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Hopscotch (Oakland)

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There doesn't appear to be a thread dedicated to Hopscotch for some reason. I went there last night for the first time, and enjoyed it immensely, as did my dining companions. Very quickly:

1. Grilled chrysanthemum with poached jidori egg, bamboo shoot, and squid ink. A clever combination of flavors and textures that works very well, and which probably won't offend Alice Waters devotees.

2. Ginger braised duck gnocchi with brown butter creme fraiche, green onions. Very good indeed; I was quite pleased with it.

My companions had the duck fat chips (it is what it is; not bad at all if that's your thing), the pork chop (very nice, standard apple-y pork chop deal), and the day boat scallops (very nice, she said). We all had a "Yonsei Oyster," which is sea urchin, salmon roe, and citrus soy (also very nice, reminded me of the above-average items at Bar Crudo). Everyone was pleased. Cocktails were excellent, desserts were very nice (I had some sort of strawberry tart concoction with kernel corn and kernel corn ice cream, which was delicious.)

The server was very helpful and friendly, and I also requested as little salt on the food as possible, which they were able to accommodate.

Anyway, I would happily go there again. Below, a couple of photos. One is the gnocchi, the other is the chrysanthemum.

 
 
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  1. Huh, I could swear I posted about the meal I had there.

    Here's a thread about the late-night ramen menu:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/890523

    1. went in the early days before they had a liquor license.
      -got comped a st. george cocktail. amazing drink!

      food wasn't hitting on all cylinders. probably better now
      -steamed clams in lamb/pork broth very tender, excellent broth..
      -first base burger not executed well, came med. rare but not so juicy.
      -covina sea bass wasn't very flavorful.

      servers very professional, helpful, just the food wasn't up to expectations.

      1. I also enjoyed the Yonsei Oyster. The fried chicken was very good, as was the carrot cake with cream cheese ice cream. Thumbs up as well for the cocktails. The two that we tried were both quite good.

        1. The Yonsei Oyster is to die for. The best oyster preparation I have ever eaten. I've also had the burger, which was terrific, and wife had the fried chicken, which was quite nice (but I think it would be better if prepared bone in). My one disappointment was the fish and chips, which I had one afternoon and found disturbingly oily and with a not pleasant aftertaste. (The chips were the aforementioned duck fat chips and were excellent.)

          1. I thought the food was interesting although menu limited. I especially remember liking the crunchy salad. But I felt the service was a bit standoffish when I went, so I've never really made an effort to go back.

            1. Visited after the Art Murmur, impressed enough. Walked in at 10:15 when we realized just about everything was closing - we were parked near Hawker Fare (which had chicken heart skewers on the chalkboard so we would have stayed as GF is a huge fan) which closes at 10 but turned us away at 9:45, and Barlata closes at 10. Scrolling through the yelp list feeling uninspired I saw the name hopscotch.

              We didn't know about the 11pm ramen shop action, but were happy with our food.

              The cocktails were solid enough. I ordered a straight manhattan as well as something off the list. The manhattan seemed to be almost all rye, an effect I get when ordering the second drink - the bartender thinks they're doing a favor by adding more booze. Pinot by the glass was good.

              Amuse! Nice to see an amuse. Tomato + black sesame. Pretty nice, but a few hours earlier we had our first home tomato, and this one was not nearly as good. Liked the BS to kick the mouth into gear though, interesting choice.

              First course was "little green salad", which had strange crunchy bits and "sea beans" and almost an undefinable amount of other things.

              "Tenpura" (mispelling or something clever?) was slightly different from the standard tempura in small ways, like the yuzu sea salt and a strange sweetness imparted to each piece --- like dipping in the dipping sauce but there was no sauce. Tasty.

              Fried chicken was pretty awesome. The piece was a half-chicken, as one piece, which is impressive on the plate. The carrots by the side were especially good. The entire thing was super juicy, quality of the chicken was supurb, skin was crunchy, had a certain kick under the crumbs.

              Desert was a standout. Strawberries and cream. The Strawberries were both fresh-sliced and "yuzu macerated", they looked a little pickled - these were better - and cream anglaise with matcha, which was subtle. The strawberry season has seemed a little light this year, so good to be reminded.

              Overall - I don't think I was the best of audience. It had been a long week, I dove right into a numbing cocktail, and we were saddened by the art murmur / FF. Last summer, FF was a Thing, a spontaneous happening where you could feel a real community. They've tamed it, made it a street fare, with booths and commerce front and center. It all packs up at exactly 9pm, and there's plenty of cops. At the risk of "you should have been there when", I felt like one of those Burning Man old timers --- "you remember before there were roads, in what, 98? that was the real burning man". Things change and evolve, and something of the strange weirdness of FF 2012 is rare and fragile, and burst like a soap bubble.

              Oddly, the two people next to me were also of the same experience at FF, we talked a little. We also ordered the exact same menu (except they added a burger, we stuck to our common plan of two apps, one entree, just put it in the center of the table please). I wondered if the table was a fellow CH....

              7 Replies
              1. re: bbulkow

                We were there last night as well.
                We thought the Cocktails were very good, ordered from their Cocktail Menu. Inventive and crafted well.

                I think there were Ten different Veges on the Tenpura(not sure as it was eaten very quickly by a fellow diner)

                Agreed on the Fried Chicken, though I still think Miss Ollies quite a bit better.

                Pork Chop was very good nice texture, flavor and super juicy from its brineing.

                Burger was not only a good deal, but very well made obviously hand made with a loose pack. The Tounge was a nice addition though a bit more of it would have been nice.

                The only real let down was the Sweet Potato Gnocci with Chiogga Beets and Asparagus. The Sweet potato did not really come through and nothing in the dish really stood out.

                I really thought the Pastry Chef is doing great stuff. Not overly gimmicky just great depth and melding of flavors. The sliced Strawberries were not great but the macerated ones were great. The Butterscotch Pudding and Chocolate Mousse were also very good. The Almond? "Cracker Jack" served with the Mousse was playful and delicious.
                We will be back.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  I asked about the spelling of tenpura and was told a long story about it being the proper spelling. No idea if it is true, but not a typo.

                  1. re: absc

                    That's how it's pronounced in Japanese, but it's conventionally romanized as tempura.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      This was discussed in details when I was learning Japanese. The only consonant allowed to follow a vowel is "n." So one can't even write anything except an "n" after each vowel/syllable/sound. The reason tenpura turns into tempura is that the "n" sound naturally warps into an "m" sound when one tries to pronounce tenpura because of the "p" in tempura.

                    2. re: absc

                      Actually, both spellings are used in Japan. The same goes with shinbun and shimbun (newspaper). While using roman letters to express Japanese often has variations, it is nothing like the nightmare of using Japanese phonetics to do English or (more ridiculously) French.

                      1. re: Tripeler

                        If I am not mistaken, the hiragana character you would use to write tenpura/tempura in Japanese is the squiggly-looking capital L-shaped hiragana character, which by itself is pronounced as a short -n'

                        1. re: MagicMarkR

                          Yes, that's right. You are thinking of ん.
                          But tempura is usually written with Chinese characters with Japanese pronunciations that better fit the original Portuguese word. See the story at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempura

                          天婦羅 or 天麩羅

                          I sort of like the second version better as it is more "food like"

                  2. Had a great brunch today. Lots of very appetizing choices, it was hard to pick.

                    Nice endive and roasted summer squash salad with seabeans etc., very original.

                    Bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and poached egg sandwich was messy and hard to eat but delicious, maybe the one thing I've had there with no noticeable Asian twist.

                    Kimchi fried rice had great flavor and crunchy texture. I'd probably skip the pork belly next time.

                    Sparkling Bonarda by the glass was a treat. Finished with the off-menu "Javalina" made with draft Asahi Kuronama Black, Averna, and lemon juice, super-refreshing.

                    1. Hopscotch is doing a 3-courses for $30 special, to celebrate its first birthday, through Sat. 6/15.

                      1. Just went to Hopscotch Sunday for a late dinner. The warm mushroom salad was the best dish of the meal for me. Very tasty! I enjoyed my braised lamb soba while my husband thought his hamburger was fine (and he even ate the beef tongue!). The pistachio tart with peaches and vanilla ice cream was an interesting combo, but the texture of the tart didn't work for me. A nice meal all around!

                        1. Had another great brunch.

                          The fish in the fish & chips ($12) was the best I've had since Sea Salt closed, maybe better. Their duck-fat potato chips are a nice substitute for the traditional fries. Great yuzu aioli. This dish is on the lunch menu as well.

                          Tasted the house-salted halibut scramble ($15), good. The deliciious "cast iron skillet potatoes" that come with the egg dishes are creamy, reminiscent of a gratin dauphinois.

                          Can't beat the Javelina for a refreshing drink on a warm day.

                          1. Tried the Yonsei Oyster (very nice bite, but for $5 not sure I'll do it again) and the fried chicken. They now leave the drumstick bone in which I like but otherwise deboned. I really like how the entire piece of meat is a fairly constant thickness so it cooks very evenly ensuring that all the meat is juicy with a minimum of overcooked bits. Flattening also gives more surface area for crust. I had Miss Ollie's last week and I preferred Hopscotch somewhat to my surprise since I'm generally a traditionalist.

                            Look forward to returning with a group to try more dishes as well as a cocktail.

                            1. Had a really good meal here the other night.

                              The starters we had were refined and would not have been out of place at Benu. The Yonsei oysters (with sea urchin, salmon roe, and citrus soy) were a perfect sweet briny bite, and the risotto with asparagus, red wine and quail egg was everything I look for in a risotto (deep umami punch, slightly loose texture, perfect chewiness).

                              The mains were more rustic but satisfying in their own way. I loved the quail stuffed with rice, a new dish they were testing out that night. The First Base Burger was very good but I found it a little overpowered by the pickled onions. Fried chicken was excellent.

                              Dessert was donuts with butterscotch custard - the donuts themselves are good but not particularly notable. The custard was great, with a deep burnt caramel flavor. I'd eat a tub of it straight.

                              With all the other newer, hotter places opening in the last few months, it seems much easier to make same day reservations now. While it's not a cheap meal (we averaged $50 pp with one cocktail each, after tax and tip) it's a really good value.

                              1. We've gone twice to Hopscotch. In 2013 we went for lunch and it was an unmitigated disaster. The burger, the fried chicken, the fish 'n'chips - average at best, mediocre at worst. After all the praise heaped on them, we were stunned by such a poor meal. The only thing good was the ginger-limeade - housemade and terrific.

                                I finally convinced DH that perhaps there was a different cook at lunch than dinner - I noted that almost everyone praising Hopscotch was discussing dinner, not lunch. Fortuitously, Diablo Dish mentioned Hopscotch was celebrating its second yr anniversary with a prix fix for two at $80.

                                The entree was a veal chop, and I will go ANYWHERE for a veal chop, lol. We came on a Monday (by choice; we hate crowds and noise, and this was perfect -- we were one of two tables that night). We had a great meal, as follows:

                                Kanpachi Tiradito: lime, ginger, red onion, red and yellow peppers
                                The young ginger and red onion were fine shreds scattered over and under the thick-cut fish slices, while the bell peppers were separate purées underpinning the food. The dressing flavors were bright but not harsh, both onions and ginger surprisingly mild. Hardly any salt that we could taste, so we were happy. The kanpachi was very fresh and excellent; it's a great fish raw or cooked.

                                Little Green Salad: cress, endive, cherry tomatoes, tamari-sesame dressing
                                The mixed baby greens were cut lengthwise with two types of halved cherry tomatoes and a lovely dressing. The latter didn't taste like tamari to me. It seemed like crystals of salt with toasted sesame oil, in just the right amount. Whatever was used, the dressing was very light with no acid, just the way we like it. DH remarked it isn't very often he would call a salad "refreshing", but this one qualified, and I agreed.

                                Tenpura Okra: sesame salt
                                Okra fritters by any name are always welcome in our eyes, although the "sesame salt" seemed to be all ground toasted sesame meal and no salt. But the fritters were in need of something, so instead of asking for a salt shaker, we swiped the okra halves through the bell pepper purées that came with the kanpachi salad. DH and I love okra, although there were a couple of older, slightly tough-skinned ones. But most were young and tender, and we finished them off with pleasure.

                                Main:
                                Veal chop: 20 oz., burnt shallot compound butter, grilled shishitos
                                The waitress didn't ask how we wanted the chop, and it came rare. Not purple, but a good deep pink rare. DH is fine with this, and I'm the same when it comes to veal. This wasn't the best quality chop: the cut was a bit uneven and the meat was as close to being a reddish-beef steak instead of pale-pink veal as it could get. Still, the more delicate flavor of veal was there, as well as a nice juiciness. We pushed most of the compound butter aside; it was tasty but we preferred to savor the flavor of the veal without too much in the way. The grilled shishitos were good, but too similar to the okra although they lacked a batter coating. We ate a couple, but left most of them.

                                Baked Gnocchi 'n' cheese: sweet corn
                                This was undimpled but good housemade gnocchi, boiled and then pan-fried. There wasn't any cheese that we could taste, but there were fine shreds of sautéed red onion along with some indifferent yellow corn. It wasn't a great side, but it didn't upstage the veal, which we appreciated.

                                Cauliflower Croquettes
                                These were two breadcrumbed and deep-fried balls of mashed potato with some (not a lot of) chopped cauliflower, set in a small puddle of puréed cauliflower. Again, mild but tasty and didn't upstage the veal. This and the gnocchi weren't perfect, but all three dishes on the main course complemented one another very well.

                                Dessert:
                                Yuzu Meringue Pie
                                A square of shortbread-crusted delight: an intense citrus-y yuzu filling with its echoes of lemon and grapefruit, topped with a housemade marshmallow meringue with a well-browned top. Neither DH nor I like marshmallows, but we do appreciate a good citrus meringue pie. This was a very fine version.

                                Donuts & Cream
                                We are not doughnut lovers. I grew up on homemade beignet and crullers, one of the few desserts my mother would ever (rarely) make. The first time I tasted a commercial donut, I wasn't rude enough to spit it out but I don't think I even finished half of it. These perfect "donut squares" were just right: a pair of beauties served warm, topped with a light dusting of Ceylon cinnamon-sugar, then served with the most luscious coffee cream imaginable. It was like thick melted Hagen Daz coffee ice cream, whipped to a meringue texture. The donuts were just slightly sweet, tender with a texture in-between a cake and a biscuit. Yum!

                                So often restaurants fall down on one course or another – Artisan Bistro/Lafayette comes to mind, where in the last two years the entrées have definitely fallen a level below where they were previously. Rivoli/Berkeley is another, where the entrées are always been less interesting than the starters. But Hopscotch was consistent all the way through, no small feat for such a tiny restaurant. As mentioned, this excellent dinner was so opposite our previous disappointing lunch, one could imagine they were two different restaurants.

                                DH and I really enjoyed this dinner. Everything went well together, the courses segueing in what felt like a natural progression of flavors. Unlike our lunch, which had been leaden, greasy and heavy, dinner was full of light, natural flavors. If the veal chop hadn't been very slightly oversalted – maybe a too-big pinch of fleur de sel - it would have qualified as a 4.5 star meal, a notable achievement for a three-star neighborhood bistro. Add in the modest prix fixe price, and we felt we received a bargain meal.

                                We enjoyed Mockingbird a couple of weeks ago, which is just one block down San Pablo Ave. Mockingbird's dining room is much more comfortable; airier and with tables less crammed in. But Hopscotch's food at dinner, wins hands-down, at least this time. I asked DH what he liked and what he didn't, and he replied he liked everything about the meal. He doesn't often say that!