The Japanese-inspired izakaya menu seems unassuming and straightforward on first glance, but once the plates begin to arrive, complexity unfolds with every bite.
If it hadn't been for Dunmore's résumé, I might have ignored Nojo, another East-West izakaya with a focus on skewers. After all, Nombe, Ippuku, Chotto, Izakaya Sozai, Kasumi, and 2G Brasserie have all opened in the past two years, doing exactly the same thing. What could Nojo add to the genre? A fair amount, it turns out. There's something less self-consciously Japanese and more Hayes Valley about the place. There may be shakers of shichimi on every table, poetically named sakes on the beverage list, and ingredients more likely to be found in Nijiya Market than Safeway, but Dunmore isn't pretending to escape the bounds of California cuisine.
Who made 2011 the year of the izakaya? Nombe got its new chef, Chotto had just squeaked onto the scene, Hecho with its sushi and robata followed suit, and now Nojo has opened in Hayes Valley. (Not to mention, SF already had Izakaya Sozai, and the drunken institution called Oyaji.)
Nojo, which means "farm" in Japanese, is the most earnest of the bunch. The cooks wear t-shirts that say "Support Your Local Nojo" and the menu has a list of the day's nojos, from County Line, to Mariquita, to Star Route. With walls of windows and well-behaved staff, it doesn't feel like the dim kind of place you went to in Tokyo and drank too much sake that one night. It's got an undeniable California bent to it.