Dish of the Week: Nama Ko’s pork gyoza

Media Credit: Lily Speredelozzi | Assistant Photo Editor

The menu is unsurprisingly fish-heavy, with two sushi sections – one for standard house rolls and another for the chefs' special rolls titled “sushi chefs just wanna have fun.”

Expanding beyond the barriers of a single cuisine, Nama Ko broadens its domain by merging alternative cultural flavors with traditional Japanese dishes.

Though most diners would describe the 14th Street restaurant that opened this past fall as Japanese, celebrity chef Michael Schlow and executive chef Derek Watson classify their cuisine as “Japanese-inspired” to maintain creative agency without discounting its roots. From heritage pork gyoza ($14) to spicy tuna nama “crunch” tacos ($18) to roasted romanesco cauliflower with spicy vegan aioli ($23), Nama Ko’s delicious menu is not for the indecisive eater.

The night before my roommate and I went to Nama Ko, she expressed regret over missing her family’s matzo balls at their Passover celebration this year. It felt serendipitous to discover Japanese matzo balls ($4) on the new dinner menu as a possible addition to their homemade miso soup ($10).

Nama Ko’s exterior looks slightly commercialized due to the neon blue and fluorescent white plastic box letters displaying the restaurant’s name above the door met with the standard red brick exterior. But the interior is delicate, sleek and warm. Dimly lit hanging light fixtures bring a softness to the dark furniture while its black serving plates underscore the food’s vibrancy.

I made my reservation for Saturday at 8:30 p.m. – a ridiculous time to visit a new, trendy restaurant – yet my waiter was attentive as ever, carefully bringing each plate to the table so quickly I hardly sat for 10 minutes before my food came.

The menu is unsurprisingly fish-heavy, with two sushi sections – one for standard house rolls and another for the chefs’ special rolls titled “sushi chefs just wanna have fun.” I decided to order the heritage pork gyoza appetizer to disturb the uniformity that was the rest of my seafood-centric meal.

Nama Ko’s pork gyoza was indulgent yet not too heavy to kick off my meal. The bottom of each piece was crispy – seemingly pan-fried –  without producing superfluous oil. There is something so fantastic about a dish with just enough grease.

Thinly-sliced green onions and a dusting of togarashi, a chili-based Japanese seasoning, scattered atop the gyoza cut the fattiness of the pork and simultaneously respected its vitality. The dish came with five meat and onion-stuffed gyoza, just enough for two to share yet a bit conservative for a party of three.

The generous dollop of karashi – a thick, Japanese spicy mustard – sitting on the edge of the plate brought me back to the karashi-doused shrimp shumai served at a sushi restaurant in Brooklyn I used to regularly visit with my mom and sister. The wave of nostalgia I experienced elevated my appreciation for the dish. As someone who believes it is difficult to disturb the blissful pairing of pork and high-quality mustard, no matter its form, Nama Ko’s gyoza stands out among the rest.

The rest of my order consisted of the aforementioned matzo ball miso soup and the pink lady roll ($22). While the soup mirrored a traditional, salty miso broth hosting small pieces of tofu and seaweed, I did not find the added matzo component to be overwhelmingly impressive. It fit a bit awkwardly into the dish, lacking any additional flavor beyond the broth it absorbed. The pink lady roll – consisting of salmon, tuna, yellowtail and avocado wrapped in soy paper – brought an indispensable freshness to the meal, one I crave when dining at any restaurant that offers raw fish.

You may decide to round out your dining experience with one of the shop’s craft cocktails, Japanese whiskey or take a risk and order sake samplings from one of the omakase flights. For a sweet end to your meal, opt for one of the desserts, like decadent truffle miso honey ice cream finished with chocolate sauce, Japanese caramel and toffee bits or try the lighter coconut mango yuzu sorbet with lychee sauce, matcha shortbread and candied walnuts.

Nama Ko elaborates on traditional Japanese cuisine with its adaptive menu – one that toys with modern flavors yet still offers sushi staples in an upscale environment, perfect for treating yourself on a night out.

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