Lunch at Nami nami Mountain View
The actual name of this restaurant according to the business card I received from the owner Keisuke Suga, is Kappo Nami Nami. Interestingly, the kanji characters for Nami nami mean some sort of tidal like wave (a la tsunami but different).
Outside the entrance of NN is a stand that holds the menu, holding it up like a manuscript for a violinist, which interestingly I saw a lot of in Taipei especially by Japanese themed restaurant entrances. The lunch menu had some photos and I actually ignored this place the other day, but decided to come in today without looking at the outside menu until I came in.
The interior is fancy but simple, and there is a counter with a Hoshizaki sushi fish container like all sushiya's use, with about 6 seats. The chef behind the counter didn't take any fish out to put on display until an order warrants cuts of sashimi (or sushi).
The lunch menu offers a variety of set lunches, which they call bento, but the catch is that they DON'T use the typical bento boxes, but arrange each item in a very visually pleasing and artful manner. While I've never had dinner at Kaygetsu, I would take a guess and say they try to mimick Kyoto style kaiseki but don't come as close, yet make it very artful and harmonizing in a separate way (that's another way of putting it).
Each lunch bento offering (more like a set lunch), is given a regional name, like Hokkaido, Kyoto, Nagoya (which I think is a pork cutlet lunch?), Edomae (which contains only nigiri). Each set lunch starts at $10 and goes all the way up to $19 to $24 for the higher end. There was a Kobe Beef lunch set at $19 served with ponzu, but I'd imagine it is domestic wagyu with a markup (either Snake River Farms or elsewhere).
After chatting with the owner to find out what is the better lunch set to get that's more in line with Japanese tastes, he recommended the Nami Nami special bento lunch set, which sadly was the most expensive at $24, but it was quite a bit of food. I'm glad he recommended it, and luckily it also gave me an insight to the restaurant's strengths.
The NN lunch set included the following:
- two small pieces of grilled salmon. Might have been miso marinated with a hint of other flavors. It was surprisingly soft and not dry.
- Artfully arranged tempura done correctly. Two pieces of shrimp, and two or three other items I don't remember but it was nice
- Sashimi. Good quality maguro, something that I think was hamachi and was delicious, scallops (hokkaido? should have asked but fresh tasting), and very decadently done well soy/sake marinated ikura or ikura no shoyu zuke)
- a small side dish containing small pieces of saba sashimi embedded into kazunoko, with thin slices of pickled daikon resting beneath, and two small pieces of a rare imported red pickle called chorogi, that looks like a tiny cutesy red poop (sorry for the description) that came direct from Japan, and was very sour and had a spicy kick to it. I guess this made it very Kyoto and authentic!
- bowl of white rice, miso soup that had additional flavors in the base stock (not the instant kind), a delicate western salad with a ginger based vinagrette, and a small I would suppose is a Kyoto style tsukemono that had some thin pink veg, might be gobo but I should have asked.
Quite a bit of food. Everything was so elegantly done. I lost track of time on how long it took for the food to arrive as I was chatting with the owner and getting to understand the dinner menu offerings.
While there is a sushi selection during dinner, you can order it during lunch. Fish quality is quite nice and apparently the same source is used for the owner's other business of 7 years, Hanamaru in Sunnyvale.
Apparently Keisuke-san used to own Himawari Ramen in San Mateo and sold it maybe over a year ago so he could open up Nami nami. The three chefs at NN were trained in Kyoto and other parts of Japan. They supposedly follow no receipes and are trained the hard core and old school way of using their sensories and tastebuds. Basically creating food using the simplest and seasonal ingredients in addition to shoyu, dashi, mirin and/or sake. If I got this right, those same chefs also created Himawari's menu within a day. I don't know if the current Himawari chefs are different or if some went to NN and some remained, or they trained new people.
I mentioned to Keisuke-san all the (general) positive feedback his new restaurant has been receiving from sites like this, and he seemed very pleased.
Kaygetsu this is place might not be or comparable, but Kyoto style this seems to be. A solid 4.5 stars, and potentially higher for dinner. Goma tofu looks interesting, Urasawa in LA made this too but I'm sure fancier!
Nami nami's dinner menu will change every 3 months based on seasonal offerings.
On a side note for the sushi fans, Nami nami is willing to offer and sells California rolls and also a slightly expanded sushi menu/selection and the owner says you can also order it during lunch though this is not stated on the lunch menu. Prices range from $4 to $5 for the low end stuff, $9 for uni, $13 for toro if they have it. I saw aji listed but I guess you have to ask what they have available, and they may use different cuts for sashimi as opposed to nigiri. I didn't get fresh wasabi for my lunch bento but I was quite pleased with fish quality, although it is not in the same quality/category as Kaygetsu's fish.
Only a few tables were occupied during lunch and two people at the counter including myself. Prices are indeed higher than other restaurants on the Castro strip which will explain the lack of a lunch crowd compared to the $5 noodle/rice places, but you are getting pretty good quality with eye candy.
We had dinner at Naminami.
This is an outstandingly good place to eat. We tried a range of dishes, and there is an even wider range on the menu.
Naminami offers a wide range of sake and soju available by the glass or bottle, and the menu is broad enough that you could please pretty much any diner or any sized appetite. Based on our sample, you would do very well to order sashimi here. The place fills up on a Friday night, but we were there at about 6:30 and got two cozy seats at the short counter.
Here's what we ate:
firefly squid sake-snack, in vinegar. Salty, bite-sized hotaru ikura, served alongside broccoli rabe -- pleasantly salty and vinegar laden. Indeed, this complemented the very dry daily junmai sake ($14 for a large carafe) well. $8
potato salad. Very light, bright white potato salad with prosciutto, surrounded by French fries, atop potato noodles, on a layer of simple lettuce salad with vinegar. $9
kanpachi sashimi. Pieces of amberjack in a light, sour sauce with grapefruit pickle and something red and salty -- maybe miso. Again, with some broccoli rabe. The amberjack was beautifully cut and interestingly complemented by the sour-sweet-salty flavors. $14
green tea chicken. A chicken breast cutlet, evenly cut, then coated with a simple breading largely of green tea and sesame seeds. I think, only egg whites as the binder. This bit of fried chicken seemed elegant, and it was cooked so that the chicken was still juicy and the crust crunchy but just lightly toasted -- I think if the crust had been cooked longer, it would have become overly bitter, instead of pleasantly green-tea bitter. $9
tai cha. A bowl of simple broth with a few pieces of red snapper sashimi, atop an onigiri rice ball, with shredded shiso (ooba) on the top. A dollop of fresh wasabi on the edge of the bowl. Just an outstanding way of having fish, broth, and riceball together. The whole thing was satisfying in that rice-porridge kind of way, but tongue-charming and intricate in that tai-and-shiso kind of way. $11
Conclusion: you can order fancy sashimi (the kanpachi), katsu-style fried (the chicken), western-salad-style (the potato salad), homey (the tai cha bowl), or sake-bar (the ika) at Naminami, and all of it will come out to a high standard. Naminami is most welcome on Castro, as there is nothing else like it among all the other delicious eating places.
Nami nami, 243 Castro, Mountain View. 650 964 6990.
Two friends and I had dinner at Nami Nami earlier today. Despite the prime Saturday dinner hour, we didn't have reservations but were able to be seated after a pleasant 15 minute wait, during which we strolled around the various shops of downtown Mountain View.
The menu is expansive with many unique items, divided into sections such as "Grilled", "Fried", "Sashimi", etc. We asked our waitress for recommendations and mostly ordered her selections, indicated below with two asteriks (**) preceding them.
** Scallop and Nectarine Salad: seared sliced scallops, nectarines, and celery. Pristine medium-sized scallops, lightly seared, were served in an elegant bowl with thinly sliced celery, sliced white nectarines, a few slices of red onions, and a lightly sour / hint of sweetness broth. Normally I'm not fond of celery but I enjoyed this dish very much -- it was an intriguing combination of flavors I've not tried before, with the celery lending a pleasing crunch but its assertiveness softened by the broth (and perhaps a quick blanch). The nectarines (perfectly in season now) added a mildly fruity sweetness which complemented the scallops well.
** Eggplant Dengaku: eggplant in a sweet miso sauce. This was one of our favorite dishes of the night. A hollowed-out eggplant was used as the serving bowl for perfectly cooked small chunks of grilled eggplant, what seemed like potato/yam, and small shrimp. The flavorful sweet miso sauce wasn't overpowering but gave the dish a lovely flavor.
** Green Tea Chicken: chicken breast with green tea batter. A chicken breast was coated in a flour batter mixed with minced green tea leaves and deep-fried, then cut diagonally and served with a tiny amount of matcha sauce. While this dish was well-executed, we didn't love it.
** Kakuni. This is a dish we've tried at izakayas all over the Bay Area. While the stewed pork was super tender and rich, it was overly sweet and seemed to be comprised more of fat than meat. Not one of my favorite renditions.
* Shuto. Salted bonito stomach. There's a whole section of plates to go with sake, filled with unusual (for America) dishes like squid innards and crab butter. We decided to try something new and ordered the shuto. A lovely lotus flower shaped bowl appeared with tiny and precise squares (great knife work!) of what seemed like daikon, covered in a mysteriously gloppy-looking pink substance. My two companions tried it first with expressions / exclamations of disgust and hasty chugs of their beer. Then I tried it and saw why: the dish was extremely salty and fishy, with a mushy texture and stringy appearance that evoked natto -- definitely an acquired taste. However I love salt and when I needed something to balance out the overly-sweet kakuni, I tried some more of this and it grew on me -- I actually finished the whole bowl. Overall if you're not open to eating super-salty super-fishy dishes that could appear on "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern", skip this.
* Sake Cha. Grilled salmon with rice ball in soup. A bowl of light bonito broth was served with a rice ball (onigiri) and some salmon. The finely-minced accompaniment of pickled plum added an nice tartness to the dish, but overall this wasn't one of my favorite preparations of sake cha and I wouldn't order it again.
* Rice. It's funny, but originally we asked for a rice ball and the restaurant wouldn't serve it to us, though it came in the sake cha. To accompany the kakuni, we shared one bowl of rice. Normally I wouldn't bother writing about rice, but the rice here was very fresh and beautiful, with each grain clearly delineated and distinct but still soft and fluffy. Very nice :)
The restaurant itself was lovely and elegant, and so was the plating on each dish. If this is an izakaya, it's definitely going for the high end, with tables spaced out very well. Since we had a movie to catch, we left still feeling hungry but having shelled out $25/person including tax, tip, and two beers. The waitress also recommended their sashimi, which looked great but a bit pricey. I'd go again and try more of their menu -- it's serving up some of the most interesting yet traditionally-inspired Japanese food in the Bay Area. While I also enjoyed the food at Kaygetsu, I prefer Nami Nami's elegant yet accessible atmosphere and would dine at NN more.
Two separate lunch reports at Nami nami:
Lunch may not seem spectacular compared to dinner offerings and reports, but a few items to represent a fraction of what the restaurant has to offer (and strengths).
Although the NN bento offers a plethora of great food and selection/variety (and in quality) the $24 mark is a bit high for most people.
For those that just want soup, salad, appetizer, and a piece of grilled fish, the Wakasa set lunch option (on the regular lunch only menu) is fantastic. When I went they offered a choice of I believe it was either saba or black cod (gindara). The latter is definitely a sound choice, especially with the way they seasoned and grilled it. It's not shioyaki and definitely you won't find teriyaki here. It has light hints of miso and other flavors, so presumably kasuzuke or even saikyozuke which is a true Kyoto style prep.
You may have had grilled black cod at other Japanese restaurants and at izakaya's, but I must say that this Kyoto style prep blows them all away. Kaygetsu might have this on their seasonal menu, so try that version too. Although there were two somewhat small pieces of excellent fish, there was also a nice aka miso soup that had a slight tinge of sourness to it, along with a nice stewed/marinated eggplant dish, bowl of steamed rice, a small mixed baby greens salad with one of the best ginger/miso vinegrette dressings I've ever had, plus a side dish of Kyoto style tsukemono (pickled veg). This was a respectable $12 ish.
The Tsukiji set lunch, is actually a chirashi bowl, and at $16 is ok for the quality of fish, but definitely not very interesting especially it doesn't require the labor and skills of the 3 expat trained chefs from the kitchen. The sushi chef at least during lunch, I recognized from Hanamaru (I wonder if the owner sold that business yet), a kaiten sushi and fancy roll place, except this chef is now clad in black to fit the theme and mood of the restaurant (I'm sure he's glad he's not making wall special rolls anymore!)
The chirashi bowl had multiple pieces of either kanpachi or shimaaji, one scoop of uni, ikura, salmon, squid, one whole scallop (they try to use Hokkaido scallops if in season), and ikura (sadly it didn't seem to be the soy sauce, mirin, sake marination).
Soup was shiro miso, same excellent mini salad and side of pickled veg, but the highlight for this set was a small side dish of cold steamed tofu, with a light almost clear sauce or gel'd broth I could not pick out with small pieces of minced pork.
Kudos to NN and Saizo (at the very least) for offering such good authentic and in some cases regional Japanese lunches, that really give a glimpse into the better dinner options.
Lunch menu is limited, couldn't get that pork belly that the SF Chronicle raved about. We loved the nami nami bento box which came with a lot of superb little dishes like the homemade silken tofu. Service is a little too laissez faire for lunch when you don't want the meal to stretch over hours, but the food was great.
i had dinner here, tonight and was completely underwhelmed. it took half an hour to
get our first food (and we were sitting at the sushi bar!). we could not get the sushi chef
to give us 6 pieces of nigiri sushi. and then all the food came at once. just a stupid
way to pace a meal. the price performance was not good, either. nice lighting, though.
if that's why you go to a restaurant...