This week's tablehopper: keep on truckin'.
Mission “motzu” tripe dish at Nombe.
Hello troublemakers. Are you ready for another sunny weekend? Yes, we quite deserve it. Enjoy every sunshine-y second. If we break San Francisco’s track record of colored fog for July 4th, I’ll be shocked. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…
So for today’s installment, I wanted to share a few tidbits with you: a little Friday afternoon snack, if you will. Although this is not to imply the flavors at Nombe in today’s fresh meat review are even close to being an incidental little bite—they’re more on the scale of a Mack truck, so I’d suggest making some room.
New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
What would I consider a fine quality in a restaurant? Well, for starters, chicken skin on the menu is most certainly an eye-catching item. Oh, and what I’d call “chef chicken wings,” juicy and meaty numbers sporting a crispy and chewy exterior from a homemade toasted rice powder coating, with a total flavor triangulation of sweet local honey, the heat of serrano chile and shichimi togarashi pepper, and the tang of lime and fish sauce. Quality chicken, too (from Fulton Valley Farms).
Chef Nick Balla’s menu at NOMBE in the Mission actually has a lot of chef food on it, from tripe to pork belly to late night bowls of ramen. I’ve been a fan of his food since he was at O Izakaya Lounge in the Hotel Kabuki, where he did one of the city’s better burgers, and I really dug his hamachi belly yakimono (skewers), and his notable pork belly and housemade kimchee dish.
He may be a tall white boy, but Balla has traveled a lot throughout Japan, and really has a passion for the cuisine, even making his own umeboshi (you can see the containers in the window), pickles, and shichimi togarashi (a pepper blend that he makes with hops instead of hemp, among other custom touches), plus more western items like yogurt, and sour cream that he pairs with Chioggia beets and mizuna.
What’s cool is how Balla balances many traditional or obscure Japanese ingredients alongside local and seasonal ingredients, like the stunning chilled suimono salad ($14). The next heat wave, this is the dish I’ll want: a veritable garden of vegetables (chanterelles, squash blossoms, sea beans, wild arugula, pea tendrils, peppercress, baby shiitakes, grated daikon, purslane, wakame, shiso leaf, and pickled ramps), plus the creamiest tiles of tofu, all composed in a stunning dashi-based broth that is finished with a peppery extra virgin olive oil—so fresh, bright, and quite beautiful.
Since Nombe (which means someone with a penchant for partying, FYI) is an izakaya, the focus is more on cooked dishes, but there are a few daily sashimi selections to try—just don’t look for sushi on the menu, it’s not that kind of place. We had a delightfully fresh ocean trout sashimi ($13)—pink fatty morsels perked up with feisty accompaniments like daikon, ginger, fresh wasabi, peppercress, plus salty roe, and a side of tamari to lightly dunk the fish into.
But really, when you’re drinking (you nombe, you), what you want are even fattier flavor bombs. The chicken wings ($9) are a must (you can even follow this recipe at home)—and ditto on the freaking outstanding Mission motzu ($8). What I love about this dish is that it’s a total Japanese-Mexican mash-up: it’s tripe that’s braised and then grilled, so you get this smoky carne asada effect, balanced with creamy cubes of avocado, a kick of serranos, the brightness of cilantro, and notes of fennel, plus a spritz of lime. Slam dunk—a dead-on cap in my ass.
The sake list here—compiled by co-owner and sake obsessive Gil Payne—will insure you have plenty to drink, 75 choices in all. Since he’s so passionate about the selections, be sure to engage him for spot-on pairings, like the Shichi Hon Yari junmai, which had the right acidity and flavor to pair well with the motzu. You can do flights or bottles (including some big daddy 1.8L sizes), along with pitchers of beer, from Sapporo to Lagunitas IPA, six in all (or there’s Echigo or Yebisu by the bottle), plus there’s shochu, too. (I also want to mention here that Mari Takahashi is another partner at Nombe—she was a partner in her previous venture with Payne, Sozai, and also has a catering service.)
So, back to the vittles—you’ll def want to try a selection of the yakimono (grilled skewers), like the juicy negima (chicken thigh with scallion; $5), the aforementioned chicken skin ($4 for two skewers), and the pork belly with shichimi togarashi ($10). And to balance all this out, a cannot-miss side is the wild nori Koshihikari rice ($4), with the tang of seaweed, nutty sesame seeds, and green onion.
One of the best deals on the menu right now is the Llano Seco Okazu Feast ($35), a pig party that’s enough for two or three friends. You’ll get thick slices of a juicy and fat-marbled pork shoulder roast (about one pound), sprinkled with shichimi togarashi and served with a side of garlic aioli and tonkatsu sauce (loaded with tamarind), crisp chicharrones, thin ribbons of pickled pigs’ ears, and six side dishes. (Yeah, it’s a fiesta.)
Chef sent us out a few extra dishes so we could taste even more. It was a parade of flavor, like the chilled heirloom squash with nepitella, goya (pickled bitter melon) with curried onion, the unusual pear and cabbage kimchee, cucumber and gobo (burdock) cured for six months in miso, and the chewy takuan (daikon) that’s cured in nuka (rice bran) and turmeric for two months. I kept returning to the salty karasumi, thin slices of slightly sticky bottarga of grey mullet (Balla’s uncle sends it—he’s a fisherman in Florida); but I imagine its saltiness and texture wouldn’t be a favorite of everyone. You can order many of these sides on their own for $3-$4—but they were especially well matched for the pork.
I know it appears to be a meat-heavy menu (yeah, there’s beef heart and fried chicken liver on it), but vegetarians will have enough to make a substantial meal here beyond a bowl of rice, from the suimono salad I mentioned, to a few fried vegetable dishes, along with many of the sides.
Dessert is unexpectedly detailed beyond the usual mochi or green tea ice cream selection, like the beignets ($7) dolloped with a concentrated strawberry jam and crème fraîche, and chocolate ice cream truffles ($6), rolled with kinako (toasted soy powder). No, these are not traditional desserts, but they make for a tasty finish.
So, a few quibbles. I really think the menu could use more translation: there are some inscrutable items on there, and I think guests would like to understand what they’re ordering instead of having to ask what is karasumi, katsuo bushi, and karashi, mmmkay?
Also, alas, the décor. The only way I can describe it is Japanese college dorm room-meets-diner. Instead of trying to graphically work with the former diner’s black-and-white check tile, the whole funky look feels thrown together, with a random scattering of Japanese lanterns, wall hangings, and plug-in Christmas lights. But I am quite willing to shelve my design issues once the kickass vittles start coming out of the kitchen—because with one bite of those chicken wings or tripe, you’ll be transfixed.
It’s an ideal spot for a midweek bite (or a late night one!), and I also think it would be fun for groups, too—especially since there’s a side room you could ostensibly take over if your party was large enough. There is also a weekend brunch with a mix of Japanese and Western breakfast items, and a late-night menu from 11pm-2am on Friday and Saturday nights, with dishes like okonomiyaki and ramen (also available for take-out), plus late-night beer and drink specials.
And starting on July 7th, there will be a new u-shaped snack bar near the front door, where you can swing by for noodle slurping and chicken wing consumption during regular business hours. Also look for an outside window for late-night take-out service. Party on, you nombe!
Nombe - 2491 Mission St. San Francisco - 415-681-7150
Bar News & Reviews (put it on my tab)
SF Gets to Party on Köln and Düsseldorf Nights
Starting Monday July 5th, you’re going to have a great way to start your week at SOCIAL KITCHEN & BREWERY in the Inner Sunset. How great? Well, how about mimicking the way they do things in Köln and Düsseldorf, with a never-empty glass? That’s right: from 6pm-10pm, servers will be circulating throughout the room with trays of freshly-poured beers, serving you a nice cold one every time your glass is dangerously empty—so you never have to flag a server down again. SKB is going to be hosting this little recreation on their mezzanine (soon to become the mess-anine?), with Monday nights designated as Köln Nights, exclusively featuring Social Kölsch (4.8% ABV), and Tuesday nights will be Düsseldorf Nights, exclusively featuring Old Time Alt (4.5% ABV). Each glass of beer is $3, and will be tallied when you tap out. German appetizers (obaster cheese spread, sausages, pretzels, housemade mustard) will be offered, compliments of the house, from 6pm-7pm, and food may be ordered from the regular menu all evening. Meanwhile, if you want to partake in SKB’s other handcrafted beers, or prefer to order your beers one at a time, just stay put in the dining room. And for this launch week, brewmaster Rich Higgins will be on hand to answer any sudsy questions.
One more thing to note: the kitchen is now open until 11pm Sun-Thu, and until midnight Fri-Sat. Nice!
Social Kitchen & Brewery - 1326 9th Ave., San Francisco - 415-681-0330
A New Wine Bar Opens in the Inner Sunset
Pouring its first glasses of wine for the public tonight is INNER FOG, a new corner wine bar in the Inner Sunset. I mentioned it back in November; it’s from John Nettesheim, who wanted to create a comfortable space where people could hang out and enjoy quality wines. He has 75 wines on the list, with 17 by the glass—look for an international selection of small production wines. There are 32 seats in all at the bar, tables, and in a few comfortable seating areas with couches. There are five kinds of cheese on the menu for now, and look for charcuterie, desserts, and other items to be added in time. Hours are Tue-Wed 2pm-10pm, Thu 2pm-11pm, Fri 2pm-12am, Sat 12pm-12am, and Sun 12pm-9pm. 555 Irving St. at 7th Ave., 415-682-4116.