In the Mission district, inside Namu Gaji, we placed our jackets in the canvas bags underneath our short bar stools and sat at the chef’s counter. I glanced up and caught the friendly but focused eye of a chef tending a skillet of octopus sizzling over an open fire pit. The orange bill of his Giants hat looked like an extension of the fire he intently tended. From that moment, I knew that these guys meant business. Passionate, delicious and flavorful business.
I think the chef’s counter is the place to be at Namu Gaji, watching the chefs and sommelier artfully pouring your sake, prepping and plating your meal. This is where you can truly see the communal passion that has built this place. Every staff member has their task and takes their job very seriously. I don’t mean to give the impression that Namu Gaji is a stuffy joint. It is rather the opposite—the staff is extremely warm and friendly. The seriousness that I’m speaking of relates more to the general focus of the restaurant. It is addicting and I love it.
Dennis, Daniel, and David Lee are the three mastermind brothers behind Namu Gaji. They are always at the restaurent cooking and greeting customers with friendly smiles. Communal tables and rows of bar seats maximize the number of place settings and, above the tables and stools, hangs a graphic, jet black, tree branch. Interior accents are cozy and, while the window bar seats lend themselves to views of the Dolores Park, you may also find yourself awkwardly staring into the eyes of a jacketed stranger waiting in the semi-permanent line for Bi-Rite‘s infamous salted caramel ice cream.
The first item I had to order was the octopus. Fresh octopus cooked well is one of my favorite dishes. I’ve also had quite a few rubbery octopus encounters that leave you with a sore jaw and fish breath. Not at Namu Gaji. The octopus is melt-in-your-mouth-phenomenal. Next up were the banchan and pickles plates that rotate weekly and are sourced from the Namu farm or other local vendors. After our snacks, the main meal arrived: ramyum with handmade noodles, a breaded soft boiled egg and a 4505 hot dog, yes yes and yes. Food kept arriving and empty plates kept disappearing.
After dinner, ten whole minutes were spent debating about waiting in the ever growing Bi-Rite line for a little something sweet to end the night. Feeling the warmth of the flaming fire in front of us, I was very content to order the Meyer lemon shaved ice with candied kumquats. Refreshing and sour; it was a perfect contrast to the spicy, powerful flavors that tie all of the Namu dishes together. Until next time Namu Gaji, it’s been tasty.
Check out the Namu booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market.