With new restaurants opening in Uptown Oakland at a dizzying pace, it’s easy to forget about the ones that have been here awhile, even those with such consistently excellent food as Hopscotch, the upscale, Japanese-inflected diner that just marked its third birthday. The instant our well-balanced cocktails — a Golden Spike, with bourbon, lemon, Averna, and Chinese five spice, and a Domino, with scotch, blackberry, jalapeño and Amaro — landed on the table, we were reminded that as much as new places may continue to open at warp speed — and they do — places like this are more than worthy of returning to.
[jump] With summer ingredients out in full force, it was an especially good time for a meal. Despite the fact that in its three years, Hopscotch has become known for its buttermilk fried chicken and its “First Base Burger” (made with griddled beef tongue), Chef Kyle Itani's lighter fare is definitely worth trying.
A bright, acidic tomato vinaigrette greatly enhanced a tai carpaccio (tai is otherwise known as sea bream), and bulls blood micro greens added an earthly backbone. A cucumber and unagi appetizer offered four preparations of the humble cuke: raw wedges of lemon cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers pickled in rice wine vinegar (the best by far), small chunks of lightly salted serpent cucumber, and julienned strips of English cucumbers treated with iced lemon water. Plump, grilled freshwater eel and a wonderfully umami housemade barley miso rolled it all together.
Monterey Bay salt-and-pepper squid was served flash fried on a watermelon slice, garnished with green onion and Fresno chile slices, with a watermelon soy-vinegar dressing. This offered delightful contrasts: warm and cool, salty and sweet, crispy and crunchy — overall, an artful dish.
While a perfect piece of king salmon is hard to mess up, in Itani’s capable hands, it wowed. Flawlessly grilled, it arrived with a shard of crisped skin perched on top. The silky cedar miso sauce with julienned summer squash and sliced almonds were a lovely compliment.
Though we thoroughly enjoyed all of these lighter dishes, we felt compelled to try some heartier fare, too, so we ordered the veal chop. It's grass-fed, of course, and served with a croquette of veal trim, pork shoulder, and panko, over a bed of bitter greens (both Treviso and mustard, pickled in soy). A lump of compound butter made with black garlic and garlic chives slowly melted on the meat as it arrived, offering a meatier take on the salty-sweet theme.
A peach tart with almond cheesecake filling and a trio of sorbets made a lovely ending to a meal that will certainly remind us to go back often. Stone fruit is the reason for the season!
Hopscotch, 1915 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, 510-788-6217.