By: Jason Perlow
Coral Springs residents that have ached for a full-service Korean eatery in the style of New York City’s or Los Angeles’ restaurants have finally gotten their wish with THE NAMU.
Namu, meaning “tree” in Korean, is the brainchild of owners/partners Sang Seo and Danny Cho, both of who are longtime veterans of the restaurant and airline hospitality business.
Compared to other large metropolitan areas, Korean food is not particularly common in South Florida, so many residents are not as familiar with the cuisine as with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai.
In northwestern Broward County and Palm Beach, in addition to THE NAMU, there is Gabose, Pocha & ROK in Lauderhill, Minji’s in Fort Lauderdale and Yoshee in West Boca, which focuses primarily on sushi.
Along with THE NAMU, in Coral Springs there is Chimi Kimchi, which is a small café that has a limited, but very good Korean selection of dishes in addition to Argentinian food.
The decor at THE NAMU is different from what you might expect a Korean place to be. It’s very modern with wood accents, shades of grey and light blue and touches of green plants. The front of the restaurant has a shop where you can purchase Korean snacks, cookies, candy, beverages and beauty goods. The restaurant has TV monitors and plays Korean pop music (K-Pop) for your entertainment.
For the uninitiated, Korean cuisine has similarities to and over the centuries has been highly influenced by both Japanese and Chinese cuisine (both of which are very popular and have been highly adapted to local tastes in Korea itself) but is much more piquant and sour than what most Americans are used to eating.
Korean food can generally be characterized by its heavy use of fermented ingredients as well as (very) liberal use of garlic and hot red pepper paste (gochujang).
Kimchi, perhaps the most well-known dish, is actually an entire classification of different types of pickled and salt-brined vegetables that are usually served with rice. It is also used as an ingredient in other dishes.
The most common form of kimchi eaten in the United States is made out of Napa cabbage and is typically fermented with raw garlic, hot pepper paste and other spices (such as dried shrimp or oysters).
Depending on how it is preferred to be eaten in Korea it can be aged up to several months, especially if it is buried underground in the traditional style in ceramic vessels to keep it refrigerated.
THE NAMU ferments theirs for up to a week, in a special refrigerated kimchi aging vessel, so it is more of the “fresh” kimchi style.
Speaking of kimchi we got to try several types in the complimentary banchan (small dishes) you get with your dinner, the traditional Napa cabbage, a white radish (Mul) one and a cucumber (Oi). All excellent. We also had a crunchy burdock root sautéed in soy sauce and sesame oil which we’ve never had before, and sautéed sliced fish cakes, also very good.
If you run out of banchan on your table, it’s not considered rude to ask for more – it’s expected.
Although it intends to greatly expand the menu over time, the restaurant now specializes in bibimbap (Rice Bowls), dolsot (dishes cooked at the table in hot stoneware), noodles, jigae (spicy tofu stews) and Korean BBQ, which are grilled meat dishes that are also called yakiniku in Japanese cuisine.
For our first visit on opening night, we began with a sampling of their rice and wheat egg pancake (pajeon) with vegetables, which is served with a soy-based dipping sauce. We loved it. The one on the menu is a seafood version and can be ordered as a main dish or large appetizer.
For our appetizer we decided to start with a cold dish, a mul naengmyeon, which are dark brown thin yam and buckwheat (low-carb) noodles that are served in a spicy cold broth leftover from the production of pickled/preserved white radish (mul) kimchi.
Naengmyeon is a popular summer dish in Korea that originates from the city of Pyongyang in the North of the country and is sour and spicy. They actually put ice chips in the broth to keep it super cold, it’s a perfect dish when it’s very hot outside, much like as when the Spanish eat gazpacho.
If you order it the host will think you are a legit Korean cuisine lover, most Americans don’t care for it, but you’re in for a treat if you love sour and spicy kimchi flavor. If you aren’t Asian don’t be surprised if they dissuade you from ordering it. They were actually impressed I liked it!
For our main dish, we had the bulgogi BBQ which is beef brisket sliced thin and cooked in a sweetened soy and sesame based marinade. This is cooked in the kitchen on a hot cast iron plate and finished off with a burner at the table and served with rice, lettuce wraps, a spicy fermented bean paste condiment (ssamjang). raw garlic, fresh sliced jalapeño, and cooked onions.
It’s customary to wrap the meat up with rice, condiments, and banchan in the lettuce and take bites, like a taco.
Compared with the grill-cooked versions I have had at other Korean BBQ restaurants, the beef bulgogi was little oily as the juices are meant to sop up with the rice. But we still thought it was very good.
On a subsequent lunch visit, we also tried the Pork Bulgogi, which was my favorite of the two. It’s in a spicy sauce with grilled onions and a lot of garlic in it. Is there even such thing as too much garlic or hot pepper in Korean cuisine? I doubt it.
Those folks who are looking for an interesting vegetarian appetizer to share might enjoy the Fried Tofu which is served with a soy and plum wine dipping sauce. They are perfect little squares of deep-fried medium firmness tofu with only a slight coating of starch on it. Just wonderful.
Being new customers on opening night we were treated to a dessert of bingsoo, which is a type of shaved ice mixed with sweetened milk, flavorings, and red beans and mochi (rice dumpling) pieces. This really hit the spot at the end.
The veteran servers here were fantastic and were all willing to explain everything if you have any questions.
THE NAMU has applied for its alcohol license and expects to have Korean beers, Japanese sake and Korean soju (a spirit like sake, but usually stronger) available shortly.
All and all, a great addition to the town and we can’t wait to go back and try more dishes, with several more mouths in tow.
Monday through Saturday Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Dinner 5:30 p.m. 10:00 p.m.
Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
10317 Royal Palm Blvd, Coral Springs, FL 33065. 754- 229-6772.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.