I am quite fond of Korean cuisine. Starting back in the days of Mingle Albany where the menu dabbled in Korean flavors, I’ve been exploring the local offerings as they surface. While close to home, Seoul falls a little short, but is decent in a pinch. Namu Korean BBQ Restaurant is a short distance from both work and home, and, so far, offers a lot of promise.
The restaurant is located on Central avenue (1770 Central Ave) in Albany in a shopping center containing Verizon Wireless, Breuggers Bagels, Moe’s, and Harbor Freight. Inside, it is vast. I have visited on multiple occasions and have yet to see the restaurant even 20% full. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been busy, just that there is a lot of space and tables in there.
Each table is outfitted with a propane burner to facilitate grilling at the table. Much of the menu is focused on this. I have yet to actually order something requiring the grill, as these dishes are on the pricey side and don’t really lend themselves toward a quick lunch, which has been the way I’ve visited so far.
Shortly after ordering, while you ironically (or unironically) enjoy the tunes of K-pop from the stereo televisions streaming some sort of strange YouTube app, the server brings out a plethora of what they call “side dishes.”
Each of these is a different permutation of pickled or marinated vegetables, noodles, tofu, or eggs. They range in spiciness and fermentation. Each is equally enjoyable in a different way. The selection changes on any given day, which is great for variety, but disappointing if there’s one you really enjoy. They gladly bring more if you request, but I always feel like the first pass is quite enough.
Each meal comes with a ginger salad that’s reminiscent of what they serve in Japanese restaurant: the whitest part of iceburg lettuce with a ginger-pineapple dressing. It’s fine, but I’d be just as fine with just the infinitely-more-interesting side dishes.
On a recent visit, I ordered their Bibim Bop (Marinated beef and seasoned assorted vegetables over rice served in hot stone bowl – $13). You get to select the protein on the dish, and on this visit, I went with garlic chicken.
Namu is really good at serving this with a runny egg. As they serve this bubbling cauldron with just a big spoon and some chopsticks, the first thing I always do is stab the egg with the chopsticks, and use the spoon to properly mix everything, which is presented in piles above the rice and under the egg. I love seeing the crust that the rice forms as it makes contact with the bowl.
It’s served with a small dish of what they call “special sauce,” which seems to be a mixture of gochujang and sesame oil.
I sometimes mix this into the dish at the start, or I’ll dip a spoonful into it as I eat through the dish.
Once everything is mixed together, it eats like stir fried rice. Since all of the components are independently cooked, using the hot oiled bowl to marry all of the flavors together. The egg yolk acts as a great emulsifier, and enhances the relatively simple vegetables (zucchini, bean sprouts, onions, and mushrooms). I’ve gotten this with garlic chicken and spicy chicken and both are equally viable options. The meat in either case is very tender and adds tremendous flavor. I prefer garlic chicken, as this adds another dimension to the flavor profile. Spicy chicken has a lot of the flavor of the special sauce.
One variation I’ve had on this dish was to substitute black forbidden rice in the dish (which they give at no additional charge). The dish takes on a nuttier taste, as this rice is much more substantial than white rice. Either way, the bibim bap is great.
I do have a bucket list for Namu. I do want to get a group of friends together and try some of the BBQ dishes. However, what I really want to do is go back on a Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday when they offer KFC, Korean Fried Chicken…