Most San Francisco locals have heard about Namu, the small, hip Asian-fusion restaurant opened by the Lee brothers, who have inspired a fan club with their Korean bulgogi seaweed tacos — only Chef Dennis Lee does not stop with tacos.
His dashi broth shitake mushroom dumplings, tempura shrimp with handmade ramen (arrive early and order quickly as there are only about 6 bowls a night), and Namu fried chicken deserve their own special attention. Yet there are also a couple other surprises the Lee brothers have in store for you. Dennis is a humble chef, a man of few words, but when he talks you know, he is going to say something worthwhile. His culinary craft is respected among many local chefs in San Francisco, and after spending a day with him you will begin to see why.
Dennis is a chef committed to using his skills to make a difference. Just a few weeks back I contacted Dennis to see about heading up a charity dinner for Japan. I was expecting him to be incredibly busy given his time at the restaurant, farmers markets, prepping NAMU CSA baskets (check the website; I hear that chicken wings often are included and are out of this world) and frequenting city culinary events. To my surprise, Dennis immediately said he would be happy to support the cause, and not only that, he would create a special multi-course menu for the evening AND seek out donations from local city purveyors to keep costs low. What did this mean? It meant we were able to have a spectacular event that raised almost $4,000 for Japan, a fact I know would not have been possible without Dennis’s hard work both in and outside of the kitchen.
What else about Dennis and Namu? How about the fact that he is turning his restaurant into a nonprofit because in his own words, “he does not care about making money.” From our couple conversations a few things emerged about Dennis:
1) He is thoughtful – Without any suggestion from me, Dennis contacted folks from Prather Ranch, County Line, Far West Funghi, and Chue for donation ingredients to maximize the contribution to Japan
2) He exceeds all of your expectations – Chef Dennis and his sous chef Ken were hard at work from 3PM to midnight for our private dinner party. And the entire time they looked like they were enjoying themselves
3) Quality ingredients are key to Dennis – Dennis makes a point to source local, organic and sustainable product. I was struck by the bounty showcased at our evening event. From crispy artichokes accompanied with pig skin, to seaweed radish arugula salad, to my favorite dish of seared steak over white beans, Dennis Lee knows how to satiate a range of appetites.
If you have time, try and make it over to Namu the last Monday night of the month. The restaurant hosts a late night social event (arrive after 9pm) with complimentary Asian bites. Saddle up at the bar, order a cocktail or two off the daily menu and unwind to some DJ beats. Next one is this upcoming Monday the 25th. See you there!
439 Balboa St (at 6th Ave)
Anne Pao is a contributing food writer for SF Station and Yum as well as the SF Burger Examiner. When she is not satisfying carnivorous tendencies, you can find her adventuring in the Bay area outdoors. For more Pao reads check out her blog at http://sftaoofpao.com