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Apr 17, 2012 11:20 PM

Namu Gaji To Go (San Francisco)

Noting the forecast for sun in San Francisco when I rolled out of bed Sunday morning, this seemed like a good time to check out Namu Gaji’s to-go offerings for a picnic in Dolores Park. Opening its doors last Wednesday, Namu Gaji has a prime corner at Dolores and 18th. No signage on the building yet. Here’s what it looks like completely surrounded by the hordes waiting in line for Bi-Rite Creamery.

My hopes were up for the hamburger or the gravy’d and riced version, loco moco. But neither makes an appearance on the current Take Out menu that features the staple items of Namu’s appearances at Ferry Plaza and other street scenes.

Also, the take-out window described in advance press coverage is on-hold due to neighborhood concerns about traffic congestion. Instead, one goes inside to order and pay. While purchases from the Take Out menu are indeed strictly “to go”, we were welcome to sit by the window while our food was prepared. And lovely Laura, also offered us glasses of water for the wait. The dining room is more compact than at Balboa and the seats closer together with mostly communal and counter spaces. The bare woods are beautiful, but the overall feeling is much more street-y and casual (as in backless wooden stools) than the previous venue’s lounge atmosphere. Dinner service is walk-in only, no reservations.

At 1:30pm, the dumpling wrapping line was in full tilt, prepping for dinner service.

The whole Lee family plus more crew were busy behind the counter.

On to the food >>>

Beef short rib ssam "taco", $3. Doesn’t look like much in the box, but turns out we could have used a third piece of toasty nori in order to use up all the filling components. And packed this way to assemble oneself gives the best odds of getting the taco into the mouth as soon as assembled and before the nori softens.

Bibim to go, $9. A pile of chopped romaine decorated with sweet toasted pinenuts, mini cubes of tofu, julienned cucumber, daikon sprouts, black and white sesame seeds, and topped with a skein of springy soba noodles. Splashed with kimchi dressing, this was light but intensely delicious.

KFC (Korean fried chicken), $12. A quarter MSF chicken drenched in sweet and tangy tareh sauce, served with pickled daikon, mayonnaise-y cabbage slaw, and the blessed gravy.

I asked for all dark meat (the usual portion is one piece of white and one dark) and got a huge thigh with attached back and the wing portion. Not cheap, but these pieces were from big birds and worth it. My first taste of Namu’s version of KFC, I was especially impressed by the crunchiness of the lightly battered skin even under all that heavy sauce. Bright tangy notes balanced the moderate sweetness, however, next time I’ll ask for a bit more spicy heat in the tareh. I loved, loved, loved the red-sauced crispy skin dragged through the dashi gravy. The thigh piece was butchered haphazardly with splintered bones and too big to eat out of hand. A pair of chopsticks was provided, but I really needed a fork and knife to tackle this. The chicken wing drummette was surprisingly tender, very juicy, and cooked perfectly. Some of the thigh portion was undercooked near the bone with red juices and purplish flesh. I took that part home with me and reheated it with the leftover dashi gravy to cook it through.

A good start, and I’m happy that Namu is back.

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  1. Today Namu announced that one could sit-down inside to eat the lunch take-away purchases and enjoy a beverage (beer, sake, wine). Apparently space has been at a premium, as there's no office yet and they're still adjusting to the new venue.

    And the burger's the lunch special today --- until 3pm.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      I'm too late for the Namu burger today :^(

    2. i was pretty excited when i ordered the "bibim" to go for lunch today, but i wasn't that thrilled with the end product. the different players all sounded really appetizing, especially on such a nice day: cold soba, romaine lettuce, toasted pine nut, toasted white and black sesame seeds, shredded cucumber, diced soft tofu, daikon sprouts, pickled red onion minced, and a kimchi dressing? sounded delicious, but i thought that the proportion of lettuce to noodle was way off, and i felt that the dish didn't know whether to be a cold noodle dish or a salad. when i realized i had eaten all of the soba noodles, there was so much lettuce left over. the noodles were heavier and slippery, while the lettuce by contrast seemed weightless and was difficult to integrate into a cohesive dish. i also thought that the kimchi element that was supposed to dress the whole thing together seemed skimpy in portion, and the dish suffered from a bit of wateriness that probably also contributed to it seeming under-seasoned in general. i hope yours tasted much better.

      i do want to go back for dinner. especially after watching two of the chefs butcher down huge hunks of pig and cow while i waited for my order. and your description of the fried chicken will not be far from my mind anytime soon.

      2 Replies
      1. re: augustiner

        Watery, no. But I'd say the bibim is more of a salad than a noodle dish.

        What I'm really hoping will make a comeback on the menu would be the kimchi dogs that Namu's Happy Belly cart used to sell in Golden Gate Park.

        Shave ice was rumored to start this weekend . . . anyone try it?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Answering my own question, here's the shave ice report. Beautiful flaky hand-shaved ice and considerable care in the toppings.