Wow. Have I found a jewel here in this great food city of ours! Now, to be clear, I haven't really "found" it...Namu Gaji has been in existence for quite a while but somehow I've never been and I feel like you just don't hear about it all that often anymore. But this place - Blows. Me. Away. It's one of those places that makes me stop, pause and moan a little after the first bite of each dish. So much so that the staff notices and pays me lots of extra attention because they can tell just how much I'm enjoying their food. And who doesn't love that kind of patron?! Did all of this melodrama and attention annoy my date? Probably. But it was a bad date right from the start so I turned my focus to the food...which in turn helped the sous chef turn his attention to me since we were sitting with him at the Chef's Bar. Way to turn a bad date into a fabulous experience!
Namu Gaji is family run by three brothers and they source many of their ingredients from their own Namu farm. They classify themselves as New Korean American cuisine. On their site they refer to themselves as "humble, innovative and personal" and I couldn't agree more For a slightly more expensive restaurant that serves up some of the most beautiful platings I've seen it is also extremely unpretentious, warm and welcoming. Even on my first visit I felt comfortable enough on a busy Saturday night to hold up staff for extended chats like they were old friends. That is rare to find in this city that isn't exactly known for it's service. The people working here truly enjoy their craft and are in this business to bring pleasure to others through their food...so much so that I got a surprise freebie, special dish made for me on both visits simply because they could see my raw appreciation of their work. I'm not saying to expect that, but wow. Making me feel that they love me as much as I love them? Good move and amazing customer service.
Now, I'm going to walk you through each dish...and there are a lot of them! But that's because I've been waxing on so much about this place that my friend decided to bring me back for a belated birthday dinner about a week after my first dinner here. And even still I'm missing a few dishes (like the delish real Korean taco they have at happy hour and the amuse bouche from each visit) that we forgot to snap pictures of before devouring!
So first up...the photo that starts this blog post. Uni. Buckwheat lavash, kumquat, mustard seed, egg white, pistou and of course, uni. This is the dish that made the sous chef and I buddies. Why? Because after my first bite and food orgasm sounds, I stopped and said, "Wow. THIS is sex on a plate." And I continued to repeat that to every staff member who asked how I liked it. Little did I know the sous chef responsible for this dish, Mark Zawiski, was right in front of me and overheard this lavish compliment. This works out in my favor later!
This next dish is Oyster. Oysters with uni and panko breadcrumbs. I got this on my second visit...but only because they had temporarily taken my Uni dish off the menu. What?! That's the dish I couldn't stop talking about! I teased the chef..."Wait, I call it sex on a plate and you take it OFF the menu? I think you should have renamed it on the menu!" He loved that and apologized and said it would be back on the menu tomorrow. I pouted as big as I could and ordered the oyster dish since it at least had some uni in it. While this was nowhere near as good as the true Uni dish, it was delightful and would be divine on a good first date. Some of the oysters were a bit too big so they overtook the delicate uni flavor but on the ones where the ratio was right it was delicious.
But wait! As I'm pouting about Uni being off the menu that crafty sous chef Zawiski is sneaking around right in front of me and making it up special for Katherine and I. Imagine my delight and surprise when it gets brought over to us! Seriously, this is only my second visit here and I feel like a regular and special guest all at the same time. That's hard to pull off and so rare. Man I love this Uni dish and Katherine did too!
Tartare. Wagyu beef tartare, natto crisp, black garlic, egg white and yolk.. This might be the best, most crunchy chicharron I've ever had...oh wait, it's not a pork rind it's a natto crisp. Fermented soybean crisp? Holy lord, can I just get a bag of these please?! The rest of the dish is amazing as well and I love the inventiveness of beef tartare on something so crispy and delicious . This was my dates's favorite dish of the night.
Chicken Wings! Sichuan pepper, citrus, onion and blue cheese. Katherine and I are not girly-girls. We love us some chicken wings and the waiter also commented to us at the end of the meal that he was extremely impressed with how many dishes we ordered and that we finished almost everything. Yeah, real foodies have real appetites. You have to maximize each restaurant experience!
Anyway, these chicken wings were good, not great. But honestly it's just because when I think of chicken wings I'm thinking hot and spicy and these aren't really either. I do love the nice smoky flavor they have from being cooked on the grill and the blue cheese is super thick and creamy. Very tasty, just not my kind of chicken wing...but slather them in some high quality hot sauce and then we may be talking. I'll have to keep cozying up to this sous chef for a Football Sunday favor!
Beef tongue with squash, pepper, chili oil and citrus. Oh, this dish led me to another one of my legendary food quotes a week later. At dinner with friends I started telling them about Namu Gaji by saying, "Oh my god, I had the best tongue of my life last weekend!" Yeah. After we controlled our hysterics and dirty jokes I told them about this dish. The meat seriously melts in your mouth...which is not easy for this cut of meat at all. I found out on my second visit that it's because they brine the tongue, then braise it and then pickle it for over a week before cooking it to order. Wow. All of that preparation is so worth it. This entire dish is so delicious and plated just beautifully.
Octopus. Grilled octopus with fiddlehead fern, pickled onion, squid-ink seaweed sauce, avocado squash, Buddha's hand and rosette apple. Oh, this was my surprise free dish on my first visit. This is how I found out that the sous chef overheard me calling his uni sex on a plate. So he decided that since I appreciated good food so much I had to try this specialty of his which wasn't on the menu. Why thank you, sir. You are truly a genius and can cook for me anytime. Seriously he may be a sous chef at the moment but I am expecting amazing things from Mark Zawiski. You heard it here first (maybe?). This dish was absolutely amazing, I can see why he considers it one of his specialties. Those apple slices and fiddlehead ferns...so beautifully prepared. And the grilled octopus...I actually saw it cooking on the grill and told my date how amazing it looked, little did I know it was coming my way. I've had a lot of bad octopus...it's not the easiest food to prepare well, but the tenderness with the crispiness from the grill, perfect.
Dumplings. Shiitake, dashi, butter and nori. The dumplings are amazing...paper thin wrappers and intensely flavored filling, but what blows me away with this dish is the dashi. Oh, how do I get a big vat of that broth next time I don't feel well? It has that perfect balance of savory and umami and, as my friend pointed out, when you get a mushroom in with a spoonful of dashi it's just heavenly.
Mie Ayam. Handmade noodles, chicken, aromatic broth, sweet soy, fried garlic and scallion. I love noodles...I mean really love them. This dish is good, and I love the way it is served so you can dip and slurp as you see fit. But I'm not going to lie, it's not the best noodle soup I've ever had and we didn't order it on my second visit. Everything else here is so mind-blowing I wouldn't waste room on it again even though it is very good. Gotta prioritize, you know?
Okonomiyaki. This is a Japanese savory pancake with kimchee, bulgogi, yamaimo, cabbage, kewpie and bonito flakes. We also got an egg on top...because as I said when the server asked us, you never say no to an egg! So I know a lot of those words may not mean much, so let me translate. Savory pancake with spicy/sour fermented vegetables, Korean marinated and grilled beef, Japanese yam, cabbage, Japanese mayonnaise and dried, aged, shaved fish flakes with an egg on top. Trust me...so freaking good. This is the one dish we didn't finish since it's pretty large and it was even better as leftover lunch the next day. Plus Katherine loves when bonito dances for her...and these fish flakes were certainly dancing on op of the pancake while we ate!
Black Sesame Pudding with chocolate ganache and whipped cream. This is divine. But I really love black sesame desserts so whenever I'm lucky enough to find them I order them. Yum...creamy, savory-sweet and just a perfect ending to a perfect meal and experience.
So this is an order from SavoryGirl to you...walk, don't run to Namu Gaji. I'll be back often and will definitely be keeping an eye on Chef Zawiski since the majority of the dishes I loved were his. When you go, make sure to bring some friends so you can sample as much of the menu as possible and then make sure to tell me what you thought!