Tag Archives: egg

Raw Scallop, Uni Tempura and Kimchi Ramen @ Namu Gaji

3 Jun

Hidden next to the always-busy Bi-Rite was this little hard-to-spot eatery. Namu Gaji, the rebirth of Namu back in Inner Richmond, had opened shop by Dolores Park in mid-April. The long rectangle space with an open kitchen and neatly stacked wooden tables tout Korean and Japanese style cuisine. Their produce sourced from local farms, including their very own. And the decor somehow reflects it: clean, rustic and unassuming.

The menu was categorized by preparation: broth, salad, crispy (fried), grill and ‘comfort’ – the belly-warming carby delights. While we were surveying the menu, the restaurant brought on small pickled vegetable assortments for our enjoyment. Kimchi, sesame tossed Chinese broccoli, and bean sprouts; all house-made. The kimchi had a nice texture, though missing the customary sweetness comes from Asian pear (often used in the kimchi-pickling process).

We started with a really lovely raw dish. The sliced scallops arrived on a glass plate looking like a neatly painted flower. It was a petit symphony of flavors. Tangy and sweet from the tangerine slices, sparks of heat from the red pepper. Sliced battera konbu gave way to a reminder of the ocean, all while the sliced scallop – trembling at touch then soft and embracing at taste – set up the perfect envelope for all the flavors. It was clean and vibrant like the first sunny day at sea.

Following the raw we had a crispy: fried uni wrapped in shiso and other tempura vegetables. Uni and I had been faithful for years, oh you yellow spoonful of the ocean’s essence. Any time, any where. If there is uni on the menu, I will order it. Uni and fois gras, but I digress. Yet this dish, with all my passionate hopes, had failed in the use of uni. I could barely taste it. Overpowered by the shiso, the batter, and the sauce atop – and probably fried for a bit too long – the uni became faint and shriveled. $12 piece of sadness. The ‘onion rings’ were nice though.

Our comfort came in the form of Namu Gaji’s limited-supply ramen, serving only 24 orders a day. A kimchi ramen (a popular stable back in the motherland, according to  my Korean companion) with some unconventional toppings: hot dog and panko-cursted then fried egg. Needless to say, we had high expectations. The egg was a great touch: the panko crust soaked up the broth nicely, yet still maintained its crunch. The center of the egg was of course gooey and delicious. Ah, my golden melty sunlight of joy. But everything else fell a bit short. The ramen itself needed a bit more work and springiness. Might be the kimchi and the hot dog, but the broth felt a little dead with saltiness. Hot dog was a fun idea, but I wasn’t sure this would be its place.

All in all, I thought Namu Gaji had great potential to be something truly wonderful. It was nice, but not quite enough. And at the price range offered, I felt that we should expect more. They were certainly capable of intricate flavor-building, manifested through the beautiful scallop dish. Maybe just more experimenting, and less hot dog.

Namu Gaji | 499 Dolores St. | San Francisco, CA | 415.431.6268

Sea Cucumber Guts.

9 Jul

It was a super exciting day to be dining at Kappou Gomi, a Japanese restaurant in Outer Ricmond that I’ve been dying to try for about 2  years (but somehow never made to). This was not the average sushi joint, as the sign in the window indicated. No sushi, no combination dinner.

Kappou Gomi is a family operated joint serving authentic Japanese dishes that can be found in households and similar family restaurants in Japan. Upon arrival, seated at the bar, we were offered this 8-page menu detailing various proteins available as well as ways the ingredients can come prepared.

kitty waited patiently as we look through the encyclopedia of a menu.

Naturally, the first thing I noticed was an item on Today’s Special: konowata, also known as salted sea cucumber guts. Sea cucumber is a marine animal that is often found on sea floors. It is referred as the sea rat in Japanese, looking a little like a headless version of Jaba the Hut. In Chinese cuisine, it is often braised in rich ham and scallop based broth, one of my favorite banquet dishes. That said, their guts was not something I was familiar with, I just hoped it would go well with sake.

braised sea cucumber. source: http://www.lifeofguangzhou.com/

The waitress came with our order of sea cucumber guts, served on a beautiful silver plate, hidden in a small wooden cage.

Lifting the cage, we found a small shot glass of a brown substance topped with a quail egg. (at this point we were switched from the bar to a dining table, because one of the dishes we ordered was too big to be served at the bar.)

The brown, almost cloudy substance was what I had ordered. To prepare this dish, sea cucumber guts were taken out of the animal, mixed with salt and malted rice, then fermented for about a month. A common animal-gut based execution called shiokara. I mixed the egg thoroughly, hoping for the best.

When I picked up the guts with my chopsticks, it was quite slippery to hold. The whole thing looked a little slimy, and tasted exactly that. The flavor was very intense: salty but with this familiar taste of the ocean that can be found in marinated pollock roe (mentaiko). It was overpowering at first, but really grew on me as I tasted it. Not only did the salted guts went well with my sake, it simply made me want to drink more!

I mixed the last bit with some sake and just shot it. Actually quite delicious, almost comparable to oyster-vodka shooters.

Our other dishes went tres bon with sake as well. There was this lemon juice marinated mackerel mixed with chrysanthemum, dressed in light wasabi, on top of pickled root vegetables (daikon, mini radish, lotus root). The fish was firm and zesty, clean in flavor with a tiny rush to the nose from the wasabi. The root vegetables sweet and refreshing.

Then there was the onsen tamago, hot-spring egg. Boiled to perfection at exactly 159 degrees, the egg was served in a clean dashi, along with salmon roes, fish cake, shiso leaves, cherries, and a piece of Japanese isinglass on top.

While the cherries were a bit odd (were they just looking to add something?), the egg was terrific. Just look at it! The yoke was cooked so beautifully, so soft so smooth so sweet. It put all the eggs I’ve had before to shame, its magnificence and simplicity made me teary.

Of course, we ended with that dish that was too big to be served at the bar: ishikari, a miso-salmon hot pot. Sushi-grade salmon cooked medium in a boiling, rich miso both, along with some veggies and tofu. A fisherman’s food originated in Hokkaido.

It was like a mother’s loving touch to our stomach, its warmth pleased us. Not a bad ending after some sake drinking. It made me think of the Japanese business men who would visit the roadside ramen stands after a few rounds of beer and sake and pickled small plates at local izakayas, looking to have something hot and satisfying before heading back home. Happiness, this was what it tasted like.

Kappou Gomi, I shall be back. Soon enough.

Kappou Gomi | 5524 Geary Blvd | San Francisco, CA 94121 | 415.221.5353