1411 Gessner Dr Ste A
Houston, TX 77080-7580
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NAM Gang Restaurant

Neighborhoods: Spring Branch West
Cuisine: Korean, Vegetarian, Seafood

NAM Gang Restaurant is a Korean, Vegetarian, and Seafood restaurant where most Menuism users came for a romantic date, paid between $10 and $25, and tipped more than 18%.

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  • 12/16/2015

    A dining patron from Sugar Land, TX tried it.

  • 12/15/2014

    A dining patron from Dallas, TX tried it, liked it, and rated it . They liked the food, liked the service, and liked the ambiance.

  • 10/25/2014

    A dining patron from Dallas, TX tried it and liked it. They liked the food.

alaingh photo

alaingh

 Houston, Texas, TX
 

A Slice of Korean Barbecue Heaven in Spring Branch

Barbecue is a very big part of Korean cuisine, with hunks of glistening kalbi (beef short rib) and samgyeopsal (uncured pork belly) being placed on hot grills and then wrapped in lettuce and pickled radish discs, while rounds and rounds of soju and light beer is drunk late into the night. Korean barbecue is simply badass, there is no doubt and Nam Gang is one of my all-time favorite Korean barbecue restaurants. Nam Gang ignites their grills with hardwood coals. The difference is like night and day. Just imagine grilling steak on gas rather than coal.

There is a moment at the beginning of most meals at Nam Gang, Houston’s best Korean barbecue restaurant, when someone at the table begins to laugh.

A small army of workers has been filling the table with small plates of banchan, the side dishes central to Korean restaurant cuisine, for what appears to be a minute straight. They add to this bounty bubbling iron bowls of bean paste casserole and steamed eggs, and bring vast piles of bright green lettuce and slaw, small bowls of sesame oil and salt, soybean paste and the fiery hot sauce known as kochujang.
They offer savory oyster pancakes, kimchi pancakes, steaming piles of cellophane noodles, bottles of beer, glasses of tea and kettles of soju, a kind of low-alcohol Korean vodka. The table fills and fills and fills, and at a certain point it begins to be ridiculous — there’s no visible table anymore! — and someone starts to giggle at the crazy excess, the sheer weight of the experience.

Korea was poor for much of the last century. It spent almost 40 years as a colony under the boot of Japan. It was physically divided in the aftermath of World War II and suffered mightily in the war that followed. None of this was much good for the feeding of its citizenry. It should be no surprise that when prosperity finally came to the peninsula in the 1970s (came to South Korea at least), so too came a groaning board. As Americans well know, nothing says economic security like the inevitability of leftovers.

Nam Gang is not much to look at, really, just several long fluorescent-illuminated rooms with marble tabletops and chocolate wooden accents, with a few private rooms, the bar, bathrooms and the kitchen. The clientele runs to groups of celebratory young Koreans texting as they eat, Korean families enjoying a night out, office parties, passers-bys and foodies; it is hardly a clear picture of fine dining in Houston and doesn’t pretend to be so. But jiminy crickets, is the dining fine.

There is kimchi among the banchan, of course: Napa cabbage fermented with chili peppers and salt, Korea’s national dish. There is also a zucchini version, a bok choy one, a wonderful bouquet of tiny pickled scallion shoots. There are cold boiled bean sprouts fragrant with sesame oil, and salty tangles of wakame dressed with sweet vinegar, soft on the tongue, a kiss in a rock club, right after the show. There is boiled eggplant; dried shredded squid fried with hot chili sauce; occasionally there is a strange cold cabbage dish with bits of hot dog in it, or a crab split in two. A fellow could pick at these with his chopsticks for an hour and be pleased with the time spent.

There is raw beef as well, in a dish called took hwe, slightly frozen and run through a grinder, then seasoned with sesame oil and raw egg: it’s a beef tartare, essentially, that literally melts in the mouth.

The real purpose of the restaurant, though, is barbecue, to grill your own food right there at the table, on the charcoal grill built into its center, still covered in banchan, not yet lighted. That is why you are here. And you will get to it in due course: to fiery marinated pork and sweet, tender beef wrapped in lettuce and eaten as candy or tacos.

But first, a warning: responsibility for the pace of a meal at Nam Gang belongs to the diner alone. Service at the restaurant is brisk, efficient and cheerful.

Order some appetizers to be sure. There is a long list on the menu, including fried tofu and the Korean dumplings known as mandoo. Ignore these. Ask instead for some of those pancakes and for the restaurant’s silky, mushroom-studded jap chae, cellophane noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, vegetables and a few strips of beef.

These, paired with that salty, voluptuous seafood pancake, are the correct introduction to the restaurant’s big, addictive flavors; they help to align the brain.
Order, too, a bowl of kimchi soup, bubbling and restorative in its heat; alternatively, you might try the mool naeng myun, a pile of thin buckwheat noodles in an icy, bracing broth.

But make sure not to ask for your barbecue, not yet. Diners who order soups and appetizers at the same time as main dishes at Nam Gang will receive, far more often than not, the main dishes in advance of the appetizers. This throws a wrench into the works. Be firm on this point and be happy. Praemonitus praemunitus is what they say in Latin class: forewarned is forearmed.

The barbecue is excellent: fresh, glistening butterflied short rib, thin-sliced ribeye, brisket, tongue. There is pork belly and there are giant mushrooms; there are jumbo shrimp. Some meats are served plain, for dressing afterward in a sheet of sesame oil run through with salt and pepper, with a dash of bean paste. Others are served in marinades, in either a soy-based, fruit-thickened number that is almost reminiscent of teriyaki or a garlicky take on kochujang that tingles in the mouth, leads to sweat and more laughter. It is particularly good on pork. Best, perhaps, is the plain butterflied short rib known as sang galbi.

The waitress redistributes the wealth on the table in such a way as to clear the stainless steel top for the grill. A runner then removes the top, and lights the charcoal below. This service is a remnant from the days when the grills in Korean restaurants were most often powered by glowing charcoal, brought in buckets from the kitchen by men with thick leather gloves. (Nam Gang is one of the only Korean restaurants in Houston that uses live fire, making the grilled food even more delicious.)

The waitress then uses tongs to place the meat on the grill top — a kind of modified broiler pan — and leaves it to bubble and spit. She will soon return to cut it with sharp scissors, and to turn it just so. Traditionally, waiters are responsible for the grilling in Korean restaurants. At Nam Gang this can mean an almost manic attention to the progress of each piece of protein, a lot of prodding with the tongs. If you like a little more char on that bulgogi of yours, announce that you’ll cook it yourself. No eyebrow stays raised in the presence of grilling self-confidence.

Now use your chopsticks to drag a piece of cooked meat through the mixture of sesame oil, salt and pepper. Place it on a piece of fresh romaine cupped in your opposite hand in the manner of a tortilla. Add to this some banchan, some slaw, perhaps a dot or two of bean paste or kochujang. Wrap and eat: heaven in Spring Branch, with cold beer besides.

Dessert’s an orange cut into eighths. It tastes of magic and happiness.

Tags
Korean Vegetarian Seafood
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Hours
Sun-Sat 10:00AM - 10:00PM
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NAM Gang Restaurant  Restaurant Reviews

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NAM Gang Restaurant is located near the cities of Houston Texas, Clutch City, and Olean.
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