The well-trafficked, gourmet-ghetto corner of 18th and Dolores is about to get another new food tenant as Namu Gaji prepares for a grand opening in early March. As chef-owner Dennis Lee tells Grub Street, it’s going to be “the better looking younger sibling [to the recently shuttered Namu], now that the parents have some experience and the older siblings have paved the way.”
The opening, which had previously been announced for late February, has been pushed back a week, and we may see soft-opening events beginning by the last days of the month. As Lee further explains, it’s an entirely different restaurant from Namu, but with some of their greatest hits thrown in. He and his two brothers, both partners in the business, are “very excited” to be moving to the heart of the Mission. “We’re excited to feed new clientele, and share new food with old clientele,” he says. “With the people we have behind this project, chef’s counter, and take-out aspects, it’s exciting to engage our community in a broader and deeper experience.”
The plan is for a modern American restaurant utilizing Korean cuisine as “a springboard” for a variety of dishes like Korean Fried Chicken (KFC); ramen; cubes of beef tongue grilled over seven days to a crusty char; potato croquettes coated with panko and Parmesan and served with red onions macerated in lime juice and kimchee and Korean chili aioli; and fried brussels sprouts in a brown-butter ponzu sauce with fried garlic and bonito flakes. There will be a takeout window opening daily at 11 a.m. serving a limited menu, including Lee’s famed Korean tacos with seaweed in place of the tortilla.
The open kitchen and chef’s counter will be centered around a grill fired with binchotan — a high-temperature, low-smoke Japanese charcoal. Grilled items will come with Korean-style miso, house-fermented kimchee, and house-made chili pastes. The kimchee is a highly personal project; Lee is flying his aunt out directly from Korea to bring him strains of bacteria from the family’s village to make the stuff.
The sake list will resemble Namu’s, and there will also be infused sojus, and a beer-and-wine program overseen by Collin Casey.
And, alas, though early reports had branded this project as an “izakaya,” the team is now shying away from the word, especially since Izakaya Yuzuki (which Jonathan Kauffman thinks shouldn’t call itself an izakaya either) opened at the opposite end of the block. You can read Dennis Lee’s kind words about Izakaya Yuzuki here.