Category Archives: Wine

The Big, Bold Flavors of Namu Gaji

Pickled, seared beef tongue at Namu Gaji.

Pickled, seared beef tongue at Namu Gaji.

 

As my friend Mark and I sat down at the slender bar at the equally shoebox-like Namu Gaji in San Francisco, he started to look nervous.

When I heard that beef tongue was a special that night, I asked if he was game to try the restaurant’s rather unique preparation of it. Mark hemmed and hawed, squirmed a bit, and recounted the times he had tongue at other restaurants, only to find the rather toothsome, pebbly texture thoroughly unappealing.

Then, he looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “But if you really want to order it….”

So, we did. And when Mark speared a chunk, and took his first bite, I watched his trepidation turn to surprise and awe. It was the first tongue dish he’d ever relished.

Namu Gaji’s food will do that to you. It’s familiar yet not. It’s full of big, bold, sometimes fiery flavors — the kind you find yourself craving again and again after just one encounter, as I found after being invited in a as a guest of the restaurant a few weeks ago.

The restaurant also operates a food stand at the farmers market on Thursdays and Saturdays at the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace, as well as at the market at the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur on Saturdays. Later this year, it also plans to start selling its own line of kimchee at the restaurant and Bi-Rite Market.

The award on the bar.

The award on the bar.

The chef's counter/bar may be bare bones, but it has the best seats in the house.

The chef’s counter/bar may be bare bones, but it has the best seats in the house.

Founded by three Korean-American brothers, Dennis Lee (the chef), Daniel Lee and David Lee, the restaurant (Korean for “tree branch”) serves Korean fare. But also, Japanese-inspired ones and pan-Asian ones all their own like the beef tongue dish that is not Korean at all. Dennis Lee just decided to try pickling the meat for a week, then searing it to order. The pickling breaks down the tough cut, making it as tender as short ribs. It also adds an unexpected tang to the rich meat. The composed dish is beautiful to behold, looking like a zen garden of sorts.

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Que Syrah Syrah

A glass of Syrah pairs with duck-Syrah ragu over Syrah-flour pasta.

A glass of Syrah pairs with duck-Syrah ragu over Syrah-flour pasta.

That’s what you’ll be humming, when you dig into this lusty pasta dish.

Because there’s wine, wine, everywhere in it.

There’s Syrah in the meaty duck ragu that tops it. There’s even Syrah flour in the pasta dough for the homemade fettuccini. And of course, a glass of — what else — Syrah to sip alongside it all.

I was inspired to cook “Venetian Duck Ragu” with “Syrah Fettuccini” when I received samples of the new WholeVine products from Santa Rosa.

Company founders Barbara Banke and Peggy Furth started their line of grapeseed flours, grape skin flours and grape seed oils — all gluten-free — as a way to make greater use of what vineyards provide. They’ve also added a line of four different gluten-free cookies ($6.99 for eight of them), as well as a line of eight different wheat crackers ($6.99 for 12), all made with their flours.

Syrah skin flour.

Syrah skin flour.

Moreover, they donate a portion of profits to charitable organizations that help children in need.

The varietal grape skin and seed flours ($6.50 per 1/2-pound bag) are made from Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah and Zinfandel grapes grown in certified sustainable California coastal vineyards.

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The State of 31st Union

Wine flights at 31st Union in San Mateo.

Wine flights at 31st Union in San Mateo.

 

David Hunsaker leads a busy life.

By day, he works in sales for a commercial printing business.

By night (and weekends), he oversees the farm-to-table restaurant he opened last summer in downtown San Mateo, 31st Union.

The name of the restaurant refers to the fact that California was the 31st state in the union. It also proclaims the restaurant’s commitment to sourcing ingredients from within the state.

The 50-seat establishment is compact, with wood tabletops affixed to sawhorse legs that are set close together. A large bank of windows lets in a lot of natural light, all the better to illuminate the funky, charming decor. Think rustic and reclaimed, with barn wood wall panels, a polished cement floor, and a California state flag hanging on one wall. The focal point is a chalkboard-like outline of California on a back wall, with feathered arrows pointing to the areas where the restaurant’s ingredients have come from. Even the hallway leading to the restroom gets an artsy treatment with a bank of clip boards, each holding a page from a vintage catalog.

The decor is all about funky, fun and reclaimed.

The decor is all about funky, fun and reclaimed.

The focal point of the restaurant.

The focal point of the restaurant.

It's a celebration of California.

It’s a celebration of California.

Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant to try Executive Chef Paul Burzlaff’s cooking. He was most recently sous chef at the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore.

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World’s Youngest Master Sommelier

Roland Micu, the youngest certified Master Sommelier in the world. (Photo courtesy of the International Culinary Center in Campbell)

Last year at age 28, Roland Micu passed the last of four rigorous exams to become the youngest certified Master Sommelier in the world.

To get a sense of the weight of that accomplishment, consider that since the Court of Master Sommeliers was established in 1969 that only 197 people around the globe have attained that certification.

For most candidates, it takes multiple tries to pass the daunting Level IV exam, in which six wines must be tasted blind in 25 minutes to identify the varietal, country of origin, district and appellation, as well as vintage precisely.

Micu did it on his first attempt.

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A Delicious Ride at San Francisco’s RN74

A dramatic uni dish at RN74.

Named for the highway that runs through Burgundy’s fabled Cote d’Or wine region, RN74 still offers up a smooth culinary ride worth taking.

The splashy $4.5 million San Francisco restaurant housed on the ground floor of a gleaming condominium tower, is the brainchild of Rajat Parr, wine director for the Michael Mina Group, of which this restaurant belongs.

Now three years old, the restaurant continues to hum along with Executive Chef Jason Berthold at the helm. Berthold, who was sous chef at the French Laundry in Yountville, helped open Per Se in New York, and makes his own wine under the Courier label, is a perfect match for this wine-centric restaurant, accented by antique metal lanterns, lots of warm wood and even piped-in French dialogue in the restrooms. There’s also a custom-made flip board like the ones you see at train stations that post arrival/departure times. Only this one lists wines with only one bottle remaining in stock at the restaurant. If someone buys it, the board flips to erase the wine selection.

The famous wine list flip-board.

The dining room with its unique light fixtures and ample use of warm woods.

Recently, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant. The food had even more finesse than when I last visited shortly after it first opened.

If you want to start the meal off on a luxurious note, do order the Fort Bragg sea urchin ($19). It arrives dramatically in its spiky shell. Dig down into the creamy pool inside to find potato mousseline, crab, butternut squash, preserved citrus and vadouvan, a Francophile version of an Indian curry blend. It’s gorgeous to behold, with a sweet, briny and over-the-top richness. It’s also as seductive as it gets.

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