Tag Archives: onsen 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

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Wasabi Tonkotsu Ramen @ Ippudo.

11 Feb

“The wait will be roughly four and a half hours.” Said the lady with minimal expression, as if a smile could hurt every facial muscle she possessed. I could see the smily chefs down the dark tunnel leading to the dining room area, working away at producing bowls after bowls of could-only-be deliciousness. It had to be, the wait was four and a half hours long.

And so we wandered the city of New York, mainly the lower East Side. Bookstores, comic stores, the Christmas market, bars and coffee shops. Everywhere.

Not a hidden gem missed.

Four and actually fifty minutes later, we were in. In the spacious yet dimly lit room of huddled tables, leather-bound menus with too many options were passed around. The official word on the web recommended the classic Shiromaru Hakata Classic: the original Tonkotsu – ramen soaked in white, cloudy broth made of pork bones and fat. Danny claimed Akamaru to be the word – Tonkotsu topped with their secret ‘dama’, an additional sauce (the make-up depends on different restaurants) to be infused into the ramen broth.

Akamaru- Source: http://www.ippudony.com/

But I, always a sucker for Chef’s Specials, took the rebellious rout of Wasabi Tonkotsu. I may regret it later, I thought. Questioning my choice twice, thrice, four times as others took their turns to order. Yet, already in my mind’s  make-up, the idea of a rich white broth balanced by a subtle hint of the green root couldn’t possibly disappoint.

And it absolutely did not. An otherwise rich and sometimes too heavy pork broth was cleansed by the shavings of fresh wasabi roots. It was delightfuly clean without losing the body a Tonkotsu promised. The sprinkle of green onion provided an unexpected crunch, while the chashu – while thin – gave a burst of maximum pork favor. Swimming alongside was the extra-ordered onsen egg, softly poached to savor the golden yoke; no longer runny, yet still malleable – the ramen-optimal phase.

The noodles was where I brushed up on the holy grail. For the many, too many, bowls of ramen I have ingested in the San Francisco, the noodles always slurped up nicely at first but fell limp 2/3 ways down the meal. Not Ippudo’s. Perfectly springy, they became alive in my mouth like the most wonderful acrobat dancers, bouncy and full of life. For the 20 minutes it took me to finish the bowl, the noodles sustained their curves, never wavered even while I took time to admire other elements in the bowl.

It was an amazing meal. Not to say the fried shishito peppers dipped in yuzu salt – sweet, tangy, salty, mildly spicy – didn’t bring on a spring-filled surprise in a dark winter night; but the ramen stood supreme.

It was such a feel-good experience despite the near five-hour wait. A bowl of good ramen brought on this satisfaction nothing could quite compare. The only way to top this experience better may be if we were to ingest it Japanese businessmen style: standing, by the road, after way too much soju and chicken gizzard skewers.

On our way out, we passed the expressionless front-of-house again. Unphased against a group of growingly agitated men, I heard her calmly stated: “The wait will be roughly one hour. But by the time you get your table, the kitchen will be closed anyway.” I admire you, straight-shooter.

Ippudo | 65 Fourth Avenue | New York, NY 10003 | 212.388.0088