The chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett’s San Francisco izakaya, Rintaro, will turn 10 next year, and in a city crowded with good places to eat, and a state with access to spectacular ingredients year-round, it still stands out. The restaurant’s courtyard, hidden from the street behind a nondescript door, is filled with fragrant fruit trees (including a persimmon and four yuzu) and in the main dining rooms, guests can watch cooks grilling skewers of chicken behind a hinoki counter or preparing glossy sashimi in the open kitchen. Brackett worked at the chef Alice Waters’s farm-to-table institution Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. — first as her assistant and later as a creative director — before opening his own restaurant, and he shares her commitment to seasonal and local ingredients, putting them to use in dishes informed by the food of his mother’s native Japan.
Among the Japanese traditions Rintaro upholds is the making of osechi bento, handcrafted multitiered cedar boxes containing customary Japanese New Year’s foods. Each December, locals can order one in advance of the holiday, knowing that it might contain delicacies such as cured steelhead trout roe and Santa Barbara spot prawns. At the very end of 2022, however, just as Rintaro’s staff were putting the finishing touches on the boxes, a flood swept through the restaurant. Not only were the precious bento — which take Brackett and his team nearly a week to prepare — destroyed, but the restaurant sustained significant damage. (After closing for repairs, Rintaro reopened that February.)
Following that dramatic start to 2023, Brackett and his wife, Jenny Wapner, a book publisher, opted for a quiet New Year’s Day celebration this year. Instead of making bento for the public, Brackett and his mother cooked a special meal for their family and close friends at Brackett and Wapner’s Craftsman bungalow in Oakland. Using ingredients sourced from Japan and California (which Brackett often calls the “Westernmost prefecture of Japan”), such as wasabi from Half Moon Bay and greens from a Japanese-owned farm in Watsonville, the two prepared a feast comprising a dozen dishes — a mix of Japanese New Year’s staples and family favorites. The day began with a raucous kid-led gift exchange, and the same energy continued into the evening. After dinner, Brackett and Wapner’s son suggested lighting some fireworks leftover from the Fourth of July, and everyone headed outside to welcome the New Year with flashes and bangs.
The attendees: Sylvan Mishima Brackett, 48, and Jenny Wapner, 46 — along with their children, Louis, 10, and Vera, 5 — hosted Brackett’s mother, Toshiko Brackett, 70; his sister, the photographer Aya Brackett, 45, her husband, the film and commercial director Corey Creasey, and their two children, Miya, 9, and Nico, 4; and Virginia Haruna Vaughn, 38, the general manager of Rintaro, and her boyfriend, the art director and designer Austin Long, 34.