If it weren’t for the BBE discount, I don’t think I ever would have ventured over to the Sunset to check out Namu. Having tried their food at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, I was perfectly content with my ability to stroll on over to the Ferry Building on any given Saturday and be able to get my fix with their Korean taco. However, I heard some good things about Namu from friends and Yelpers, so given this fortuitous discount, I had to take advantage of it.
“Namu” means wood in Korean, and from the moment you walk inside the restaurant, you see this theme carried out throughout the decor. Not only are the floors distinctly dark and woody looking, but the walls were covered in the same wood to match. It gives a distinctly modern look to the restaurant. The restaurant is not very big, but considering it was the middle of the week, I was surprised to see that every table was filled.
Like any Korean restaurant that would dare to call itself a Korean restaurant, they served some ban chan (aka “side dishes”) as a precursor to the meal. Instead of quantity (which is usually what excites most diners), the ban chan here is all about quality. So although they only served a couple bite-fuls of just three different side dishes, they all tasted pretty decent. Starting from left to right, the side dishes were kim chee, bean sprouts, and pickled cucumbers. I really felt that the flavors and quality of the ingredients were higher than typical Korean ban chan. At the same time, they cleaned up the flavors so much so that the dishes weren’t as rich in Korean taste. For example, the kim chee was neither spicy nor stinky, but it was still okay.
The Shiitake Dumplings were very unique, but I think I would describe it more like a ravioli. The filling inside the dumpling had more of softer, mushier consistency similar to ravioli filling, but either way, it wasn’t all that tasty by itself. However, when you ate each dumpling with the dashi mushroom broth, that was where the flavors really all came together. I really liked this dish. It was probably my favorite of the meal.
The Fried Calamari was pretty good. The calamari rings were tender and soft to chew, and there was a light coating of seasoned batter. The sauce left much to be desired, so I was content just eating the rings on their own, while Pdho ended up dipping it the dashi mushroom broth.
I read a lot about the Kobe Beef Burger, and some foodie polls/lists actually rank Namu‘s burger as one of the best in the city. Admittedly it was pretty good, but I’m not sure I could say that it knocked me off my socks. The meat was cooked to a nice medium rare, topped with pickled daikons, soy glazed onions, dijon mustard and aioli, and served on a soft yet lightly toasted pain de mie bun. I definitely liked the Asianesque flavor that the daikons and onions added. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it was pretty darn tasty.
The Bi Bim Bap tasted pretty Korean while still having a modern twist. When I compare it to the one I had at Stone Korean Kitchen, it similarly uses fresh, quality ingredients, but Namu keeps it a little more real by sticking to more authentic ingredients that commonly go in to bi bim bap, like the bean sprouts, etc. I added the Kobe steak for an extra $4 which added some rich meaty flavor. I’m not sure if all the fancy-ing up of the bi bim bap was worth the ~$20 price tag, because in the end, it still pretty much tasted like bi bim bap from more traditional Korean places.
Overall, the food was good and in some regards very special tasting, but I’m not sure I feel entirely comfortable paying so much for Korean food. In fact, if it weren’t for the discount, I probably would have left feeling a little bit taken advantage of. The restaurant is clean with a very modern look and feel. I like the general ambiance of the restaurant, and the food is pretty good. It is definitely worth the experience at least once. Unfortunately, since there are other options for Korean food that offer a little more quantity for the price, I probably won’t be returning unless I get another discount.
439 Balboa Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
PAFO Ratings for Namu:
Price 3½ stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 3½ stars
Overall rating 3½ stars