NOMBE CHOWHOUND EVENT - REVIEW
Eight of us tried Nombe ( tonight. I finally got to meet the venerable Melanie Wong! DavidGi - thanks David!
We worked our way through House Plates, Agemono (fried items), Yakimono (grilled skewers), Rice & Pickles, and Dessert. We also had a bottle of Sake - Dewasansan Namagenshu - and a bottle of Sochu - Imo Sochu Kuro Isanishiki - which came in a lovely bottle that looked like a medicinal tonic of some sort. I have to admit I had a leeetle too much of the Sochu (although I understand this type of food is meant to be eaten when you are feeling no pain!) so please forgive any missteps . . .
Chicken hearts (skewers)
Chicken gizzard (skewers)
Chicken skin (skewers)
Pork Belly house plate with karashi, stewed onions and shoyu tamago
Black cod - poached with spinach, fennel, leek & miso
Beef heart with sweet onion and katsuo bushi (sort of a mild bonito shaving)
Chicken livers - fried with a garlic aioli
Satsumo Imo korokke - a starchy croquette with tonkatsu sauce
Brussel sprouts - suggested by our waitress - in a mint, carrot, and togarashi preparation
Butternut squash tempura roll - with cream cheese and a green tea salt
Tsukune with egg - a sort of meatball served with egg (which unfortunately ended up on our table, so we didn’t really get to taste the egg)
Calamari salad - which the restaurant threw in for free - very nice of them!
Odango - riceball with sesame and lemon
Ribeye tataki - ditto!
Salmon chazuke - rice and salmon in a tea broth
Umeboshi with cucumber
Breakfast radish with miso pickled ramps
Yuzu pickled daikon
Nuka zuke pickles
Dessert was a warm kabocha mochi cake with toasted almonds and Beignets with a homemade yuzu jam and a fermented creme fraiche.
My faves: Chicken skin - nicely crispy but tender, fatty, sweetish - we ended up ordering this again at the end of the meal (before dessert); pork belly - I never met a pork belly I didn’t like. This one came with a very thickly poached egg and a sort of wasabi mustard; Odango - very smokey, not doughy; brussel sprouts - again smokey, really delicious - great pick by our server; black cod - sweet and very tender; butternut squash tempura roll - the tea salt really complimented the sweet squash and a cream cheese center; and the umeboshi with cucumber - very tart and salty, may have been my favorite item of the night. I loved the kabochi mochi cake - almost had a marzipan flavor, with the toasted almonds; the beignets were way too sweet for my taste, although I could have eaten the fermented creme fraiche by itself. The chicken livers were also a standout - very nicely battered and fried, big pieces, very crunchy, not at all greasy, with the very nice velvety liver inside.
I enjoyed the Sochu, which was medicinal to me but went down extremely smoothly. The sake had a green apple note, which I liked.
Others loved the beef heart - it was not my favorite preparation of this organ (I’m just too stuck on the Peruvian anticuchos, I guess!) I found the chicken gizzard and heart skewers dry and indistinguishable from each other, and just not very special. I’m glad we got the ribeye for free - it’s the most expensive item on the menu, and I just found it salty, not remarkable. Some found the pickles too indelicately cut, not a very good presentation.
Their late night menu (open until 2:00 a.m. Fri-Sat.) included many of my favorites so I would definitely go back and try some of them again.
Over all, I’d go back, but I live half a block away; others said they wouldn’t make a special trip to come here, but if they were in the neighborhood they would try it again. Service was very attentive and friendly. Can’t remember our total, but the six of us who drank alcohol paid $55 each, and the two who did not partake paid $33 each.
Pics are attached. (So sorry, they are out of focus!)
Another nice event - good to meet you all!
I left the restaurant disappointed and was even more disappointed after a good meal 24 hours later at Kappou Gomi. There were a number of items that I wouldn't care to touch again, mainly because the combination of flavors and/or textures did not work together, in my opinion. To be more positive, I'll focus on a few items I enjoyed:
I thought the yakitori, including odango, were the most consistent part of the meal. I would return again for well-cooked, hot skewers of meat (and rice). The yakitori is comparable to the yakitori at Hana Zen near Union Square.
I liked the beef heart - which was very simply prepared (blanched?) with bonito and onion. The combination of mild, lean, meaty beef heart with flavor-packed bonito would have been dry, but the pungent onion aromatized the dish. I also enjoyed the fried brussel sprouts because, well, they were fried.
i had a lovely time, and enjoyed much, but not all of the food.
i really liked the yakimono dishes, or the skewers. while i had a hard time distinguishing the chicken hearts from the gizzards visually i did taste the difference. i liked the gizzards better. the first round of chicken skin didn't make it to my end of the table, but we ordered several more, and i enjoyed the charred exterior with a softer interior.
many of the dishes just escape my memory. the beef heart dish, with the shaved onions and katuobushi or bonito flakes is an example. it didn't disappoint or delight. the pork belly was very good, and the spicy mustard sharpened the richness of the pork and egg.
i don't hate brussell sprouts but i don't love them. i understand why this is a well received dish, and the tartness of the sauce did brighten the dish. i like korokke, but i agree that this sweet potato version wasn't very exciting. i wished that they served the crab version, which is usually crab meat bound in a bechamel sauce, chilled, breaded, and fried.
i liked the odango, or the grilled rice ball skewers. they were nicely charred, and comforting in their simplicity. what am i missing? we had so much food!
Ok the ribeye tataki...i don't think it was described as a tataki on the menu, and this was one of the dishes graciously sent out from the kitchen. it was paper-thin beef, but a bit chewy. when the comped squid salad came to me, it was mostly greens and dressing and mushrooms, so i can't really comment on that.
the butternut squash tempura maki had interesting condiments. a soy dip and powdered green tea, but even without fish it reminded me too much of busy americanized maki rolls, which usually don't feel much affection for.
the salmon ochazuke was nice enough. a mild departure at the end of the meal. some people spoke of blandness, but i think i scooped all of the wasabi into my bowl. so it was not bland for me, or at least not to my nostrils! it came with salmon, nori, wasabi, and...i can't remember. green tea poured over, i found it a comforting end to the meal
i appreciated the pickles but found them lacking in sweetness, and japanese pickles, varied as they are, tend to be a bit sweet as well as tart and salty. the cucumber with ume was incredibly delicious, though.
oh. the black cod...i wish that the skin was crisp, because it can be so delicious. the fish itself i thought was lacking a bit in the sweetness and richness that black cod can have.
the kabocha mochi cake was yummy! especially with the toasted whole almonds. it wasn't overly sweet, and others likened it to a semolina pudding. the beignets? i thought the yuzu filling was very good, with a fragrant tartness that offset the beignets, which i wished were still warm.
i just realized reading my review that i come off as rather negative about the place. that is not the case. i really enjoyed the grilled skewers, the pork belly, and the odango. and the kabocha mochi cake. this place is in my neighborhood, and i look forward to going back for some more grilled chicken bits and booze. speaking of which, i actually did like the sake, though i wouldn't rush to order it again. and i liked the shochu as well.
our server was very helpful, steering us to order more or less of a given dish based on the size of our group, offering suggestions (like the brussell sprouts, which we wouldn't have ordered otherwise), and helping select the sake and shochu.
i am very interested in trying out their weekend late night menu, from 11PM to 2AM, and their ramen, which was listed as tonkotsu with kimchi and...maitake mushrooms if i remember correctly.
there is a scarcity of good and exciting asian food in the mission, and i welcome this new addition.
My rating of this place would be 3-1/2 stars if I could do that, but I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt and round up.
We ordered most of the server's recommendations, with the exception of the sashimi special, and overall they were very good. The one exception was the sake - they only had once choice for a 500 ml bottle and to my palate it tasted rather chemical. I am not a sake expert, but I am told that this particular type of sake is forced to a higher alcohol content than the Junmai, which may account for the effect. The shochu, on the other hand, was very pleasant. It had a light nose reminiscent of a good mezcal and a soft finish on the palate.
My takes on the dishes we had are:
Chicken hearts (skewers) – satisfyingly chewy but not particularly flavorful
Chicken gizzard (skewers) – indistinguishable from the hearts
Chicken skin (skewers) – crispy but not crunchy, smoky and well-carbonized – a standout
Pork Belly house plate with karashi, stewed onions and shoyu tamago – lovely, unctuous texture of the pork works very well with the 4-minute egg accompaniment and the strong mustard - lovely
Black cod - poached with spinach, fennel, leek & miso – flavor of the fish is very subtle but the miso paste with the leek bed really make it work
Beef heart with sweet onion and katsuo bushi – perfect, well-grilled rare beef heart with the merest hint of the firm texture and the taste of the organ – a standout
Chicken livers - a disappointment, not a memorable dish at all
Satsumo Imo korokke - ditto
Brussel sprouts in a mint, carrot, and togarashi preparation – recommended by the server and my favorite dish of the evening with lovely bitter taste of the charred brussel sprouts – it would have a place of honor on many a French chef’s menu
Butternut squash tempura roll - with cream cheese and a green tea salt – surprisingly good, with the sweetness of the squash set off by a tangy cream cheese and the salt – the positive surprise of the night
Tsukune with egg – moist, flavorful, I wish I had more
Calamari salad – the calamari was greasy and too soft with the salad part flavorless – the kitchen should have saved the freebie
Odango - riceball with sesame and lemon – some of the best rice balls I have ever had with perfect grilled flavor and a slightly chewy center
Ribeye tataki – very ordinary
Salmon chazuke - rice and salmon in a tea broth – reminded me of undercooked juk with a very strongly flavored preserved salmon – I am sure that this is someone’s comfort food but it isn’t mine
Umeboshi with cucumber – very lightly pickled and very good
Breakfast radish with miso pickled ramps - ditto
Yuzu pickled daikon - lovely
Nuka zuke pickles – very good
One very strange aspect of the menu was that karaage (grilled chicken thighs) are only available on the late-night menu
Warm kabocha mochi cake with toasted almonds – my perfect dessert: not too sweet, nice texture, with the almonds offering an almost popcorn-like crunch to set off the dish
Beignets with a homemade yuzu jam and a fermented creme fraiche – the dough was oversweet but the yuzu jam and the crème fraiche were wonderful, and would have worked better on their own or with the mochi cake
The service was very attentive and competent. Overall, I would definitely come back for the dishes that I liked and I would make it a late-night stop.
2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Thanks Maria, for the great details!
It was a great welcome to the SF chowhounds scene for me (I just moved back here from Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago.)
My only izakaya experience was at Izayoi in Los Angeles, Nombe was quite different from that since Izayoi is a little "high end" for pub food, plus they have a decent sushi bar.
The menu was smaller than expected (but the little booklet of sake, beer, etc. seemed appropriately in the izakaya spirit!) The Chow dinner is such a great way to really taste a lot of different selections. It can be noted that it was fairly obvious we took our tasting seriously since our server took great care of us and we received a few special dishes on the house.
My favorite items included the Odango rice balls, which were about 1 1/2 inches round and completely infused with the smoky grill flavor. Crisp on the outside and with a mild, earthy grain flavor, these were so simple, but so tasty.
The Brussels sprouts our server recommended after we had ordered everything were dead on. Other reports back this! One serving was a generous bowl of halved sprouts, they also had the smokey notes along with a nice tart dressing and the mildest zing of mint.
Butternut squash tempura rolls were a delight. Sweet shredded squash around a slightly tangy bit of cheese, wrapped in nori then battered and fried. The combo of sweet, salty, tangy was a great surprise.
The pork belly was just okay in my book, I've had better/more tender/more flavorful.
One dish I thought I'd like more was the Satsumo Imo korokke. These croquettes were large, about the size of a medium potato, then halved. The interior had a cloying sweetness and thick creamy texture that was at first comforting in a strange way, then it turned on me and coated my mouth and I decided it wasn't that great.
The desserts were heaven, as far as I'm concerned. The Beignets were light and tasty, but it was the yuzu jam that really got me. Perfectly tart and sweet, like good lemonade should taste. Paired with that slightly fermented cream, I could have eaten the entire serving if I had the chance.
I would definitely return to Nombe, especially for their late night menu.
2491 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Thank you Maria for so excellently itemizing our many dishes. This was an interesting venture into for me an unexperienced area of Japanese food – small plates meant to be eaten after many drinks or pubbing. They have a special late night 11-2 menu also.
The chicken hearts , gizzard, skin livers were my least favorite items though others seemed to relish them. The pork belly was excellent as were the beef hearts The butternut squash tempura roll was a surprise – so much more exciting in taste than it sounds and the various picked vegetables served after the main dishes were colorful and tasty.
Both desserts were stellar. I had forgotten how much I like sake and must state that I am not a fan of Sochu – a malty tasting brew that I am afraid tasted like cough syrup to my admittedly unsophisticated palate.
The service was caring and attentive. Much fun all around.