Meet the Community Behind Izakaya Rintaro

Williams-Sonoma Open Kitchen
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Sylvan’s inner circle—from left, Makiko, Eugene, Aya and Matt—gather at Rintaro’s bar to catch up over Rintaro Sours.

 

Sylvan Mishima Brackett had the dream to open a restaurant from a very young age. In addition to time, money and a vision, he also needed support. For that, Sylvan relied on a close-knit group, all of whom have pitched in to help the restaurant in one way or another. Those people—a group that includes his wife, his sister, and a few close friends—were all on hand at the chef’s recent dinner party. “They are some people who have been personally core to me and the restaurant,” Sylvan says.

 

It might not be immediately obvious, but take a closer look inside the restaurant and you’ll see influences from Sylvan’s friends and family everywhere: Lining the wall of dining booths are framed photographs taken by his sister, Aya Brackett. Copies of Foraged Flora, a book his wife Jenny Wapner edited, are for sale near the hostess table. A record from Public Release, Eugene’s label, is for sale at the front of the restaurant. And outside, a poster on the front window advertises an upcoming fashion event happening in Matt’s nearby studio. Below, meet some of the people who’ve played a role in helping the restaurant be what it is today.

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Jenny Wapner

Cookbook editor and Sylvan’s wife

Relationship to Sylvan: Jenny was involved with Sylvan’s dream to open a restaurant from the very beginning. “We’ve been together for 19 years, so we’ve done lots of planning and dreaming about the restaurant together,” she tell us.

 

How she’s part of the restaurant family: In addition to supporting Sylvan in family life, Jenny’s work life as the executive editor at Ten Speed Press, where she publishes cookbooks and oversees an art and photography imprint, also intersects with the restaurant in many ways. “We’re both in the food world, and our contacts overlap. Sylvan has hosted dinners for several of my books, and he has catered Ten Speed parties,” she explains, adding, “Hopefully, I’ll publish a Rintaro cookbook soon!”

 

Jenny on what makes Rintaro so special: “Sylvan’s food is extremely carefully crafted and nuanced, but it’s also very direct and accessible. It works on several levels: It’s easy to eat and enjoy, but the flavors are layered and often surprising. All the food on the menu goes really well together, which is important because it’s meant to be enjoyed as many small dishes. Many restaurants, especially in San Francisco, have interesting food but too many flavors and textures going on so the dishes can almost clash with each other, and in the end are exhausting to your palate. Sylvan also thinks a lot about the entire experience—the lighting, the music, the sight line from the kitchen to the exit. It’s a beautiful restaurant, and everything in it was very carefully thought out by Sylvan. He is an artist, but is also very playful, so there are so many lighthearted touches in the food and the physical space.”
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Eugene Whang

Industrial Designer, record label owner, DJ and partner in the restaurant

How he met Sylvan: “I think I originally heard about Peko Peko, Sylvan’s pop-up, through some mutual friends. We eventually met, and [my wife Makiko and I] had Sylvan cook a few dinners for us. We began our friendship in more depth that way,” Eugene recalls.

 

How he’s part of the restaurant family: In addition to being a partner in the restaurant, Eugene also plays a part in the restaurant’s atmosphere. “I’m an industrial designer. I also have a record label, and I DJ. I curate everything [played at the restaurant] in the later evening and into the night. They’ll play some vintage Japanese enka, then they’ll switch over to my programming. The music is meant to be quite the contrast to the look of Rintaro, which is handcrafted and traditional with a California twist. Musically, I try to keep it contemporary and forward thinking. There are a lot of older tracks on there, too, but often a rare B-side or an unknown, forgotten track. This isn’t a jukebox—there are very few popular hits. People seem to really get into that contrast of an old traditional space and modern sonic atmosphere.

 

“I see music in a restaurant as a dinner guest that never leaves, so ideally, I could learn from that guest and hear some new, interesting things from them.”

 

Eugene on what makes Rintaro so special: “Rintaro is more than just a restaurant. It’s a community hub. It also attracts a greater community from around the world who align with what Rintaro is about and what it supports.”

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Makiko Fujikawa

Tokyo native, Japanese tea ceremony practitioner, Japanese brand ambassador and partner in the restaurant

How she met Sylvan: Makiko got to know Sylvan at the same time Eugene did. “Sylvan was running his catering business, Peko Peko, and he cooked for my birthday at ours one year, which was so special,” she remembers. They became fast friends after that.

 

How she’s part of the restaurant family: In addition to being a partner in the restaurant, Makiko also teaches pilates, consults in skincare and practices Japanese tea ceremonies intensely in San Francisco. She also helps facilitate occasional special events at the restaurant, like the recent series of cooking classes Rintaro hosted featuring Japanese cooking legend Cocco Nomura and her family (“They’re old friends from Tokyo!” she says). Since Cocco doesn’t speak English, Makiko serves as translator as well.

 

Makiko on what makes Rintaro so special:”It has a warm, welcoming vibe. Everyone is guaranteed to have a good time!”

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Aya Brackett

Photographer and Sylvan’s sister

Relationship to Sylvan: “Sylvan is four years older than me, and we grew up together in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Nevada City, CA,” Aya says. “We have always been very close.”

 

How she’s part of the restaurant family: In addition to being part of Sylvan’s literal family, Aya, who is an artist specializing in food and still life photos, serves as unofficial photographer for the restaurant’s website and promotional materials. Photographs from her series Soiled hang in the restaurant. She adds, “Throughout his whole career, Sylvan has continued to provide inspiring moments for me to photograph the preparation and presentation of beautiful food.”

 

Aya on what makes Rintaro so special: “My father built both our childhood home and the interior of Rintaro using similar wood materials, [so] Rintaro looks very similar to the home we grew up in,” Aya says. “Rintaro’s dirt mud plaster walls were made from the red dirt around our childhood home. It actually really does feel like home to me.” In addition, it’s Sylvan’s approach to a restaurant that sets his truly apart: “Sylvan is absolutely devoted to serving only the highest-quality ingredients without compromises,” she tells us. “His graphic design sense and his complete attention to all the details makes Rintaro like no other.”
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Matt Dick

Designer and owner, Small Trade Company

How he met Sylvan: Matt met Sylvan many years ago when the chef was Alice Waters’s personal assistant. “My dear friend, Cristina Salas-Porras Hudson, was hired in 1998 by Alice Waters the same time I was hired by the graphic designer Tamotsu Yagi,” he recalls. “At the end of nearly 15 years as the right hand of Alice Waters and the director of all special events for Chez Panisse, she hired one agnès b.-clad Sylvan Brackett to train to take her position. Sylvan then was my liaison to Alice for the regular reservations Tamotsu needed for his Japanese clientele, his support of the Chez Panisse foundation and Alice’s endeavors in Japan.” Matt stayed in touch with Sylvan, and over the years, has become just as close to Jenny, Aya, Eugene and Makiko: “They’re all like family to me,” he says.

 

How he’s part of the restaurant family: One of Matt’s endeavors is to help sustain the traditional techniques and trades that are disappearing. In particular, he holds a keen interest in Japanese textiles: “For their new life at Rintaro, I made Sylvan’s indigo aprons for Peko Peko, then sent them back to Amami Oshima to be over-dyed in dorozome [Japanese mud dye],” he tells us. He also created the blankets that the restaurant uses to keep courtyard diners warm on chilly nights.

 

Matt on what makes Rintaro so special: “Commitment to tradition and culture, authenticity, love for family and community, nourishment and quality [all] permeate the entire tavern, from the architecture to the first bite upon being seated.”

 

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