A fresh new Japanese restaurant surprise opened in Bernal Heights last week, at the quieter end of Cortland, as it starts to dip down the hill. Shokudou is a new izakaya from Chef Stewart Chen, who also owns Umi sushi restaurant in Potrero, a cozy neighborhood omakase counter that’s been putting out excellent sashimi and bento boxes for the past 14 years. Stewart lives in Bernal Heights, just a few minutes drive from his new restaurant. Shokudou is an izakaya, featuring kushiyaki grilled skewers and plenty of sake and beer.
“It’s Japanese pop food,” says Stewart. “It’s a drinking place.” Stewart crafted the menu with two of his trusted chefs from Umi, Anson Mei and Paul Huang, who will eventually run this location. The opening menu features starters, a raw list, skewers, salads, sake, and beer. He says he’s particularly proud of the crispy hamachi collar, which he sweetens slightly with a miso marinade, and crisps up under the heat of the broiler. The beef kushiyaki have also been an early hit, which take thinly sliced steak, wrap it around green onions, asparagus, or enoki, and then the bundles are skewered and grilled. Given the family-friendly neighborhood, “I probably need to do a kids menu,” Stewart concedes, and the menu may expand in the coming weeks.
The storefront at 1000 Cortland Avenue at Folsom was a former hair salon, and has been empty for a while. According to local blog Bernalwood, Outer Orbit was originally trying to move into this space, but the pinball bar was deterred by neighbors who raised concerns over noise. Outer Orbit, of course, found its own home on Mission. And now, Shokudou is moving in on Cortland. Stewart says that he originally hoped to open in fall of 2020, but the pandemic delayed construction by at least six months. “The space was empty,” he says. “We built it from the ground up,” installing a functional kitchen, putting in a counter, plumbing, electrical, the works. They will not attempt a parklet, given the bus stop and the steep hill. But the dining room is filled with freshly sanded reclaimed wood, just in time to enjoy the return of indoor dining.
Shokudou is now open Sunday to Thursday from 5 to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m. It’s indoor dining and takeout to start, with delivery options to come.