Back to the Future at Fremont's Brand-New Showa
Showa is Fremont's new izakaya place—inexpensive Japanese small plates, traditionally accompanied by copious drinking. Here, it's also accompanied by vintage pop. The man behind the music—chef Taichi Kitamura, who spends most of his time at his other restaurant, the excellent Sushi Kappo Tamura on Eastlake—grew up during Japan's Showa period, back when Michael Jackson was relatively normal.
The sandwich board out on the sidewalk declares Showa "Your Japanese '80s pub," but the soundtrack last Saturday night took liberties: Fleetwood Mac (the 1975 song "Landslide," which is much more cry-in-your-beer than fun-drinky-time), some ancient Ray Charles (always good, so who cares?). More era-accurate awesomeness included Nu Shooz, Hall & Oates, and, yes, some Michael from his still-human years.
Showa also promises '80s-era prices. While that's hyperbolic, drinks aren't exorbitant—a tokkuri of hot sake is $6, and those giant cans of Asahi that make you feel like the world's gone out of scale in your favor are $8. The small plates average around $5—and they are small, such that assembling dinner and a drink or two will get you into the $30-per-person range. The seaweed salad was more al dente and salty than most, and a special of a whole squid also provided a jaw workout, though it had a tasty char from the grill. Kalbi, the marinated-and-grilled short-rib delight, was tender, though the marination was not terribly evident. Little squares of pork belly were skewered and grilled, leaving the fat unrendered, along with some stringy connective stuff, making for a variety of unpleasant textures—a tragic end for the belly of the pig. However, the yakitori was rich and moist and not too sweet, and macaroni and cheese with bacon got to the table molten-hot and (after a difficult waiting period) creamy-delicious.
As food that's meant to help you wash down beer, Showa's brief menu functions fine. The space—with sliding blond wood partitions and a lounge area with low tables and ottoman-cubes—has the advantage of being on the second floor, like a booze-filled tree house from which you may observe the marauding Fremont weekend warriors below. The calls of "WHOOOOOOOO!!!" are barely audible. Currently, Showa's only open until 1:00 a.m., meaning the hungry last-call crowd is missing out, but perhaps this decision was based on staff sanity. The place, for now, feels tranquil; it's candlelit, and the only '80s decor item is a Japanese Ghostbusters poster.
To get into Showa, you walk around the corner from Chiso. (Kitamura used to be the chef there, back when the Showa space was Chiso Kappo, his $100-per-person omakase-only endeavor—the times, they are a-changing.) After 11:00 p.m., the door is locked; if you're not too buzzed to figure it out, they will buzz you in.