When Christian Geideman opened the doors of Ippuku (2130 Center St., Berkeley, 510- 665-1969, www.ippukuberkeley.com), a shochu and yakitori bar, to discerning foodies in 2010, there was one huge question mark about his menu: Just how would that chicken tartare — a mix of raw chicken, daikon sprouts, Korean chili paste and a raw egg as the proverbial cherry on top — go over?
While the Japanese infatuation with chicken is well known — there’s a very popular izakaya chain in Japan, for example, with a mascot that’s half man, half
chicken, and the restaurant is roundly celebrated for
the chicken sashimi on its menu — the depth of chicken love in the United States may not be as bottomless.
But what do we know? Maybe it does. So we decided to catch up with Geideman, 42, a Bay Area native who graduated from Berkeley High School, and ask him about that chicken, and a few other things.
Q: Ippuku is your third restaurant since heading up a Japanese restaurant in New Mexico in 2001 and a pizza place in Montana before that. What drew you from pizza to Japanese cuisine?
A: I guess the love of the food. I kind of caught the bug 15 years ago, in the ’90s. My second restaurant was Japanese, which I opened in 2001 in New Mexico. That restaurant was more of a dual concept. At lunchtime it was a soba restaurant, and at nighttime, it was more like what we do here.
Q: What’s the most popular item on your menu at Ippuku?
A: Probably the bacon-wrapped mochi. They’re just mochi — sweet rice cakes — wrapped in thin slices of bacon and grilled.
Q: What’s your favorite item on the Ippuku menu?
A: I’m into the chicken neck. That’s probably my favorite. There’s hardly any meat on the neck, but on the one side there’s a large muscle you can fillet off. It takes 10 necks to make one skewer. It’s a long stringy muscle but has a lot of ridges so it absorbs the sauce and the smoke. It’s wonderful.
Q: So, seriously. Tell us. How well does that chicken tartare sell?
A: It’s definitely in the top five sellers. It’s weird. It’s a last-minute thing we put on the menu, and everyone thought it was a bad idea. But I knew it would be safe. I wasn’t worried about that. I make it only using the inner breast meat (since salmonella is found in the digestive track but not in flesh) and it’s dropped in boiling water for 10 seconds. But it’s still totally raw. That’s just an added protection. But we didn’t know what reaction people would have, if it would actually deter people from coming to the restaurant. But it’s been the opposite. It’s been extremely popular.