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!