It’s been a mainstay of Tokyo for decades. New York City has recently started to catch on, as its modish gastropubs have become increasingly passé. And, although many food waves seem to take a little longer to hit the west coast, look out for one in our own neighborhood, real soon. Located in San Jose, Misaka Grill embodies the Japanese “izakaya”, a concept that North America is just starting to wake up to. Below, we talk to Misaka owner James Culpepper about bringing an izakaya to the South Bay.
What is the point of an “izakaya”?
It literally translates to “happy drinking place.” It’s simple: the equivalent is a British pub where the British have a couple of pints. An izakaya is like a family neighborhood place to have beer/sake and small plates. You might be seated in a 20-person community table, where you will be joining a couple and you’re seeing their plates and drinks. It starts the cross talk and the dialogue.
What do you hope to reveal about Japanese food that hasn’t already been done?
No one here is doing the plating the way we’re doing it. When you get a Sashimi plate it’s so beautiful you don’t want to touch it. Our executive chef Nobu-san Kagawa trained in Japan for 20 years. His father was a sushi master. He’s spent a long time learning to plate and properly cut the fish. In addition to our regular menu we’ll also be offering some really exotic fishes that people haven’t tried. Lastly, kushiyaki (grilled skewers) is another item that many people aren’t familiar with, or haven’t seen in these numbers. We’re going to have 30 different kinds.
How did the idea for Misaka come about?
It was a collaborative effort between Nobu-san, the executive chef, and myself. My background is medicine. This is different. I’m breaking away from something I’m comfortable with. We both had very similar visions of what we wanted to do.
What can customers expect from Misaka?
We’re really going to do a heavy dose of kushiyaki (grilled skewers) and cold plates. It is a big open-kitchen concept, you can literally sit right in front of the grill and see all of these things cooking on the grill with 100 skewers going at once, basting, salting, turning, prepping, all at the same time. These skewers are great with our 10 hand crafted beers while watching the 2 large screen TV’s.
We’ll also have 30 kinds of nigiri. Twice a week, we’ll be getting fresh fish sent directly from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. It’s the largest fish market in the world. One of these will be a “mystery box,” full of choice cuts. We will have no idea what is inside. They ship it overnight and it only has a shelf life of 2-3 days. We’ll be crafting a special menu revolving around just this. That is outside the lines for most people. For drinking, we’ll have 30 kinds of sake.
Outside, we’ll have a beautiful beer garden with fire pits, gorgeous stamped concrete Japanese gardens and weeping cherries all around.
Tell me a little bit about your executive chef, Nobu-san.
He is a kaiseki-trained chef. This is a very difficult, very formal, and very high-end dining style in Japan. He worked with Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame). He’s had world-class experience with some of the best Japanese chefs in the world. He designed and built our grill. It gets to temperatures of 1100 degrees. You get this searing and juices inside that are unmatched.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu right now and why?
Probably the pork cheek stuffed garlic. It’s a pork cheek wrapped with garlic inside, basted and marinated and put on the grill and salted and seasoned.
Misaka Grill is set to open in November of this year at 1362 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose. Its hours will be Monday-Friday 5pm-10pm and 11:30pm-11pm weekends.