

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                      Sumika
                      236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

                      Sumiya
                      2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                      1. re: vincentlo

                        I haven't been, but my dining partner's been to Sumika twice and felt Ippuku was superior.

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                        Sumika
                        236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

                        Ippuku
                        2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                        1. re: DezzerSF

                          I've only been to Ippuku once, but based on that experience it's definitely better than Sumika and Sumiya which I've been to many times. In fact, it's good enough (again based on that one visit) that I wouldn't say there's really a difference between it and an okay/moderately good place in Japan. I cannot say the same about Sumika and Sumiya.

                          The yakitori selection is a lot more extensive and actually highlights the chicken (cartilage, shoulder blade, neck, tail, etc) whereas other places will go about it the cheap and disingenuous way by focusing on skewers wrapped in bacon in its many forms. The seasoning is also decent and the grilled flavors are not bad, either.

                          I also really like the space, but I'm not sure why some people say it reminds them of Japan though. If anything, this place is so cavernous with such big restrooms that it's nothing like what you find in the homeland.

                          It definitely seems like Ippuku wants to be serious about yakitori and it looks like it's on the right track.

                          -----
                          Sumika
                          236 Central Plz, Los Altos, CA 94022

                          Sumiya
                          2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                          Ippuku
                          2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                    2. do they take reservations? does anyone have their phone #? i can't find it on their website.

                      2 Replies
                        1. Sadly, I would have to disagree with these posts. While I loved the concept and the space, I did not feel many of the dishes I tried were up to snuff, especially for the price. Now, I can appreciate people wanting to eat rare chicken, and the menu is good at pointing out dishes that feature this item. I thought. However, the chicken oysters which were not so advertised arrived rare, chewy/slimy and not terrific, IMO (I'm not a lover of rare poultry of any stripe, though, truth be told). The thigh skewers fared better, but not a lot better than I could make on my grill at home. The livers were amazing, though.

                          The heirloom tomato salad was very plain and overly tart. The tuna dish with miso and wakame was bland. The smelts with eggs were nothing like I remember from Japan (or even Japantown)--mealy interior versus crunchy, bland and bitter flavor versus fresh and smoky. The uni dish was hit or miss depending on the piece of uni--either sublime or iodiny. And, the sake list was more limited than expected, although I did enjoy what I drank.

                          I was really looking forward to a non-sushi-oriented Japanese food experience, but left underwhelmed and feeling a bit overcharged for the experience.

                          1. We tried Ippuku for dinner on Sat 9/18/10. It's only 1 block away from Downtown Berkeley Bart and to the Right of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream on Center.

                            Don't wear anything that need Dry Cleaning if you sit by the Open Kitchen or the table near the Kitchen. It'll stink like smoke!! Be prepared for a long wait to get your food on a busy Sat night - up to 2hrs to eat a big dinner, less if you don't order too much. If you get those rice balls -Yaki Onigiri- know it comes at the End of the Meal - Last Course!!

                            We ordered lots:
                            Omakase Gushi - grilled mixed meats chef's choice. 5 sticks for $14. Tasty, glad they didn't have Liver that night.

                            Chicken gyoza - small & tasty.

                            Fried tofu in broth & bonita flakes - B. liked it, I thought it was ok.

                            Fried bittermelon - huge pile of it. I didn't try it, B. loved it.

                            Green beans w/ sesame - I liked it fine, wish it was warm/hot, not served cold.

                            Beef tongue - good.

                            Mushrooms - fine, nothing special

                            Grilled eggplant - fine, nothing special.

                            Grilled quail $10 - Delicious, get it!

                            Yaki Onigiri - grilled rice balls 2 for $6 - ok, nothing special. Wanted it earlier in the meal, but they serve at the very end of meal - last course.

                            Sake - B. tried 2 cheap glasses over rice. He liked both.

                            Credit cards taken. Our total after tax & tip over $100 for 2.

                            Separate bathrooms in the back. Women's is single toilet/sink. Heated toilet w/ the other fancy gadget (didn't try). Frog drawings along the tiled walls.

                            -----
                            Ippuku
                            2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                            1. Has anyone tried the chicken tartare yet? I am very intrigued after reading about it in the Bauer review

                              3 Replies
                                1. re: vulber

                                  Once you get past our cultural taboo against raw chicken (remember the time, not so long ago, when "raw fish" was considered a health hazard) this dish is really not so out of the ordinary. Slivered raw chix breast, quail egg (for extra slimy-ness), soy sauce, lots of chili and a sprinkle of micro greens on top. Pure, simple, tasty. Great with a shot of sochu too!

                                  -----
                                  Ippuku
                                  2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                  1. re: flavorenhancer

                                    The chef also blanches the meat briefly before chopping it to eliminate any possibility of contamination.

                                    http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/micha...

                                2. went last night, and i'm in agreement with the consensus on this post. it's probably the best yakitori i've had; yes, it is a little pricier, but you're paying for top-notch ingredients. i enjoyed nombe, but ippuku is on a completely differnet level.

                                  shared:
                                  chicken tartare
                                  quail
                                  chicken skewer omokasa
                                  chicken/rice soup.

                                  all cooked perfectly (which often meant rare, and i was fine with that).

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: vulber

                                    They need to lighten up on the salt, but otherwise the yakitori is definitely acceptable -- even by Japanese standards.

                                    1. re: vulber

                                      Well Nombe uses a gas instead of charcoal grill, and so that's why

                                      -----
                                      Nombe
                                      2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                    2. Just went to Ippuku for the first time with a bunch of friends, 8 of us in total.

                                      After actually finding the front door (no, not the apartment complex), I was favorably impressed with the look of the space. We were seated at two connected tables (which for two 4-tops would be divided by a screen).

                                      After making some provisions for my husband who doesn't eat seafood, we ordered:

                                      * 5 chicken skewers (thigh, breast, hearts, gizzards, wings)

                                      * Chicken gyoza (small but good)

                                      * Chicken tartare (I liked this)

                                      * Mochi wrapped in bacon (a little chewy)

                                      * Charred rice (my mother would be appalled that we paid good money for this)

                                      * Pork belly (too chewy)

                                      * Salad

                                      * Chicken with green onions skewer

                                      * Shitaake mushroom

                                      * Fried tofu (I still fondly remember Saigon Seafood's fried tofu with shrimp on top)

                                      Maybe ordered a few other dishes too. To my surprise, my favorite dishes were the grilled chicken hearts and gizzards. Everything was at least decent, and the bill came to only $30 per person (although with no real alcohol, just tea).

                                      -----
                                      Saigon Seafood
                                      740 Story Rd 1, San Jose, CA

                                      Ippuku
                                      2130 Center St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                      1. Went back last night for the first time in a while. Everything was good, but the chicken hearts were exceptional.

                                        They have a "shochu school" happy hour 5-6, all shochu half off.

                                        1. Will definitely have to try this place!

                                          1. They recently started lunch service centered around housemade Soba. Over a dozen hot & cold soba dishes.

                                            story in SFGate
                                            http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                                            menu
                                            http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/files...

                                            1. Tried something new to me, tofuyo from Okinawa. It's a very dense aged tofu, intense flavor reminiscent of salted caramel (though not sweet) and a sticky-crumbly texture somewhere between Roquefort and halva. Very good with shochu.

                                              You can buy a bottle of shochu, drink part of it, and they'll hold on to it for your next visits for up to 90 days.

                                              1. Lunch is now Friday and Saturday only, 11-2 or until they sell out. Went today, had a different version of adedashi tofu (bright flavors and floral aromas from yuzu), a daily special daikon salad, goma-ae, soba with mushrooms in a delicious broth, and a similar soba with tempura on the side. Soba came with a iburi-gakko, smoked daikon pickle, which I'd never heard of before. Everything was great. Would have been vegan if not for the bonito flakes.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I had a very unimpressive meal when they first opened which turned me off to the place. I always wanted to go back and give them a second chance because lots of people have said positive things and perhaps our disappointing dinner was a one off. I LOVE good soba so we went a couple of weeks ago to try their soba for lunch. We had a very good experience. We tried one of the hot and one of the cold soba dishes. Both were excellent but I preferred the cold soba. It was the only soba I have had in the US that came close to being as good as soba I had in Kyoto. We still have not been back for dinner. But I am anxious to go back for more soba.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    I was there tonight (Saturday) and had some great food. Exceptional was the fat lobes of sea urchin roe (uni) from Mendocino, along with some very good yakitori and great glasses of Shiranami imo-shochu served with hot water. By request they made it not in the normal 6:4 ratio but in the 5:5 ratio and they were careful about doing it as we asked. Service by two caucasian female waitstaff was exceptional and very well informed, and I found the experience totally stellar. Since I have just come from Tokyo and was taken there by a good friend who insists it is "as good as Japan ever gets" I must say I was entirely pleased. We left a generous tip, of course.

                                                    Robert's comment about the iburi-gakko is quite welcomed. These are exceptional pickles from Akita prefecture and hard to find outside of the area, so please go in and enjoy the iburi-gakko -- you won't regret it. In Japan, I enjoy these pickles with Islay malt whisky, and find them the perfect accompaniment, though I don't think that Ippuku has any such whiskey on the menu.

                                                  2. We just went to Ippuku tonight, and it was mindblowing.
                                                    We called last night for a reservation and they said they didn't have any reservations before 9, but if we wanted an early dinner, they could probably accommodate us as a walk in when they opened. We got there at 5:15 and they had no problems seating us.

                                                    The food was amazing.
                                                    We had:
                                                    1 order of the vegetable pickles - I liked the pickled turnips best, they were delicious. My fiancé loved the smoked pickled carrots and I think it was burdock root maybe? Or daikon? best.
                                                    2 orders of the chicken goyzas - They were mindblowing, transcendental, one of those food moments I'll never forget.
                                                    1 order of enegi mushrooms - grilled king oyster mushrooms, these were so simple and plain but so delicious because of it, perfectly prepared.
                                                    1 order of the minced chicken with egg yolk. - Again, absolutely amazing. Incredibly flavorful and tender and delicious. The egg yolk was just that. The dish was a skewer, served with sauce, and a raw egg yolk.
                                                    1 order of the chicken hearts - These were so good. I don't always love heart because it is a little tough and gristly for me, but these weren't. They were chewy, but not gristly, and so flavorful.
                                                    1 order of chicken breast - This was really good. It was fairly plain, but so perfectly prepared that you loved it plain, with lemon juice and salt.
                                                    1 order of the camenbert and honey - 2 triangles of camenbert on a skewer, grilled, with honey drizzeled on top, and spicy pepper on the side of the plate. I'm not a huge camenbert fan, and I liked it. My dad and fiancé loved it.
                                                    1 order of scallion pancake - It was one of my fiancé's favorite (with the goyza and rice balls), probably one of my least favorite. A very thick ( 3/4 in to 1 in, I would say) scalliony pancake served with shaved bonito and some sort of seasoned mayo or something.
                                                    1 order of grilled rice balls with tare (sweet sauce)-These were delicious. Grilled, hot, sweet, salty, a little crunchy on the outside soft and sticky on the inside.
                                                    Nigiri unfiltered sweet sake - 300 ml -very good. Even us non-sake drinkers enjoyed it ($25)
                                                    an IPA ($6)

                                                    Total for 3 people, including the alcohol mentioned above was around $115 with tax and tip. We came away full.

                                                    The must haves, in order of rank: the goyzas, the pickles, the minced chicken with egg yolk, and the grilled rice balls with tare.

                                                    Absolutely our new favorite place.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Magelet

                                                      Ippuku is indeed amazing. Every time I have business at UC Berkeley, I try to head there and have some shochu with chicken liver and knee cartilage. Best yakitori I've ever had in this country. The prices for the amount of meat I get are hard to swallow though, and so I usually just have a few skewers as a light snack unless I'm taking someone there.

                                                    2. Been here twice now. It's pretty decent (and a great date spot) but it's just pricey enough and not quite good enough that I don't think I'll be coming back (it doesn't help that it's a bit of a schlep from downtown SF).

                                                      Good things: any of the chicken skewers, gingko nuts, shochu and whiskey selection, ambiance

                                                      Okay: Zaru soba (too cold imo), leek pancake

                                                      Misses: Yamaimo, gyutan (is tongue supposed to be that chewy?), camembert (barely heated through), chicken gyoza (no flavor), karaage (barely marinated chicken and crappy batter)

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: ajyi2012

                                                        Where would you recommend going instead of Ippuku?

                                                        1. re: JonDough

                                                          That depends on what you want.

                                                          If all you want is yakitori, then Ippuku is pretty good for that.

                                                          If you want upscale non-sushi Japanese, then I prefer the food at Yuzuki Japanese Eatery. The styles aren't really the same as Yuzuki is mostly refined kyoryori, but I think they execute at a much higher level than Ippuku. Yuzuki arguably has a better sake selection also.