March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012

The Lee brothers (Dan, Dennis, and David) with Dennis’ daughter, Maya. Photo: ©


The communal table, overhead branch, and window-counter seating at Namu Gaji. Photo: ©


The chef’s counter and open kitchen. Photo: ©


The back area of the dining room (the partition will come out of the wood “closet” on the left). Photo: ©


The crudo set with ponzu and fresh wasabi (and grater). Photo: ©


Potato puffs with gochujang (fermented chile paste) aioli. Photo: ©


Grilled Monterey squid with green garlic, mentaiko, and soyu ikura; pickled and grilled beef tongue and manzanita boletus mushroom. Photo: ©

Update: FYI, due to technical difficulties with equipment, Namu Gaji will postpone their opening until Wednesday April 11th.

You can look at their brand-new menu here.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to swing by and check out the soon-to-open ~NAMU GAJI~ from the Lee brothers (Dennis, David, and Dan). I have been a fan of their Korean-influenced and flavor-packed dishes (and warm hospitality) from the first days of Namu back in 2006, their Inner Richmond restaurant which closed in December 2011 after their lease renewal negotiations didn’t work out.

Their new Mission location, smack dab on the corner of 18th Street and Dolores, is definitely their grown-up, sophomore album. The sunny, 56-seat space is inviting, with a long communal table of bay laurel that runs down the center of the room with room for 12 (the reclaimed wood was sourced through Evan Shively). It was meant to evoke the feeling of a dining room in someone’s home, but in this case, the entire neighborhood is invited. Overhead is a large and eye-catching redwood branch (gaji means “branch”) by Jeff Burwell, stained a deep black by sumi ink and suspended from the ceiling, along with orange glass pendant lamps with an organic shape.

The restaurant’s style was inspired by traditional Korean homes, featuring beautiful wood beams, custom metalwork, oak floors, and handmade Japanese tiles in the kitchen. Brian Ford of Metropolis Design is the interior designer and architect, and he collaborated closely with chef Dennis Lee. Ford has also worked on custom metalwork elements in Alice Waters’ kitchen and Michael Pollan’s kitchen and library, under the auspices of Alhorn-Hooven, a Berkeley-based design build collaborative. This is Ford’s first restaurant project.

Looking out a row of windows flanking 18th Street is a long bay laurel counter with 13 tall stools, plus four two- and four-top tables in the back (there is also going to be a partition to turn the back dining area into a private area for 6-10 people). Mike Giant (Upper Playground) will be doing some artwork on the back wall and at the entrance. There’s a seven-seat chef’s counter, which is going to be reservation only and will feature a prix-fixe menu (it will switch to this format a few weeks after the opening). The counter includes a sushi-like case that will display meats and vegetables on ice that are destined for skewers on the charcoal grill.

I got a few preview tastes of chef Dennis’ menu (which always features housemade pickled and fermented items), presented on wood planks (by Jeff Burwell) and ceramic plates from Jered’s Pottery in Berkeley. The menu will feature oysters with yuzu ponzu and chogochujang; uni shiso tempura; a rotating crudo selection (ideally local fish) sprinkled with dehydrated ume and served with ponzu, fermented chile leaves (over a year old!), and fresh wasabi that you grate on a shark-fin grater (the flavor is amazing, and a bit banana-like); creamy Parmesan and potato puffs that you dip in a housemade gochujang (fermented chile paste) aioli; incredible cubes of pickled, grass-fed beef tongue (with silky manzanita boletus mushroom brushed with Korean miso) that are cooked on the sumi charcoal grill and served on charred cedar; and grilled local squid stuffed with green garlic, and served with a double-down of roe: soyu ikura and mentaiko.

Many herbs and garnishes come from their one-acre farm at the Sunol AgPark, where they are growing ingredients that are hard to source, like Korean chile, Korean-style perilla (it’s less floral), five kinds of daikon, microgreens, and more.

There will be more technique-driven vegetable dishes than at Namu, more share plates, and there will be a specials board, featuring big platters designed to serve groups of four. The Namu burger will stay on the menu, and there will be Korean ramen with handmade noodles (only 25 orders available). Lee’s chef de cuisine is Michael Kim, previously with Matthew Accarrino at SPQR and Craft Los Angeles.

A fun component to the business is the take-out window on Dolores, which will be open during the day (10am-3pm) for take-out—or you can sit in the dining room, but there isn’t any table service. The menu will feature their street food items, like Korean tacos, okonomiyaki, and the KFC (Korean fried chicken)—and note that none of these items will be on the restaurant menu.

There will be a happy hour in the restaurant from 4pm-6pm, serving pickles, panchan, bites like dried fish or ham jerky, all perfect with an ice cold beer. Speaking of ice, the brothers found a vintage shaved ice machine, and are making syrups like lychee and strawberry in house, depending on the season. Toppings will include red bean, condensed milk, and sake. You’ll be able to get shaved ice from the window all day, and from 3pm to close, the window will only serve shaved ice.

The beer and wine list is under the direction of Collin Casey, who is focused on using small producers who believe in minimal intervention in their winemaking (the list features mostly European wines—and there will also be a “reserve” list with about six select picks, like a 1992 Herbert Kerpen “Wehlener Sonneneur” riesling Auslese). There are both Asian beers (including unpasteurized Asahi) and “session” beers with moderate alcohol, plus Eric Bordelet Poire L’Authentique cider.

Some unique local partnerships include one with Dave McLean of Magnolia, who is creating a custom toasted-rice ale, and Kevin Kelley of NPA (Natural Process Alliance)—known for distributing only to restaurants within 100 miles of the winery in metal canteens—is doing an orange (natural) wine blend. The Lee brothers are overseeing the sake program, which will include sake on tap, soju infusions (I have always loved the Thai chile version they do), and sake flights.

The Lee brothers will have their parents out for the opening—their mother owns a restaurant in Massachusetts—and chef Dennis will be bringing an aunt from Korea to San Francisco to work with him on his fermenting program (she will bring strains of bacteria from the family’s village).

Namu Gaji is opening Saturday March 31st. They will continue their stand at the Ferry Building on Thursdays and Saturdays and Off the Grid: Fort Mason on Friday evenings. And chef Dennis is still on board as the executive chef for the upcoming Magnolia Brewery and restaurant project in Dogpatch, FYI. Dinner Tue-Sun, starting at 6pm—due to zoning, the restaurant will only be open until 11pm. The window will be open daily (10am-3pm), with happy hour 4pm-6pm.


The bar at the Burritt Room; photo courtesy of Burritt Room.

More details have been released about Charlie Palmer’s project in the former Crescent Hotel, now the Mystic Hotel. The 79-room hotel holds the Burritt Room, which will be keeping its name and is under head bartender Liam Gilmore. As for the afore-mentioned restaurant project, it will be the ~BURRITT TAVERN~ under executive chef Ashley Weaver (formerly of Aureole in New York and Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s), who has been with the Charlie Palmer team for over five years. The menu is inspired by private clubs, with steaks and chops, and plenty of local and seasonal influences. The 125-seat room’s look will mirror that of the Burritt Room, a bit speakeasy-ish, with six walled-in and curtained booths. For now, the opening is slated for early spring. 417 Stockton St. at Sutter.


The New York breakfast of champions. Photo by Nicole Plue (winner of Outstanding Pastry Chef 2010).

Yesterday’s announcement of the official 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards nominations fueled a Twitter tidal wave, but here’s a quick recap of our local nominees: for Best Chef: Pacific, four of the five nominees include Michael Chiarello (Bottega), Chris Cosentino (Incanto), Christopher Kostow (Meadowood), and Daniel Patterson (COI); AQ for Best New Restaurant; A16 for Outstanding Wine Program; Bar Agricole for Outstanding Bar Program; Cyrus and Michael Mina for Outstanding Service; Melissa Chou of Aziza for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese Food) and Thomas McNaughton (flour + water) for Rising Star Chef of the Year; Boulevard for Outstanding Restaurant; and Gary Danko for Outstanding Chef. Emily Luchetti will be inducted into the 2012 James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.

Congrats to local authors Heidi Swanson on her nomination for Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen (Ten Speed Press) and Paula Wolfert for The Food of Morocco (Ecco), and to writer Emily Kaiser Thelin for her piece “Cornering the Market” in San Francisco magazine and Ellen Cushing of the East Bay Express for “How Peet’s Starbucked Itself.”

You can view the entire list here. The next step are the awards shows at Lincoln Center in New York on May 4th for books/media/journalism, and May 7th for the restaurant and chef awards. Congrats and best wishes to all the nominees.


Dynamo Donut and Coffee kiosk rendering courtesy of Dynamo.

Daytime walkers on the Marina Green are going to have a new temptation to contend with starting this summer: ~DYNAMO DONUT AND COFFEE~ is going to be opening a second location in an SF Recreation and Park Department kiosk. Owner/baker Sara Spearin said they will be serving about 7-10 kinds of donuts that will be delivered fresh each morning (just a few less than at the mothership on 24th Street), along with Four Barrel espresso drinks off a La Marzocco machine, and coffee. The kiosk (which dates back to 1938!) is in a state of disrepair, so it will take a few months to zoozh it up, add some windows, and get it ready for service. Hours will be Tue-Sun 8:30am-4pm to start. The location is just off Baker Street at Marina Boulevard on the Marina Green.


The counter at Harrow, photo courtesy of Harrow.


Some tables at Harrow, photo courtesy of Harrow.

Open as of yesterday is ~HARROW~, a rustic and petite Financial District lunch spot. Eater had the backstory on the owners: “former Tsar Nicolai Caviar exec chef Daniel Hemmingsson and wine industry person Jayne Droese, last seen working at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.”

A look at the opening menu (with locally sourced, organic, and seasonal items) includes roasted chicken leg ($12.75), preserved lemon and sage rub, warm bread salad with Della Fattoria bread, frisée, pomegranate, and pan juices; slow-roasted pork sandwich ($9.75): belly, shoulder, and cracklings, apple-carrot slaw, cilantro, fresh jalapeño, pickled onions, and ground mustard on Della Fattoria ciabatta roll; a farmers’ market vegetarian sandwich ($9): Bellwether farms “ricotta” cheese, avocado, shaved radish, wild arugula, caramelized leeks, and green garlic aioli on Della Fattoria baguette; along with soup (like sunchoke and potato), mac and cheese, and a winter salad. All dressings, marinades, rubs, aiolis, pickled items, and flavored oils are made fresh in-house.

The owners applied for a beer and wine license, and once this kicks in (hopefully in a couple months), they will extend hours to offer small, shareable, tapas-style plates served alongside wine and beer (until 11pm). For now, Harrow is open Mon-Fri 11am-3pm. 357 Kearny St. at Pine, 415-793-0654.


Duc Loi’s banh mi. Photo by Mike Chino via Mission Mission.

Oh so many new bites to tempt you! First up, look at that sandwich. You can find that bad boy banh mi at ~DUC LOI SUPERMARKET~, with housemade charcuterie made by owner Amanda Ngo, on a La Brea baguette. Mission Mission mentions it comes with cured ham, pork belly, chicken liver pâté, and head cheese for $5. There is also a “fried chicken sandwich, a BBQ menu, and a veggie portobello tofu sandwich that can be made vegan if you ask for no mayo.” Available 11am-7pm (until it sells out). 2200 Mission St. at 18th St.

Also in the Mission, ~FOREIGN CINEMA~ is launching a menu of bar bites, starting this Thursday March 22nd. Some items on the rotating menu include five spice duck cracklings ($5), duck liver mousse bruschetta ($7), cured sardines ($7), and pork skins ($5). Available at the Foreign Cinema bar in the evenings; you can also order these bites at the adjacent Laszlo Bar, in addition to Foreign Cinema’s full dinner menu (did you know that? Now you do.).

Over in North Beach, ~NAKED LUNCH~ is launching Naked Brunch on Saturdays, starting this Saturday March 24th. You can get waffles, rotating Benedicts, cinnamon rolls, and chef Begg’s famous foie gras sandwich (well, until July), which you can eat on the Txoko patio. There will also be beer, house sangria, and more. Sat only 11:30am-2pm.

You might start seeing the name ~PÂTISSERIE PHILIPPE~ around a bit more in a couple weeks: owner Philippe Delarue sold his retail business at Showplace Square a while ago (it’s now Bonjour Patisserie), and he is taking over the former Tell Tale/Outfit Generic kitchen in Dogpatch and has launched a wholesale business. You’ll find some of his baked goods at Coffee Bar, Mirtille, and Angelina’s Deli-Café & Catering, and his macarons at Dolores Park Café and Duboce Park Café.


Evan and Sarah Rich; photo from Facebook.

A few names for your upcoming project radar: first, a Kickstarter page reveals Evan and Sarah Rich’s Hayes Valley restaurant will be called ~RICH TABLE~.

Next, a Twitter tipster let me know William Werner’s upcoming pâtisserie will be called ~CRAFTSMAN AND WOLVES~.

Ryan Scott’s upcoming project in West Portal will be called ~MARKET & RYE~ (instead of Please & Thank You), according to Eater. You can read more details about the project (which is opening next week) and peek at the menu in the post.

And my hands-down, can’t touch this, very favorite new name has to be the transformation of the Mission Hill Saloon by the Dear Mom, chaps into ~THE UNRESOLVED LOVE LIFE OF EVELYN LEE~ (thanks to Grub Street for the heads up on that one). One of the owners, Jay Beaman, explains the origin of the name in a post on Mission Mission (via Eater): “Evelyn Lee was the madam of a brothel on 3rd street (close to where the ballpark is now). She murdered her first two husbands, lost the third to consumption and the fourth ran off with a legless irish prostitute named Connie Mack. She died of a laudanum overdose in 1871 at the age of 42.” That is some history. As for the name, something had to take the coveted place of Mister Lew’s Win-Win Bar and Grand Sazerac Emporium.


The dining room at Tajine. Photo: ©

Last week, I received an email that ~SAUCE~ in the Financial District is now open. 56 Belden Pl. at Bush, 415-397-8800.

SFoodie brings word that ~LE SOLEIL~ in the Inner Richmond is back open after closing for renovations last summer. 133 Clement St. at 3rd Ave.

Two readers alerted me ~TAJINE~ on Polk had paper over the windows and a closed sign. The Scoop got in touch with chef-owner Mohamed Ghaleb, who (sadly) confirms the restaurant is closed. 1653 Polk St. at Clay, 415-440-1718.

A reader alerted me ~CHILAYO~ in Cow Hollow has closed; no word on a replacement. 2150 Chestnut St. at Steiner.

After last week’s post about ~CUCO’S~ in the Lower Haight, I received an email from Cate Czerwinski about her attempt to help keep it open: “A couple of weeks ago, I brought the situation to the attention of Lower Haight Supervisor Christina Olague. She sprang into action and put Carmen [the owner] in touch with a director at the Mission Economic Development agency, who has offered to help Carmen negotiate a new, fair lease agreement. It’s not clear when negotiations will begin. In the meantime, there are petitions in support of Cuco’s at the restaurant and at the Toronado for community members to sign. According to the MED, community support is vital to the negotiation process, so hopefully all the plantain burrito lovers will come out to Cuco’s and sign the petition!” 488 Haight St. at Fillmore, 415-863-4906.

Looks like some changes might be afoot for ~DADDY O’S~, which opened in December in SoMa: a liquor license transfer shows activity for Kama Sushi Soma in the same location. 294 9th St. at Folsom.


Off the Grid: Fort Mason (the early years). Photo from Facebook.

Starting this Friday March 23rd, ~OFF THE GRID~: Fort Mason Center returns, bigger and badder than ever. There will be 6 new vendors (including the Lower Haight’s Wing Wings, Kirimachi ramen, Don Bugito, and more), bringing the total to a whopping 35. There will also be a beer garden, a larger overall space, and each vendor will also feature an exclusive Fort Mason Center item available only at the Friday night market. Hours will be Fri 5pm-10pm.

More upcoming Off the Grid locations include Proxy at Hayes Valley Thursday Night Market (starting Thursday March 29th) from 5pm-9pm and a Friday Night Market (starting Friday April 27th); Vallejo & Front (starting Friday April 6th) from 11am-2pm; and Berry Street (starting Sunday April 15th) for every successive Giants Sunday homegame throughout the season from 11am-2pm. Keep track of all the latest news on Facebook.


Photo from a Wild Kitchen dinner by Andria Lo.

After Iso Rabins was forced by the city to close his wildly (heh) popular SF Underground Market, he is now announcing his latest project, ~FORAGE KITCHEN~, a food business incubator. Here’s more: “This will be a space not only for professional food makers, but for the entire Bay Area food community, with different membership levels that allow people to use the kitchen from anywhere from a couple hours a month to 40 hours a week. Say you want to can 100 jars of jam, but aren’t sure exactly how to do it, and can’t imagine the mess in your small kitchen, we will have space for you. Along with training on professional equipment, as well as support to guide you through the process. Don’t want to rent space but want to learn to cook, we’ll have classes. Want to learn how to butcher using professional equipment? There’s space for you too.”

There is a mention of a 10,000-square-foot building in SoMa, with a rooftop garden, but before that gets off the ground, he’s going to be hosting a variety of fundraiser events, including a wild boar scavenger hunt and Gypsy jazz pig roast (on March 24th), and a Basque family-style feast (held March 30th-31st).

The Basque feast will be a family-style meal held in conjunction with Slow Food, and the menu looks so delicious, including cherry soup, asparagus with guanciale and wild flowers, salt cod rice, a little gem salad, and the choice of lamb, or clams, squid, and octopus, or stewed beans with chard, plus bread pudding and fresh fruit for dessert. Yeah, wear some loose pants. $45 per person, drinks are additional. Seatings at 5pm, 7pm, and 9pm. Friday March 30th tickets and Saturday March 31st tickets. 710 Florida St. at 19th St.