Um, yeah. I am eating mostly raw, veggie foods this week after going a bit full throttle on everything edible and Asian during my work trip in SF. It was absolutely worth it, and I can’t wait to tell you about the delish highlights from Namu Gaji and Izakaya Yuzuki!
But before we get started, here’s this week’s “RAW-BESIDES-THE-BBQ CHICKEN BENTO.” I was out of town until Saturday morning and spent today out with fam and friends, so no massive batch cooking. That’s ok, because this turned out quite to my satisfaction. (1) marinated artichoke hearts from the Avila Valley Barn (2) simple bbq chicken, slightly steamed (3) cut up carrots (4) blackberries. All on a bed of spinach with some sprouts.
Work was the focus of this trip, but you can bet the minute quitting time rolled around I was out the door to a carefully researched reservation. SLO county is great, but SF is a safe haven for young, daring chefs and restauranteurs to make it happen, especially when it comes to Japanese and Korean food. My version of dinner hell is a fancy, stuffy French or Italian place where butter is a key ingredient; when I look for “special” restaurants, I’m not necessarily looking for a “decadent” feast. I look for chefs or a group of people who did something adventurous with locally sourced and/or quality ingredients, or design whole menus around one ingredient (like Yuzuki with shio koji), or who generally live for food and a changing menu rather than just bending over backwards to serve sellable “classics.” After a lot of hand-wringing, I decided to hit Namu Gaji on Wednesday night and play it by ear on Thursday, depending on my schedule.
On my way to Namu, I saw these positively titanic avocados at a bodega! I mean, check out the hand:avocado ratio, for scale! I had no idea they even grew this big. Horizons broadened.
Creeping on the kitchen at Namu. Namu Gaji is right off Dolores Park in the Mission, around the corner from Bi-rite creamery. Maj score on location. Here’s a peek at the interior! I loved the natural accents and amber lighting. They started me off with an amuse bouche. This is kabocha soup, and it certainly tickled my palette in just the right way. I love cooking with kabocha so I can definitely appreciate that the Namu kitchen was able to tease out its best nutty but sweet undertones in this soup. My first dish was the BEEF TONGUE. I could not have been more pleased. I was probably embarrassingly high drama after taking the first bite–I’m pretty sure I actually leaned back and raised my hands to the heavens, or something weird–but let me impress upon you how deliciously prepared this actually is. The tongue itself was served in very generous portions. The veggies surrounding the tongue pieces are accents, but the blend of veggie, tongue, and chili oil is perfect after a dip in the shichimi pile at the corner of the plate. The meat had been brined for several days and seared, and the texture was akin to eating a more sophisticated, solid butter. Next, I got the napa salad aka napa cabbage, shiritaki noodles, ponzu sauce, nori and some “korean melon” that I thought was a plum. It was a lovely dish, tasty and light, but in retrospect I should have gone for the dumplings. “I should have gone for the dumplings” will probably be written on my tombstone… After dinner I wandered around Valencia, which was in full swing for the World Series and came across these very choice grouchy cat mugs……AT THIS VERY FAMILIAR PLACE. I don’t know if any SLO natives are reading this, but do you remember that store that used to be downtown, Therapy? Chalk full of kitsch and semi-affordable boutique fashion? It originated in San Francisco and the mother store is still standing. It even smelled the same.
Finally made it back to the hotel before full-scale World Series rioting happened. Annoyingly didn’t get to bed until late since some people get slightly too excited about sports. JUST SAYING. At this point in my itinerant life I’ve gotten pretty good at packing only the necessities. This isn’t all the makeup I brought, but these are the heavy-lifters. Most of it is Korean! All have the Umami Life stamp of approval! Starting on the left, you’re looking at (1) Too Cool for School – Artclass sculpting compact. It’s a nice soft brown gradient that’s not really bronzer and works well for the “makeup no makeup” look. (2) Innisfree eyeshadow shade 39, (3) Too Faced Perfect Flush Bush in Candy Glow, (4) Make Up Forever Full Coverage Concealer, (5) elf Flawless Eyeshadow compact, (6) Innisfree No Sebum Mineral Powder, (7) Clio liquid eyeliner, (8) cult fav Carbon Black mascara, (9) Skin79 BB Cream, (10) Peripera Ice Jelly Sun SPF30! Day two work outfit! West Coast Stepford Wife! I wear more formal stuff in the SLO office, but the litigation team I worked with in SF was a notch below business casual, much to my delight. I had walked past Yuzuki on my way home from Namu Gaji the night before and taken a glance at the menu. Immediately I noted (a) they had freaking chawanmushi on the menu, topped with UNI no less, and (b) they were “Michelin recommended.” It was cold, I knew I’d be dining alone the next night, I WANTED SOME CHAWANMUSHI WITH UNI. I made the res and was not disappointed. The interior is exactly the kind of backdrop one would hope for when feasting on real Japanese: staid and elegant, lighting kept to a decided “glow,” little details that draw the eye. I started off with a glass of rose sake, which the staff kindly let me sample before moving on to this full portion. It did NOT just taste like sugary sake. More like sake infused with a light floral taste. I liked it very much and finished the glass! THE CHAWANMUSHI WITH HOKKAIDO UNI. How do they prepare eggs like that? Literally a perfect custard with a slim layer of dashi broth. The uni was a massive treat; this particular uni was a veritable umami bomb of flavor. At this point the staff had detected a fanatic and started offering some off-menu options. I LOVE when this happens and am never more flattered then when the kitchen lets me in on their secrets. The dish pictured below is MONKFISH LIVER in a ponzu-y broth with grated pickled ginger and daikon (I’m pretty sure it was a blend), onions, and shiso. The portion was huge, the flavor was unbelievably bright and memorable. I died. And then came back for dessert. Dessert was also off-menu. Apparently the owner of the restaurant made a few of these hojicha creme brulees himself. It was worth every rich, pillowy spoonful. I absolutely cannot wait to come back to SF and dine here again. On Friday I was actually excused from work on account of the Giants Victory Parade, so I slept in and trucked over to Chinatown for some grocery shopping. I had gotten a smoothie for breakfast and a smoothie for lunch in an effort to, you know, dial it back after two hearty dinners, but then I saw this frankly alluring sight at YOU’S DIM SUM. This definitely happened. And for one moment I was the happiest girl in the city. I saw the buns in the window, figured they were either pork or red bean (both would have sufficed) and ordered one to go. It was pork. It was amazing, and the dough slightly sweet!
I deeply regret not getting more Halloween shots, but here’s one of Priya in the midst of a dramatic reading of the tale of the Blue Lady, the ghost that purportedly haunts the Distillery in Moss Beach. I joined her and some of her friends for dinner at the haunted distillery, followed by a haunted house, and finished the night off on the beach debating whether or not the wolfman would appear and eat us. I’ll have you know I wore normal clothes and mouse ears. Thank you Karen and Mean Girls for paving the way for my ridic costume. That’s all I’ve got for now! If you’re ever in the Bay area I’d definitely recommend Namu Gaji and Izakaya Yuzuki! Take care and let me know if there’s a place I should hit on my next trip up (which is happening on the 15th so, you know, actually a relevant question).