Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tiny plates from a pan-Asian home: Kuma Inn

To meet with BH, WK, and CY one night, I found myself wandering around the Lower East Side hunting down Kuma Inn, a place whose name I'd heard floating around for a while now. Tucked between the entrance to a large bar and an abandoned-looking building, the narrow steps to the cozy upstairs restaurant would barely be noticeable if not for the placard sitting on the sidewalk in front. Good thing.
Here the food is "tapas-style," a concept I still haven't made my peace with yet (most of the time it just feels like tiny plates charged at just-below-entree prices). But it's also BYOB (with a corkage fee), which to us, who had arrived prepared with our own bottles of vino, meant that we had even more leeway in ordering lots of dishes. Which we definitely proceeded to do....

We started off with steamed edamame in Thai basil-lime oil; sautéed Chinese sausage with chili-lime sauce and Thai sticky rice; and a special, which was grilled beef tenderloin paired with a carrot/daikon slaw. Though I didn't taste much basil or lime in the edamame, these three were all tasty, especially the sausage and sticky rice, which was set off exceptionally well by the bright and pungent chili-lime sauce.
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Then there was a small plate of lumpiang shanghai, the Filipino-flavored version of Chinese spring rolls; pancit bihon, thin, stir-fried rice noodles with bits of pork, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, and carrots; and "sake braised beef," which tasted like regular soy-braised beef, paired with "Asian root vegetables"—daikon and carrots. The "mixed seaweed chuka salad with sesame and chili," was good but utterly typical, the same salad served in your average generic sushi joint. CY even pointed out that you could buy this stuff frozen in the supermarket.
Another special, which the server had described as being "Chinese roast pork buns but filled with pulled pork, and with peanut sauce on top" wasn't quite what we had expected. On the plate were two mantou, each split and filled with shredded pork that had been mixed with peanut sauce. There was hoisin sauce on the side for dipping, but the meat was plenty sweet without it.
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Finally, we got "sautéed tofu, Thai basil, and wood ears in spicy soy mirin," and a grilled fish (I don't remember what kind), which was another special. I thought the flavor of the fish was just slightly stronger than it should have been, although CY and WK disagreed. The tofu dish, despite its long, fancy listing of ingredients, tasted like nothing more than tofu braised in brown sauce, albeit with the herbal punch of basil.
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I'm not sure what the hold-up was on our desserts (were the frozen sweets being churned to order?) but at least our dish of rich, spicy chili-chocolate ice cream ended up being comped because of the lag. The lemongrass coconut panna cotta tasted exactly like Thai green curry in room-temp custard form. I suppose if it had been advertised as such it wouldn't have been so jarring, but with the blueberries on top, it was just more strange than anything else.

For the most part, I found the food at Kuma Inn good but not particularly outstanding. Most of the dishes felt very homestyle, which I know is sort of the point, but I think for someone who does a decent amount a home cooking, small portions of dishes that aren't much awesomer than what I can whip up on my own don't draw me.

1 comment:

  1. BYOB? how could a tapas place be BYOB? and that looks like a grippa food, small plates or not. the owner has just opened a new place in BK, Talay. maybe its better? btw, that food doesn't look exactly home-style, except for the split mantou (that ain't class-y, but it's definitely home-y).