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Namu Gaji - SF

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No reports on this place except for takeout?

I went to a prix-fixe dinner organized by Tasting Table the other night. The room (corner of 18th and Dolores, next to Bi-Rite Creamery) is much nicer than the old space.

Oysters with ponzu and gochujang (spicy miso) were fantastic. That's on the regular menu, 6 for $16. The housemade gochujang was the best I've had.

Stone pot rice with vegetables and egg was great. That's also on the regular menu, $16.

Main course was barbecued pork belly, chicken, and black cod with lettuce, nappa wraps, ssamjang, assorted vegetables such as perilla leaf and jalapeños, and cabbage kimchi. The pork belly with jang and nappa wraps was the best Korean BBQ I've had. The chicken and fish were fine but paled by comparison. The pork belly's not on the regular menu but I think they have it occasionally as a special.

Dessert was a kabocha custard with whipped cream and toasted pine nuts, barely sweet, kind of bland but the nuts made the dish.

http://namusf.com

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  1. We have gone 3 times and have been particularly impressed by the okonomiyaki (described as
    kimchee, oysters, yamaimo, cabbage, bonito, scallions, kewpie, okonomiyaki sauce) and the ramyun (handmade noodles, 4505 hot dog, panko crusted egg, housemade kimchee, mung beans). They make only 24 of the latter per day. Both are real Seoul soul food.

    Tempura was good also.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Thomas Nash

      Okonomiyaki is Seoul soul food? I think people in Kansai might disagree with you.

      1. re: od_sf

        OK, allow a little poetic license. Yes, it is a Japanese dish. But there is plenty of Japanese influence in Korea. The chef is Korean and his version has kimchee in it (which apparently is allowed in Kansai). It is certainly available in Seoul and I bet it is popular there.

        Anyway, it was delicious ...

        1. re: Thomas Nash

          My experience in the Kansai area suggests that you can get "whatever you want" in your okonomiyaki. There's a huge selection of ingrediants and you call out a mix. I'm not a fan of the Kewpie but love that sticky sweet brown sauce (kind of like Takoyaki).

          I don't remember if I ever saw kimchi as an available selection. Sorry. Seems reasonable the Kansai folk would "allow" it.

          From wikipedia:
          "
          The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want",
          "

          1. re: bbulkow

            So I finally got to NG and had the okonomiyaki, now I can opine.

            I liked the dish, but it's not Kansai okonomiyaki. When the dish was presented, they said "the brother's personal take on okonomiyaki", which is more than fair.

            It's presented in a stone bowl, like other korean dishes, which is very non-Kansai (where you might eat OY directly off the griddle). I missed the crispness of the bottom of the dish, which of course grew stronger as the bottom crisped because of the stone. In fact, the next day, cold out of the fridge, the structure of the dish was delightful.

            Overall, NG seemed to have a lot of salt. a LOT. I've never said that about anyplace, and we almost returned a dish because of the salt content. The OY was also very salty, and a bit unbalanced, because of the kimchee. My perfect OY has a bit more crunch and a bit more starch.

            That all being said, as this was presented as _their take_ on OY, not something "authentic" (OY is a bizarre dish to talk about "authenticity", as it was Okanawan to begin with, if I remember my history correctly), the dish had to be taken on its own terms to a great extent.

            In that regard, it was a successful dish, very bold, interesting set of textures, with a good blend of flavors. The OY sauce was particularly delightful, as well as the bonito flakes. I rather wish GF didn't hate mayo so much, maybe the balance would have been regained by a little kewpie.

        2. re: od_sf

          For the sake of completeness, you might say the same about ramyun and China.

      2. randomly stopped by here a few months ago.

        had a seafood ramen special. broth was very weak - definately wouldn't get this again. thought the ramen at their main (old?) branch was the best in the city, so could see their non-seafood based ramen being good.

        tempura was decent. thought it was funny that the blonde girl who brought it out made a point of calling it "tempuLra". also thought it was funny they made a big point of saying their kimchi / ponchan was "free".

        5 Replies
        1. re: Dustin_E

          Panchan is $5 on the current dinner menu. I don't know if it's also included with entrees.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            We have been given a small panchan with dinner entrees at no extra charge.

            1. re: Thomas Nash

              panchan is always given away for free at the start of a meal at "real" korean restaurants.

              1. re: Dustin_E

                Depends on the restaurant and what you order. Some places if I order appetizers the panchan doesn't come out until the main courses. At a soju bang, you're lucky to get kimchi and peanuts.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  some places, even if you don't get apps, banchan doesn't come out until the main courses.

                  people think banchan are provided as appetizers and get annoyed if they aren't brought out right away, but really they are side dishes to be eaten alongside the main dishes.

        2. I dropped in a while back w/ spousette, & shared the okonomiyaki. Yum! Perhaps a little on the salty side, but that can be forgiven in okonomiyaki more easily than in other things. Would order again.

          1. Thanks for the review - really like Namu Gaji.

            I highly recommend trying the shaved ice there, to anyone who's not into super-sweet / rich desserts. They have a build-your-own for lunch and a fixed seasonal one for dinner. It's not Hawaiian but rather the Asian style shaved ice with fruit toppings. It's good enough that I go there for dessert after a meal elsewhere.

            1. we tried a few dishes here the other night: the potato puffs, the shitake dumplings in dashi, okonomiyaki, and the stone pot with added steak. by far, the best dish of the night were the dumplings. so incredibly rich with umami! the broth was subtle and perfect for the depth of flavor the shitakes gave. the texture of the dumplings were wonderful too - silky yet firm. the potato puffs were fine, but nothing special. i loved the okonomiyake, which came on an iron cast plate so hot that the bonito flakes literally danced throughout the entire meal. the hot pot was great, each component a distinct flavor, the egg perfectly cooked. these latter two dishes were very homey and warming, perfect for a rainy night. but we both agreed that we'd come back specifically for the dumplings. we had a carafe of chilled sake that i don't see on the online menu - it had a slight vanilla flavor to it - went very well with out food. though (and i know it's supposed to be a reserve) i thought $39 for a carafe was a bit much.

              there are a lot more dishes i'd love to try. but the BF said he'd double up on those dumplings and call it dinner.

              2 Replies
              1. re: mariacarmen

                I also at here a week ago, and also was delighted by the okonomiyaki. You described it well - each flavor is distinct, yet it also feels structured and cohesive.

                But the star of the show for me was the beef tongue. I know, sounds like it would be so mundane. But they cook the heck out of it -- brined for days, boiled, braised, and who knows what else. The result is a most unusual and delicate medley of flavors and high-styled presentation.

                Oh yes, the dumplings...the dumplings...you're right, MC. They were phenomenal.

                1. re: escargot3

                  did i tell you about http://www.kirakuberkeley.com/ ?

                  the tongue we had there was phenomenal!

                  i'm glad you liked it too.

              2. Checked it out last night. Did not see such a refined and wonderful meal coming after only having tried their kimchi fried rice at the ferry building farmer's market. Their cucumber dish from the Namu farm had a great mix of spicy and slightly sweet cucumbers. Agree that the oysters were fantastic, particularly with the ponzu sauce. Dumplings were indeed an umami explosion and the al dente wrapper was a nice touch. The cabbage was really cool, because they have some sort of papery stuff on top (I forgot what it was) that when they open the lid, it starts to move around and wilt like it's alive. Spiced with szechuan peppers for some numbing flavor.

                By far the best dish of the night was the oxtail, which came in a spicy sauce and what I think were rice rolls. The oxtail was stringy but moist and had good fat around it, and the rice cake rolls were soft and springy, almost like candy. Delicious.

                We had a tasty barley soju as well and they hooked up some incredibly generous pours because they didn't have a full bottle, but just cleaned out the rest of the bottle they did have.

                Only thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the chicken wings. The blue cheese dip was great, but the wings themselves were a bit dry to my taste and a bit too oily.

                Also, of note, if you can sit at the bar facing outside at the window, you get a really funny view of the throngs of people waiting in line for bi-rite creamery ice cream. That must be some really amazing ice cream... or maybe they are just there for the line?

                 
                 
                 
                 
                 
                 
                4 Replies
                1. re: hungree

                  Are you thinking of katsuobushi - Japanese bonito flakes? "sort of papery stuff on top (I forgot what it was) that when they open the lid, it starts to move around and wilt like it's alive"

                  1. re: Cynsa

                    In my third-year Japanese class at Stanford, I used the term katsuo in a discussion. This undergrad didn't understand and asked the instructor in Japanese, "What is katsuo?" The reply, also in Japanese: "Katsuo is bonito." Unfortunately he didn't know the term bonito in English either, and so he asked again: "What is bonito?" The reply: "Bonito is katsuo." "What is katsuo?" "Katsuo is bonito." :-D

                    1. re: vincentlo

                      Sometimes I just give up and call katsuobushi "pencil shavings" and yakinori "carbon paper."

                  2. re: hungree

                    the "papery" stuff is bonito flakes that i described in my post right above yours.

                    the oxtail sounds great.

                  3. Namu Gaji, a favorite on our rotation, is a place we usually have the great okonomiyaki. We were looking for something different one Wednesday a week or two ago. Turns out that Wednesday night is Korean Fried Chicken night. This is not to be missed. The marvelously flavorful, free range birds, are in a delicious crispy crust tossed in a sweetish sauce and with a dashi gravy, pickled daikon and cole slaw on the side. The crisp crust and the juicy, perfectly cooked chicken, the sauces, and accompaniments are one of the City’s great perfectly balanced combos.

                    1. We went here for dinner on Saturday. The creativity in the food was appreciated. The flavors for the most part melded together pretty well.

                      We ordered: Oxtail ($16) which was a generous portion of off-the-bone oxtail and rice cakes in a gochujang sauce. It was a pleasant sweet and spicy flavor, and the oxtail was near melt in your mouth tender, and slightly sweet.

                      Ramyun ($16) Handmade noodles, a 4505 hot dog cut up into pieces and a panko-crusted egg. The noodles were nice but could have stood to be a little more chewy. The panko crusting didn't add much to the dish except novelty, although the egg was perfectly runny. I felt the broth was a little too spicy and masked some of the flavors that could have shone through (the waiter said it was made with pork, beef, and chicken stock...it just tasted like pepper). I appreciated the nod to army base stew but a bowl of ramen with these simple of ingredients, even from legit providers, shouldn't be more than ~$12.

                      Tacos: Tofu ($3) and Chicken ($3.50). These had a double seaweed shell rather than on corn tortillas. While I like that they did something different than the norm, these didn't exactly work. Both of them fell apart during the first bite. It didn't need the scoops of rice. The tofu taco was pretty bad, the tofu being cold, mushy, and flavorless and not standing up to the mushy and flavorless rice. The sauce didn't save it. The chicken one was much better, with firm spicy-sweet cubes, but it still fell apart. Also, these are exclusively on the happy hour menu but these are not happy hour prices in my opinion, especially the beef taco ($5.50) which we avoided for that reason.

                      Prices IMO looked to be about 30-60% too high on most things, even despite the fact that they responsibly source their ingredients. They said most of the items listed in the "plates" category, most around $15 but some upwards of $20, are not really enough for one person, and from looking around at the diners that seemed to be the case. The oxtail's pricing was spot on, but almost everything else on the menu looked overpriced some pretty badly. Okonomiyaki and Stone Bibimbap for $18 is too high. So is a $16 burger with +$2 for cheese. Listing a $5.50 beef taco in the happy hour menu, let alone at all, is just blasphemy. If one doesn't take pricing into consideration with what they order here, the bill could end up being very large.

                      That being said, they did have a very good deal on happy hour beers, for $3/pint, and kudos to them for having it every day (5-6:30) even Saturday. Their selection (Linden St. Burning Oak Black, Magnolia Kalifornia Kolsch, and Unpasteurized Asahi) was short but sweet, and I'm happy to see Asahi since it's my favorite of the "common" Japanese beers but seems to be less prevalent than Sapporo and Kirin.

                      In addition to selective ordering, the beer also balanced the pricing out and the meal ended up costing just about what it should in my opinion. Between the 2 of us, for 2 mains, 4 tacos, and 6 beers after tax & 15% tip it was ~$80.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Radical347

                        I did not find the prices here to be far out of whack, because at the end of the night - having had 2 drinks per person including their custom orange wine (a great pairing with the hard hitting and salty food style), I think I ended up with $100 --- $50/pp. For the quality and highly interesting food, that's about what I expect to pay.

                        Re: tacos, when I first got tacos from tacolicious (palo alto) my GF scoffed. $5 for a taco? This was slightly bigger than El Gruellense, but the EG tacos are $1.25. Then we went one night, at about 11pm, had a pleasant experience with drinks and a fun bartender, and her mood softened considerably.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          What is "custom orange wine"?

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            More specific: they had an orange wine that, from the name of it, was a collaboration between Namu Gaji chefs / owners, and a winery. I do not remember the winery, varietal, year (was young).

                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_wine

                      2. Does anyone know what the "noodle pop-up" that they're advertising the first Monday of every month on Facebook/Twitter is all about?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: OliverB

                          Yes. I've been a few times. It is not a pop-up, but noodle night. Essentially, extra noodle soups and less of their regular menu. I'm a fan.