For the past few months, folks in the line for Bi-Rite Creamery have been watching the neighboring storefront on Dolores and 18th slowly but surely morph into Namu Gaji. As you may recall, this is the newest venture from the Lee brothers, who sadly shuttered up their Richmond District restaurant Namu at the end of last year. Today comes a press release with lots of new details on the planned restaurant and an ETA of mid to late February. Of course, there's going to be an open kitchen in the new restaurant, but it's going to be so open that chef Dennis Lee will be able to interact with customers sitting at the counter. The centerpiece will be a grill fueled by a special Japanese charcoal called binchotan.
Brian Ford of Metropolis was brought in to collaborate on an intimate dining atmosphere with mostly elbow-to-elbow seating: a counter facing 18th street, the aforementioned kitchen counter and a communal table. Handmade Japanese tiles, wooden plates and some very special reclaimed wood will be eye-grabbing features in a traditional Japanese-style decor. Ford also wove in a take-out window, which will spew forth Asian-style street food starting at 11 a.m. daily. And yes, Namu's Korean tacos will be offered.
Lee has revealed some dishes to be served on the regular menu, most of which marry his Korean and American sensibilities in a sharable format. Grilled and pickled beef tongue cubes, potato croquettes with kimchee and Korean chili aioli, fried brussels sprouts with browned butter and ponzu sauce are all united by one common factor: Lee would want to eat them himself. He'll also be bringing over the most popular items from the Namu days: ramen, fried chicken, shitake mushroom dumplings and infused shochos. All accompaniments: Korean-style miso, kimchee and chili pastes, will be made in house.
Helping Lee out in the kitchen will be chef de cuisine Michael Kim (formerly of SPQR and Craft in LA) and his Korean aunt, who will head up the fermentation program.
On tap will be beer, wine and sake, along with a thoughtful bottle selection of each. Magnolia Brewery is even going to create a signature house beer for one of the taps.
One thing we'd like to call out is that Lee and co. could have called this an izakaya, but they're steering clear of that terminology. Upon opening, Namu Gaji will serve dinner nightly starting at 6 p.m. A happy hour will kick off at 4 p.m. Stay tuned for updates as the opening nears.
· All Namu Gaji Coverage [~ ESF ~]