Spaghetti with bottarga, the must-order at La Ciccia.
There is so much great food in San Francisco right now that it takes a lot for someone to set themselves apart from the plethora of talent. However, from my perch on one of Namu Gaji's little wooden stools, I sat with my mouth agape throughout dinner the other night—agape in a good way.
The three Lee brothers (Dennis, David, and Daniel) are behind this recent addition to the Mission District. They're the kind of guys who used to wear matching brown bandanas in a show of brotherhood. They chose to close their first restaurant Namu out in the Richmond District and dared to set down roots on the block of 18th Street that’s become known as foodie ground zero. The original Mission triumvirate—Bi-Rite, Delfina and the Tartine—are here. Let's just say the competition is rather fierce.
But Chef Dennis Lee is cooking up something that hasn’t been done in SF so far, or certainly done so well—Korean food from a Korean-American point of view. His menu is dotted with (mostly) Korean- (somewhat) American words like butter, miso, anchovy, hot dog, parmesan, shiso, duck fat, dashi, gochujang (fermented hot pepper paste).
While Dennis’s cute, young daughter ran in and out of the kitchen—a sign you're in a true family-run restaurant—we tried about half of the menu. Some of the dishes that spoke loud and clear included a beautifully-done plate of tempura with fried shiso leaf. Then there were little mini golfball-sized puffs of fried potato puree with parmesan and gochujang mixed into aioli for dipping. Though I get a little creeped out by tongue (I have some weird meta-issue with tongue on tongue), a thick-cut pickled beef tongue was incredibly tender. Oysters on the half shell are served on a bed of crushed ice, with a dollop of fresh wasabi on a doll-sized wasabi grater. I loved the salad with warm maiitake mushrooms as well as a savory dish of cabbage with anchovy and bonito flakes. The latter is the dish you want to order on one of our city’s blustery, freezing cold days of summer which I think might have started yesterday.