Restaurants

First Impressions: Umma (San Francisco)

You never feel hungry when you’re at Mom’s.

by Alexander Quebec

My own mother isn’t much of a cook (it skips a generation as my grandmas are both amazing cooks). She is, however, a heavy duty Costco shopper, so I always leave her house with loads of food from Costco that I, gratefully, accept and consume as if she made that Kirkland brand Vitamin Water substitute herself.

However, if you were lucky enough to have a mom that cooks bomb stuff, you still understand that when you visit Mom’s place, you never leave hungry. Either she’s got something cooking in the oven or some amazing leftovers in the fridge. Most restaurants can’t compare to that feeling of being satiated by good, home cooking.

 

Until, of course, you’ve been to Umma.

 

Located on 9th and Lincoln near Golden Gate Park, Umma (pronounced Oh-mma), which means “mom” in Korean, is a new Korean joint offering the kind of Korean food familiar to those who grew up on it, or have grown up in any Asian enclave long enough to know what Korean food is. You wouldn’t know that it’s a Korean place due to the fact that it blends so well into the current neighborhood (which I thought was personally charming as you have a taco place, ice cream and a falafel place nearby, so I could totally see myself living there). But when you step inside, you get that vibe as if you’re inside your mom’s place.

 

We were invited by our host Stephanie, the general manager of the restaurant. The clean and simple architecture comprised of a warm palette of soft whites and birch woods that evoke the idea of being at home, giving diners the impression that here you should feel relaxed and at ease. In the back room, however, a mural painted by Tommi Lim (IG is @tommii in case you we’re curious), in honor of his mother, peeling a fruit ready to give to her hungry family (it’s very Patrick Nagel for those who know what I am talking about, the artist and I even spoke about him for a moment too). The picnic bench style seating in the back room adds to the already cozy, family like atmosphere of the place.

 

Getting into the food, we’re introduced to some more modern takes on Korean dishes. Now, when I say modern, I don’t mean any sort of fusion or molecular gastronomy stuff going on in here. What I mean by that is that there’s an emphasis on a return to the way things were done before, but with a bit of a twist for some of the items as opposed to a huge reinvention. A focus on the technique and preparation of the food is what makes it stand out the most. Its comfort food, the kind of stuff that doesn’t push boundaries, and that’s what makes it special. Going into the kitchen, I got to see a stovetop made especially for the kitchen, it was more of a traditional barbeque set up than modern, stainless steel appliances. The tools of the trade matter, and I could taste that in some of the foods we got to try.

 

Korean fried chicken – Some of the crispiest fried chicken I have ever tried so far. The skin had a nice crunch to it, possibly due to the kitchen double frying the pieces to get a skin that was so crunchy, it still retains its shape after being dipped in a spicy, in-house sauce. The sauce itself is reminiscent of kimchi and other popular Korean chili spices.

 

Mackerel – I haven’t eat fried fish like that in a long time, but man was it good! Freshly fried to perfection, with a slight, salty taste to it (being because, its a fish). I’d recommend the mackerel for something a bit lighter, but just as filling as the Korean fried chicken.

 

Pajun – For those who aren’t familiar; it’s a savory, green onion pancake served in pieces like appetizers. It wasn’t my favorite out of the bunch, on the account of it leaning towards the salty side for something that I was hoping to have more of that savory, green onion flavor and aroma, but it was still a good option overall.

Bibimbap – I love bibimbap, mainly because I like rice since its more or less a “forbidden” food for me right now. For this special visit, we were made the bibimbap with kimchi fried rice, but most patrons will receive it with plain rice. The runny fried egg mixed with the spicy and savory kimchi fried rice (think pickled vegetables if you’ve never tried kimchi before). This is comfort food through and through.

 

Sul Lung Tang – Why would we have soup on a July afternoon? It’s San Francisco, so summer doesn’t exist here. The broth reminds me of tonkotsu ramen broth: oily, fatty and flavorful (think pork) but adding a great flavor to whatever it accompanies, in this particular bowl there were pieces of pork and some vegetables. Stephanie, our host for the afternoon, recommends this soup first timers here, and now so do I.

Sometimes, you’re in the mood for honest, wholesome food, the kind that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the kind made with that same level of TLC you can only get from home. If you’re looking for a comfortable and friendly place for some legit Korean comfort food, Umma has you covered. Make sure you try out everything I suggested, especially the chicken and the soup.

 

S/o to Chris, Stephanie and Chef  at Umma for a great media day. 

 

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