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Pickle Madness Takes San Francisco

Remember those pickles from Vlasic with the smiling stork on the front? Well you can forget about them. Pickles may be everywhere in San Francisco right now, but they're way outside the bread-and-butter box. Think pickled baby green tomatoes, turmeric-pickled cauliflower, cabbage in chili paste, or any of the thirty something other pickles Nick Balla will rotate into the dedicated pickle section on the menu at Bar Tartine. He's not the only one up to his elbows in brine these days. Hayes Valley's new Boxing Room has a pickle section on its menu too. And Danny Bowien is serving pickled peanuts to the masses at his flagrantly popular Mission Chinese Food. Why pickles? And why now? Balla thinks the pickle movement springs from a collective new openness to more ethnic flavors in slightly higher end restaurants.  After talking to a slew of chefs around town about their best pickle practices, I'd have to agree. 

Izakaya 101 and a Brief Sushi Rice Primer

Rounding out last week's izakaya probe, we bring you a run-down of the unfamiliar terms most likely to pop up on an izakaya menu. Our local Japanese chef know-it-alls Hiro Sone of Ame and Mari Takahashi of Nombe chimed in to walk us through words like agemono and onigiri. We've compiled their definitions below along with a few revelations on the secrets of perfect sushi rice. What makes the best grains? And why does sushi rice tastes so much better than the regular stuff from the supermarket? This and your izakaya 101 after the hop. 

Probing The Izakaya Trend: Two Local Japanese Chefs Get Deep

A few years ago, nobody around here knew what an izakaya was. The Japanese word literally means "sitting in a sake shop," but it's evolved to encompasses all manner of casual Japanese eating and drinking establishment. Now San Francisco has been hit with a slew of izakayas in the past year or two. We've got Nombe, Nojo, Hecho and Chotto. All of them have simply grilled, seasoned meats that are served on skewers; some have traditional sushi as well. There's also a sustainably minded izakaya called Ki on the way in the Mission. And Sebo, a sushi spot that's long been devoted to the highest quality raw fish, has recently expanded its menu to include cooked items, making it more of an izakaya-type hangout.

 

So by now, even those who don't have a clue what "izakaya" means, have probably eaten at one. We sat down with two of our city's successful Japanese chefs, Hiro Sone of Ame and Mari Takahashi of Nombe, for a long-overdue schooling in all things izakaya. Here you'll get the male and female perspective on what it all means.

Vincent Schofield Dishes On Nombe's New Direction

In January, the Mission's Nombe izakaya brought on chef Vincent Schofield to replace Nicholas Balla, who had shuffled over to a little spot nearby called Bar Tartine (more on that here). So the world turns in the realm of chefs and restaurants. Although Balla is a bit of a golden boy in these parts—earning rave reviews from almost everyone who tastes his food—Schofield is no slacker. Besides forging ahead on a new direction at Nombe, he just opened Parkmerced taqueria Taco Libre and regularly checks in on the kitchen at SoMa's miniscule Darwin (212 Ritch Street). In early January, Schofield embarked on a prodigious journey to Tokyo with Nombe owner Mari Takahashi for a crash course in all things Japanese. So the big menu changes he implemented over the last month at Nombe come truly inspired. Schofield took some time out to give us the skinny.

From Umami to Nombe: Restaurants Step Up Tsunami Relief Efforts Across Town

A local posse of Bay Area restaurants are leaping to action to help Japan recover from Friday's earthquake, tsunami and devastating after effects. Twenty-seat La Lengua sushi spot, Ichi Sushi, was among the first to rally for the cause this past weekend, raising $550 for American Red Cross over the course of two nights. Now, a look at other San Francisco restaurants where you can help out by dining out.

Dining Design Diary: Nombe

The seriousness of the San Francisco food scene is expressed by restaurants seemingly one-upping each other on every aspect of the dining experience: We use local produce…We grow our veggies on our roof! Our bar was custom made in Italy…Our plates were hand-thrown in Korea to custom fit each item onthe menu! We have art from a local painter on the walls…We have an artist creating art behind you as you eat!

This Week in Food: Nombe's Renovation Complete, Straw Opens in Hayes Valley, Happy Hour at Press Club

Nombe Reopens

The Mission's izakaya spot, Nombe, finished their renovation last week. Their new interior comes with an updated Japanese pub food menu, including edamame hummus with wonton chips, ginko nuts and grilled lemon, and fried burdocks with chili aioli. 2491 Mission St.

 Chocolate Tour 

A Taste of Japan: Slurpy Noodles, Rare Salt and Kudos to our Hometown Boy

I’ve attended almost every Culinary Institute of America at Greystone World of Flavors conference in St. Helena since they started with Mexico way back when. These conferences are for food professionals only, which is a shame because they are phenomenal. I always get to try something I’ve never had before. That first year, way back when, it was traditionally-made conchinita pibil—a pig roasted in the ground (they actually dug a pit on the grounds of the CIA) by an expert pibil maker from a village in the Yucatán—a man who had never been out of his village, much less hung out a castle-like facility such as the CIA.

First Bite: Nombe Proves You Can't Judge a Restaurant By Its Cover

Three people with one thing in common—a love for Japanese food—meet through the Small Business Association and decide to go in on a restaurant concept together. They take over a funky space—a former taqueria on Mission Street, that was a 50s diner before that—complete with a huge arched mirror and black-and-white checked floors; change little; insert an izakaya restaurant; tack a banner out front advertising the name Nombe (which translates from Japanese to something to the effect of “boozer”) and open the doors until 2 am on weekends.

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