While having dinner at Namu Gaji I was already trying to mentally calculate if I could make it back for dinner the following day. Yes, it was that amazing. When I woke up the next morning with dreams of NKA cuisine still dancing in my head, I was almost disheartened to see the bleak and gray day staring back through the window of the apartment where I was staying; then I remembered… Namu Gaji does brunch!
I showered, grabbed a cup of coffee, looked up bus routes, counted out fare and then proceeded to fail terribly at finding my way around the city. I arrived wet and hungry. The restaurant was warm and welcoming. I debated between two great sounding breakfast style items on the brunch menu: Bourbon Challah French Toast (vanilla, bourbon, egg, cream, cinnamon, fruit, real maple syrup) and the Hangtown Benedict (namu biscuit, fried oyster, namu bacon, hollandaise, home fries).
I went back and forth for a while; even asked for advice. Ended up eating both! I always have a hard time deciding between sweet and savory breakfast. Being my favorite meal, I could eat breakfast food at any time of the day or night. Both were delicious, but the Benedict won me over with the amount of different textures it had going on.
I was not satisfied upon finishing my breakfast. Perhaps I should explain. Everything was great, but I wanted to try more things, however I was full. I then decided to throw my plans for the day to the wind and hang around the restaurant until my stomach started rumbling again. During my down time I interviewed the cooks and drank a lovely pink rose and lavender infusion.
I was incredibly impressed by the caliber of people that Namu Gaji employs. Amazingly cordial, professional and very indulging of my questions and stalker like behavior. Daniel Lim, the sous chef was very accommodating and polite. A San Francisco native, who loves his city, he stumbled into Namu offering to work for free if Chef Dennis Lee would teach him to cook. Best. Decision. Ever. He told me the most interesting lesson he received from his mentor was how to make ramen old school style back at Namu’s first location on Balboa Street.
After over a decade in the business and working in many different places, I have found that two things usually hold true in working kitchens worldwide. Restaurants that feed their staff and feed it well along with incorporating music into the kitchen dynamic tend to have happier cooks that make great food. How could you possibly not want to work and do well when your stomach is happy and there is a good beat in the background?
When I asked about staff meals, Daniel explained that the staff members trade-off on the responsibility, giving each person a chance to create something for everyone else. The resulting dishes run the gamut from pizza to pho. What I found even more interesting was that the staff had not one but two (three if you count one of the owners) musically inclined individuals.
Although a bit shy about it, Daniel Lim sings very well and I can picture many a girl swooning over the crooning cook. Newcomer, Jackie Chun is in a band named French Cinema where she brings talent on the vocals, guitar and keyboard. David Lee, a.k.a. Malicious Lee, is probably the harder hitter of the bunch being an accomplished DJ and producer. He collaborates with MC Do D.A.T. in a remarkable West Coast hip hop duo named Golden Age. As if I needed any extra reasons to crush on Mr. Lee.
Midway through my interviews my stomach decided it was time for lunch, or more specifically Korean tacos. Toasted nori “shells” stuffed with seasoned rice, daikon kimchee salsa, kimchee remoulade and the diner’s choice of tofu, chicken or bulgogi beef. The Korean taco dish made waves when it hit San Francisco and now that I tried it, I can see why. Sous Chef Daniel allowed me to sample a nori gastrique he had on hand and even asked my opinion of his amuse bouche created on the fly for the evening service. Compressed cucumber, sichimi alioli, fried garlic, pickled mustard seeds, Korean chili oil… I was honored. It was mouth-watering.
Boasting a pantry stocked with ingredients such as crab butter, natto, lecithin powder and squid ink, it may seem hard to believe, but Namu Gaji keeps it simple. That is probably the quality I like most about the entire establishment; it creates real, honest food that people can enjoy. I will admit I am a NG Groupie. I even bought a jacket, but it apparently did not survive my trip to Hawaii… I will have to buy a new one.
There is a distinct before and after Namu Gaji moment in my life.
Namu, I miss you.