Food as Art at Nombe
Small, delectable bites and delicate sake sips make up a satisfying meal at San Francisco’s Nombe, but calling dinner at Nombe merely a meal doesn’t cut it. It’s more like a sophisticated ritual that leads you into the intricate world of Japanese cuisine.
In reality, owners Mari Takahashi (executive chef) and Gil Payne (sake sommelier) modeled their establishment after a traditional Tokyo-style izakaya, or sake house, and branded their cuisine as “after-sake” food, which is rather casual, includes Western influences, and is meant for sharing.
However, in Chef Noriyuki Sugie’s expert hands, these casual plates, made with seasonal local ingredients, shine like jewels.
Various starters, or otoshi, might include a trio of tiny bowls – one with beet hummus and baguette slices, another with pickled peppers and green beans, and the third with exquisite eggplant puree, nasu, bathed in chive oil. Other otsumami, or snacks, include state-of-the-art foie gras and eel terrine with roasted pineapple and sansho peppers, and hot and spicy tripe with green beans.
Octopus salad is a not-to-be-missed chewy terrine nicely complimented by bitter mizuna leaves, shaved cucumber, and fried chickpeas in a wonderful soy vinaigrette.
Yakimono (grill) menu lists a number of notable dishes. Bone marrow with miso powder looks like a contemporary art piece, and tastes even better.
Scallops are served in their own shells over braised cabbage in brown butter ponzu, and sea bass with uni butter is grilled to crispy perfection.
Uni chawan-mushi is a chicken broth and egg custard, served in a soup bowl with a lid, with wrapped-in flavorful slices of shiitake mushrooms and a fresh sea urchin, caught in Mendocino County, on top.
Grilled skewers, or kushiyaki, include more tastes than anyone would be able to try in one sitting, but you can’t go wrong with anything here. Fish skewers are excellent – salmon topped with ikura, and Hawaiian butterfish.
Vegetable skewers include seasonal produce like asparagus, shishito peppers, zucchini, eggplant, or shiitake mushrooms, and all are yummy. Meat skewers with sweetbreads or Snake River Kobe beef are so good it’s hard to share them.
While all the lighter dishes are paired with refreshing Namazake sake, for heartier meals, like oxtail ramen or spicy tantanmen, sommelier Gil recommends earthy Yamahai.
When the time comes for a sweet finale, Nombe’s house-made desserts are as creative and enticing as everything else here. For ultimate satisfaction get a scoop of beer ice cream with maple bacon (you read that right!) and a scoop of chocolate ice cream with chestnuts – all made from scratch just for you.
Nombe is located at 2491 Mission Street, San Francisco. Open six days a week. Lunch is served on Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Brunch, Saturday and Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday beginning at 6:00 p.m. Closed on Monday. For information and reservations call (415) 681-7150 or visit their website.