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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Food Porn: Hot Kimchee Action At Namu

Posted By on Sat, May 10, 2008 at 3:59 PM

click to enlarge namu_kimchi.jpg

As a huge fan of Korean cuisine in just about all of its myriad forms, I've been excited to check out the fiery, upscale Korean-Japanese hybrid creations dished out of the family-owned kitchen at Namu (439 Balboa at 6th Ave.) in the Inner Richmond, not least of all because I was curious to see how Korean food would play out in the more rarified air of 'fusion' so common these days to Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Can kimchee manage the jump from down-home staple to shi-shi accompaniment?

Follow the jump for the up close and personal ...

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The short answer is absolutely. We started with the Bi bim kooksoo salad: cold soba noodles, chopped romaine, kimchee, pine nuts, tofu, cucumber with kimchee sesame dressing ($9). With its characteristic spicy/tart/crunchy virtues kimchee is incredibly versatile, making it a good match for (honestly) just about anything. In this case it teams up with the cold, chewy soba noodles, immaculately soft tofu, and crunchy romaine into a kind of refreshing opening shot for the rest of the meal, giving you just a hint of the flavors to come.

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What's a Korean meal without a shot or two of soju? Unnatural, that's what. In that spirit we downed a few glasses of Namu's perfectly understated mango strawberry-infused soju, and like a Tijuana tourist gobbling up the worm at the bottom of the tequila bottle, I had the honor of eating the booze-saturated strawberry, but not before snapping a shot.

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Just for the record: nobody knows how to fry a chicken wing better than the Asians. A distant cry from the sauce-and-batter-drenched sports bar monstrosities known as Buffalo wings, Namu's Jumbo's chicken wings are much more than just an appetizer. They're positively God-like, with impossibly thin, crispy skins and a Thai-style sweet chili dipping sauce. So good, in fact, that I had to take more than one picture. At six wings per order ($10), you might be tempted to cancel the rest of your dinner and grab three or four more plates.

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An innocent, sauce-drizzled chicken wing, flying solo, unaware of the terrible fate that awaits.

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Big eye tuna tartar: minced big eye tuna, fleur de del, Korean chili flakes, bubu arare (baby rice crackers), wasabi oil and ponzu with crisp baby romaine hearts ($11). Another triumph from the Namu kitchen, the textural elements of melt-in-your-mouth tuna, crunchy rice and crispy lettuce is (running out of superlative adjectives here ...), oh let's say, scrumptious.

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In the spirit of Korean eating, I could not resist ordering at least one red meat dish. After an agonizing choice, we settled on one of the pricier options: Kobe skirt steak: Niman Ranch Kobe-style skirt steak with Korean kalbi barbecue sauce ($19). At this point, I'm pretty much convinced that Namu's kitchen can do no wrong, and the steak bore out my suspicions. Thin sliced, rare and wonderfully simple, this dish managed to encapsulate the flavors of classic Korean barbecue while maintaining that patina of upscale-ness that is Namu's mission.

-- Brian Bernbaum

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Brian Bernbaum

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