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The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion.

This week's tablehopper: hungry hunter.

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Summertime perfection: white bass crudo with squash and blossoms, pistachio, and Calabrian chile with iGreco gaglioppo rosato at A16.

Helllllllo, weekend. I don’t even care that it’s been a short week, I feel like I’ve been stuck in fifth gear since last Friday. Pant pant. What do you have on tap this weekend? One thing that’s on tap this afternoon is some beer at Dynamo Donut in the Mission: today is National Donut Day, and they are celebrating on the patio from 4pm-7pm, with donuts and beer. No word if Homer Simpson is making an appearance. Today was also the start of Machine Deli at Laszlo, and Salumeria opened on Thursday. Yay, sandwiches. And Sunday is the one-year anniversary of the Yellow Building in Dogpatch, with a fun street party planned, check it out. Monday evening is the Wines of Portugal event—click here for a tablehopper discount code. I hope those of you who bought the first 100 tickets enjoy receiving a signed copy of my book!

Today’s issue features a fresh meat review of Namu Gaji, my latest favorite (shhhhh), along with some 707 news in the 707 Scout, and a bookworm for your reading pleasure. Last but not least, tablehopper is partnering up with Meatpaper and Edible San Francisco in a quest for an ad sales professional. Know anyone fabulous? Send them on over! Schwanks.

Have fun out there.

Marcia Gagliardi

fresh meat

New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
Jun 1, 2012

Namu Gaji

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Interior photo by Mohammad Gorjestani.

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Banchan. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Salmon with pickled red onion, yuzu cream, and ikura. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Buckwheat gnocchi with black garlic and peas. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Beef tongue with spring onion and fingerling potatoes. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Octopus with gochujang. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Okonomiyaki in a stone pot. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Bibimbap in a stone pot. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Cherry shaved ice for dessert. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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

The South may have the Lee Bros., but here in SF, we have our own Lee brothers—three of ‘em (Dennis, Dan, and David). I have been a dedicated fan of their own particular version of Cal-Korean (and Japanese) food and urban-yet-welcoming vibe since they opened the original Namu location out on foggy Balboa Street at 6th Avenue—I’d happily make the trek any night for their KFC (Korean fried chicken) and black cod and house-infused chile soju. But now with their latest venture, ~NAMU GAJI~, they’re all grown up, holding it down on the corner of 18th Street and Dolores in the thick of the Mission “gourmet ghetto,” making it almost too easy for all of us to swing by and enjoy their inspired cuisine (yup, they are bizzeee).

The space is dominated by the communal table made from bay laurel wood that runs down the middle—there’s an open kitchen with seven counter seats (these will soon be reserved for guests ordering the tasting menu), tables in the back, and another row of counter seats looking out the windows onto 18th Street (and the line of people waiting for an ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery). The space has a rustic look that’s rich with woods—you can read about the interior details here—plus thoughtful touches like gray burlap bags you can put your purse into so it doesn’t have to sit on the floor (thanks, guys).

As you nosh from a plate of banchan (kimchee, mung beans, marinated kombu), you can start diving into the menu. It will inspire you to over-order, starting with items from the raw section (all $16), like a colorful plate with slices of cured wild salmon, pretty blossoms, pickled red onion, yuzu cream with shiso, and ikura—wait until you taste the ikura with the olive oil pooling on the plate; what a pairing.

The crispy section (all $12) is where you’ll find the ridonkulous potato puffs—just imagine fried balls made of the mashed potatoes of your dreams, with a flurry of Parmesan and a gochujang (fermented chile paste) aioli that you dunk them into. Wicked. There’s also an excellent tempura with uni wrapped in shiso and seasonal vegetables (one night it was asparagus, yellow onion, and snap peas).

The plates section (all $14) has chef Dennis’ silky mushroom dumplings (a holdover from the previous Namu menu), plus the addition of buckwheat gnocchi, the plate spiked with a black garlic gastrique, shaved cured egg, and fresh peas and shoots. The brothy cabbage dish is homey and satisfying, with tender enoki mushrooms, some smokiness from the bonito shavings, and the unexpected addition of walnuts. The grilled baby octopus transported me to a late night in L.A.’s Koreatown, all sauced up and spicy from the housemade gochujang sauce, with extra flava from the spring onions and fried garlic. The mushroom plate (with royal trumpets and maitake) is more delicate, with fresh leaves of mizuna.

A unique feature to the restaurant is the charcoal grill—not many places are given clearance to cook with actual charcoal, which makes a big difference in how the food tastes as it slowly caramelizes over the binchotan. It’s a process that can’t be rushed, and I recommend sitting at the counter so you can watch. The star of the grilled section (all $20) is the beef tongue (served on a thin sheet of cedar), which entails a seven-day curing process—it’s like Korean tongue pastrami. You will order it every time, mark my words. The “pig parts” included slices of Llano Seco loin, so succulent with a miso sauce.

My favorite section is the comfort section (no surprise there; all $16). The Namu burger continues to rock, but the okonomiyaki is what hits it out of the freaking park. Who is cooking okonomiyaki in a stone pot? The Lee brothers, that’s who. It’s the mountain yam pancake of your dreams (you didn’t know you had that dream, but you will discover you did—and you won’t believe the seared texture of the pancake from the stone pot), with oysters, cabbage, their stellar kimchee….it’s the next level of the “I’m drunk and hungry” dish. The stone pot bibimbap is the other champ—just wait until you taste the browned rice (it reminded me of why I love genmaicha) with the egg and kimchee all stirred in, plus a rotating array of ingredients. Kind of like the carnitas at Nopalito, I recommend getting an order to go so you can have the best breakfast in the world the next morning. Trust.

So while I’m obviously loving this place hard like a new pet puppy, there is one issue I have: I’m not a big fan of when restaurants lump a bunch of dishes under one price point—you know, like all desserts for $8. The menu does that here for its various sections, which looks simpler, but can make the value of some of the dishes a little questionable. But there is no denying the quality of the ingredients, that’s for sure. I appreciate all the garnishes and accompaniments—there’s a lot of refinement in the plating as well (chef Dennis is working with chef de cuisine Michael Kim, previously at SPQR and Craft Los Angeles).

Since the dining room is intimate, ideally you should just come with one other person (or be prepared to wait a little longer). Our party of three had a cozy time at the edge of the communal table—the curving edges almost hug you. The food is very group-friendly as well—love that.

The kitchen sent out a few preview dishes from the upcoming tasting menu—let’s just say the onsen egg with shaved tuna heart and cured egg, chile oil, Korean chile flakes, black garlic, and the kicker of the scallop chips will rock your house. The boys have all kinds of cool culinary projects, from curing eggs to making their own black garlic to pickling up a storm—you’ll see these touches all over the menu. They also have their own farm plot in Sunol, and are having their own Korean herbs, greens, and more grown for them. Freshness is key here—you even get to grate your own fresh wasabi.

Don’t pass up the hand-cranked shaved ice from a vintage ice machine for dessert ($8)—we had housemade cherry syrup with candied cherry, almond crunch (like a salty granola), and vanilla cream. Score. Nope, no high-fructose BS here—it’s revelatory. You can also order it at the takeout window, which is open during the day (11:30am-4pm daily), or you can sit in the dining room. The takeout menu features their street food items, like Korean tacos, the stoner-approved gamja fries, and the KFC.

The brothers have always had good taste in sake, so you’ll find some choice selections on the list, along with some soju, and a special rice beer made by Magnolia. Wine director Collin Casey has worked with Natural Process Alliance winery for a proprietary Namu blend as well—it’s an orange wine, so while it’s not for everyone, it’s kombucha-esque acidity syncs with the flavor profiles here. Wine geeks will find plenty to enjoy on his list (there’s a reserve list as well).

The staff skews on the younger side, but they’re friendly and quick with answers, while the soundtrack of A Tribe Called Quest and AIR plays in the background. The brothers walk the tightrope of tradition and urban living really well, and it’s exciting to see how well their sophomore album is debuting on the charts—or should I say off the charts?

TIP: Having a tough time with parking? Don’t even want to try? You can valet your car at Locanda at 557 Valencia St. between 16th and 17th Streets.

Namu Gaji - 499 Dolores St. San Francisco - 415-431-6268

707 scout

Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
Jun 1, 2012

Edible Art, Restaurants on the Horizon, and Winemaking Legends

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A photo by artist Nader Khouri, entitled “Habitat” (courtesy of Salon des Sens).

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Interior construction at Campo Fina (courtesy of Heather Irwin).

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Dry Creek Kitchen (courtesy of Dry Creek Kitchen).

By 707 correspondent Heather Irwin.

Salon des Sens opens in Healdsburg this weekend, an art exhibit focused entirely on food. The feast for the eyes includes odes to edibles by photographers, poets, sculptors, painters, and videographers. Maggie Spicer guest curates the event at ~STUDIO BARNDIVA~ through June 12th. Chef Ryan Fancher of ~BARNDIVA~ serves his own plated masterpieces at the opening reception Saturday June 2nd from 6pm-8pm. 237 Center St. at Mill St., Healdsburg, 707-431-7404.

After months of secrecy about his second restaurant, Healdsburg chef Ari Rosen is finally revealing details about ~CAMPO FINA~. Located just steps from his Plaza Street restaurant, ~SCOPA~, the new restaurant is expected to open mid-June. The menu will focus around a wood-fired oven, with pizzas and small plates around $10. A bocce ball court and patio are summer-friendly additions, along with a bevy of wine cocktails in development by Cyrus mixologist Erika Frey. Rosen has tapped Jamil Peden as co-executive chef. Coming soon to 330 Healdsburg Ave. at North St., Healdsburg.

The Wine Country hamlet of Forestville has seen its share of restaurants come and go over the last few years. Mostly going in recent months. Sausalito chef Francesco Torre (most recently of ~FISH~) is moving north to open ~CANNETI~, which he’s describing as “roadhouse Italian.” Torre is already at work on salumi and is planning the menu around local produce, cheeses, and meats. As a native Tuscan, however, Torre is making sure there’s some good, strong espresso at the restaurant as well. “An Italian cannot live without good coffee,” he said. Coming to 6675 Front St. at 2nd St., Forestville.

~DRY CREEK KITCHEN~ in Healdsburg hosts a series of tasting seminars with Sonoma County winemakers through the summer and fall. You may know the wines—Littorai, Unti, Quivira, Marimar Estate, Flowers, and Hirsch—but it’s a rarer opportunity to spend several hours chatting with a mix of established and up-and-coming winemakers. The first tasting on Sunday June 10th at 3:30pm features cool-climate wines from Eric DeMuth of DeMuth Kemos, Pax Mahle of Wind Gap Wines, and Ryan Zepaltas of Zepaltas Wines. $99 includes the seminar and a four-course meal. 317 Healdsburg Ave. at Matheson St., Healdsburg. Reservations by calling 707-431-0330.

the bookworm

Book Reviews (another place for your nose)
Jun 1, 2012

Pete Mulvihill on Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal

Don’t forget: the book mentioned below is available at 20 percent off for tablehopper readers for two weeks following this mention at Green Apple Books—simply use the code “tablehopper” at checkout (either at the store or online) for your discount.

Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal

Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal

Chris Cosentino (Weldon Owen)

The latest San Francisco chef to publish a cookbook is Chris Cosentino, chef at Incanto. The book is Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal and, true to its title, it focuses on first courses.

Let’s start with Cosentino’s classification of the recipes herein: “I like to say that I live in an area of Italy called California. These recipes are … my interpretation of Italian food.” And, true to his mission, he leads off with a few colorful pages on salumi, with tips on creating a meat platter.

Further chapters are organized by season. In spring are dishes like “Charred Fava Beans, Mint, and Aioli” and “Green Garlic Brodo, Poached Egg, and Fried Bread.” Summer examples include “Pappa al Pomodoro” and “Grilled Peaches, Gorgonzola, and Dandelion Greens.”

Many recipes are vegetarian-friendly, though there are also plenty of meat and fish dishes for omnivores.

The book itself is professionally made (unlike some self-published local cookbooks trickling onto the market these days). At $25, it’s a real value: lush photographs, clear recipes proportioned for the home cook, and interesting short essays.

Get started on something new!

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All content © 2012 tablehopper, LLC. I am more than happy if you want to link to my reviews and content elsewhere (thanks, glad you dig it), but republishing any part of them in any way, shape or form is strictly prohibited until we talk first. Please take a look at my Creative Commons license for more detail.