There’s something comforting about rotisserie chicken. At the end of the day, when you’re too tired to cook, you can always buy a rotisserie chicken, throw together a salad, and have a hearty, nourishing, and healthy meal.
But Spinning Bones is nothing like your average rotisserie. For owner Mike Yakura and executive chef Lauren Lambert, the new-school version of rotisserie at Spinning Bones is their form of comfort food. Think your standard meat and potatoes, only the meat is marinated in shio koji and sprinkled with toppings like yellow curry salt, and the potatoes are actually Japanese potato salad made with edamame and Kewpie mayo. Some might jump to label Spinning Bones as some sort of Asian fusion, but for Yakura and Lambert, the food is just Californian. And while orders are available to go — including full-fledged takeout feasts for holidays — I think this is the kind of meal that’s best enjoyed dining in the restaurant with friends and family, rather than hastily eaten out of a takeout container.
This kind of comfort food seems particularly at home in Alameda, which is my hometown and Yakura’s adopted hometown of the last decade. It’s also the place where he and his wife have chosen to raise their kids. Yakura owns two restaurants, Dobbs Ferry and NoodleMe in San Francisco. But for the families he’d befriended in Alameda — his neighbors, parents of his kids’ classmates, and families from his son’s water polo team — making regular trips to San Francisco to enjoy his restaurants wasn’t feasible. “That was one of the reasons I built this restaurant here — to actually feed those people,” Yakura said.
Like most good comfort foods, the food at Spinning Bones is meant to be shared. Select your favorite meats, then pick a couple sides or appetizers. On my first visit, I tried the Trip’s Triple, a combo platter that included flank steak, pork shoulder, and a quarter chicken, all laid out on a metal tray lined with butcher paper. I started with the steak, which despite being a lean cut of meat, was exceptionally tender and melt-in-your mouth buttery. All meats at Spinning Bones get marinated in shio koji, a mixture of fermented rice, water, and salt — and in this case, it enhanced the natural flavor of the beef, providing depth and a just-right amount of saltiness. I couldn’t stop reaching for the chimichurri paired with the steak, made with ginger, mint, and cilantro for a more zippy, vibrant flavor than your traditional chimichurri.
The chimichurri also went well with the chicken, which was equally juicy and flavorful with a beautifully browned crisp skin. I was less enthusiastic about the pork shoulder, which was moist and had an excellent spice rub but was over-salted. I also wasn’t a big fan of the accompanying jalapeño garum, a fermented fish sauce with roasted jalapeños that overpowered the flavor of the pork.
Then the plate of St. Louis pork ribs arrived, topped with a copious amount of green onions. The ribs fell off the bone with little effort, and all of them were juicy except for the end piece. They came finished with a sprinkle of yellow curry salt, but for maximum flavor, I preferred to add spoonfuls of the house-made barbecue sauce served on the side, which was thick, tangy, and sweet with a flavor reminiscent of plums and dried fruit. The ribs were accompanied by Japanese potato salad, which was rich and creamy thanks to Kewpie mayo, with bits of crunch from carrots and edamame. The potato salad was so smooth and flavorful, in fact, that I wanted to lick it off the spoon like ice cream. Pickled red onions and jalapeños, meanwhile, helped cut the richness of the ribs and potato salad.
Roasted meats are the main attraction here, but diners can also select a few sides to help round out the meal. My favorite was the corn, which was cut off the cob into wedges. The corn was juicy and sweet, with tofu dressing, sesame seeds, and nori amping up the umami flavors. The shishito peppers were blistered to perfection and salted just right, while a squeeze of lemon helped brighten them up. I was a little confused by the accompanying aioli, which lacked flavor and was so thick that it slid right off the peppers. And though the chili oil it was dressed in was nearly imperceptible, I enjoyed the broccoli di ciccio, cooked lightly so the vegetable could retain its crunch with crispy fried shallots on top for added texture. My least favorite was the party rice, a blend of brown and white rice, carrots, firm tofu, and hijiki seaweed which — despite its festive name — tasted a little bland and healthy.
Though many dishes are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or dairy-free, there are no meatless main dishes here. A vegetarian’s best bet is the house-made goodie sampler, an appetizer that combines baba ganoush, lemon-cashew cheese, and falafel with roti and fresh veggies. I was impressed with the roti, which was flaky and warm. The baba ganoush was also a winner, with a hint of smokiness and creamy texture. I was a little less enthused about the cashew cheese, which needed a little more salt to wake up the flavor. The falafel, on the other hand, was too salty, which was a shame since every other aspect, from the crunchy exterior to the fluffy, flavorful interior seasoned with lemongrass, was spot-on.
Dessert, in keeping with the theme, offers small twists on familiar comfort foods. I loved the butter mochi — the nuttiness of the flakes of toasted coconut on top and the coconut whipped cream complemented the buttery, mildly sweet mochi cake. The chocolate peanut butter torte was also craveworthy, although best shared since the vegan coconut chocolate ganache was quite rich. I also enjoyed the house-made strawberry lemon popsicle, which was lightly sweetened with agave instead of sugar for a refreshing end to the meal.
Spinning Bones isn’t really reminiscent of a standard rotisserie at all. A half rotisserie chicken here will cost you $23, so it’s not exactly an inexpensive backup meal option. But it’s worth the occasional indulgence for the top-quality meats and excellent service. It looks like other Alamedans feel the same — you might need a reservation on a Friday or Saturday night if you don’t want to wait. With excellent meats and sauces, it’s easy to see why Spinning Bones draws crowds to this formerly quiet stretch of Park Street.