The actual name of this restaurant according to the business card I received from the owner Keisuke Suga, is Kappo Nami Nami. Interestingly, the kanji characters for Nami nami mean some sort of tidal like wave (a la tsunami but different).
Outside the entrance of NN is a stand that holds the menu, holding it up like a manuscript for a violinist, which interestingly I saw a lot of in Taipei especially by Japanese themed restaurant entrances. The lunch menu had some photos and I actually ignored this place the other day, but decided to come in today without looking at the outside menu until I came in.
The interior is fancy but simple, and there is a counter with a Hoshizaki sushi fish container like all sushiya's use, with about 6 seats. The chef behind the counter didn't take any fish out to put on display until an order warrants cuts of sashimi (or sushi).
The lunch menu offers a variety of set lunches, which they call bento, but the catch is that they DON'T use the typical bento boxes, but arrange each item in a very visually pleasing and artful manner. While I've never had dinner at Kaygetsu, I would take a guess and say they try to mimick Kyoto style kaiseki but don't come as close, yet make it very artful and harmonizing in a separate way (that's another way of putting it).
Each lunch bento offering (more like a set lunch), is given a regional name, like Hokkaido, Kyoto, Nagoya (which I think is a pork cutlet lunch?), Edomae (which contains only nigiri). Each set lunch starts at $10 and goes all the way up to $19 to $24 for the higher end. There was a Kobe Beef lunch set at $19 served with ponzu, but I'd imagine it is domestic wagyu with a markup (either Snake River Farms or elsewhere).
After chatting with the owner to find out what is the better lunch set to get that's more in line with Japanese tastes, he recommended the Nami Nami special bento lunch set, which sadly was the most expensive at $24, but it was quite a bit of food. I'm glad he recommended it, and luckily it also gave me an insight to the restaurant's strengths.
The NN lunch set included the following:
- two small pieces of grilled salmon. Might have been miso marinated with a hint of other flavors. It was surprisingly soft and not dry.
- Artfully arranged tempura done correctly. Two pieces of shrimp, and two or three other items I don't remember but it was nice
- Sashimi. Good quality maguro, something that I think was hamachi and was delicious, scallops (hokkaido? should have asked but fresh tasting), and very decadently done well soy/sake marinated ikura or ikura no shoyu zuke)
- a small side dish containing small pieces of saba sashimi embedded into kazunoko, with thin slices of pickled daikon resting beneath, and two small pieces of a rare imported red pickle called chorogi, that looks like a tiny cutesy red poop (sorry for the description) that came direct from Japan, and was very sour and had a spicy kick to it. I guess this made it very Kyoto and authentic!
- bowl of white rice, miso soup that had additional flavors in the base stock (not the instant kind), a delicate western salad with a ginger based vinagrette, and a small I would suppose is a Kyoto style tsukemono that had some thin pink veg, might be gobo but I should have asked.
Quite a bit of food. Everything was so elegantly done. I lost track of time on how long it took for the food to arrive as I was chatting with the owner and getting to understand the dinner menu offerings.
While there is a sushi selection during dinner, you can order it during lunch. Fish quality is quite nice and apparently the same source is used for the owner's other business of 7 years, Hanamaru in Sunnyvale.
Apparently Keisuke-san used to own Himawari Ramen in San Mateo and sold it maybe over a year ago so he could open up Nami nami. The three chefs at NN were trained in Kyoto and other parts of Japan. They supposedly follow no receipes and are trained the hard core and old school way of using their sensories and tastebuds. Basically creating food using the simplest and seasonal ingredients in addition to shoyu, dashi, mirin and/or sake. If I got this right, those same chefs also created Himawari's menu within a day. I don't know if the current Himawari chefs are different or if some went to NN and some remained, or they trained new people.
I mentioned to Keisuke-san all the (general) positive feedback his new restaurant has been receiving from sites like this, and he seemed very pleased.
Kaygetsu this is place might not be or comparable, but Kyoto style this seems to be. A solid 4.5 stars, and potentially higher for dinner. Goma tofu looks interesting, Urasawa in LA made this too but I'm sure fancier!
Nami nami's dinner menu will change every 3 months based on seasonal offerings.
On a side note for the sushi fans, Nami nami is willing to offer and sells California rolls and also a slightly expanded sushi menu/selection and the owner says you can also order it during lunch though this is not stated on the lunch menu. Prices range from $4 to $5 for the low end stuff, $9 for uni, $13 for toro if they have it. I saw aji listed but I guess you have to ask what they have available, and they may use different cuts for sashimi as opposed to nigiri. I didn't get fresh wasabi for my lunch bento but I was quite pleased with fish quality, although it is not in the same quality/category as Kaygetsu's fish.
Only a few tables were occupied during lunch and two people at the counter including myself. Prices are indeed higher than other restaurants on the Castro strip which will explain the lack of a lunch crowd compared to the $5 noodle/rice places, but you are getting pretty good quality with eye candy.