The first week of the New Year is the slowest one for restaurants. We eat out then to show support and take advantage of the lower crowd levels. We also wanted to ring in the year with a toast to one of our all-time favorite wine makers Tony Coturri. We made our way to Kuma Inn on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with two bottles of Coturri in hand, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Bollens Vineyards and a 2007 Barbera from Testa Vineyards, both from California’s Mendocino County.
Kuma Inn is BYOB and enables one to pair away with abandon… what a joy. They serve Asian tapas, small plates of great food. The inspiration behind it is chef King Phojanakong, who worked with both David Bouley and Daniel Boulud. His mother is Filipino and his father Thai so fusion is in his DNA. We started out with a chuka salad; mixed seaweed, sesame and chilies and a plate of grilled baby octopus with pickled bamboo shoots. We opened the Barbera first. It was deeply luscious, fruity without any sweetness, ruby red and smoky. There was a perfect balance of acid and tannins that gave a silky mouth feel. The wine drank ripe and mature yet I think it could age for several more years. The consensus at the table was that the octopus was one of the best octopus dishes ever tasted, in any ethnicity; Spanish, Italian or Japanese. Soft and succulent, grilled to perfection with dense flavors of a balsamic reduction. The pickled shoots counterpointed the smooth flesh with a crunchy texture. There was joy in our mouths and smiles at our table as we experienced the tapas. Meanwhile the Coturri kept opening up with each minute and each bite.
Next, we chose three dishes: a Pancit bihon – stir-fried noodles with port sausage, bean sprouts and carrots, a pan roasted ocean scallops with bacon kalamansi and sake and finally sautéed tofu with Thai basil and wood ear mushrooms in spicy soy mirin. Out of control best describes this course and the Coturri Cab. Clean strong fruit greets you, then a rich smooth tar and leather feel rests on the tongue. A round smoky richness lingers too. Frankly by this time the dinner evolved (or degenerated depending on your point of view) into a series of sips and chews accompanied by grunts and hums of joy.
The food here is exquisite. I had lunch four days later at the justly acclaimed Momofuku and honestly the food at Kumma Inn is equal. The tastes and flavors are bold, innovative and utterly competent in their execution. The ingredients come together perfectly and the sauces are exquisite. This is a cash only second story joint. Ringing in the New Year with Tony Coturri and King Phojanakong augers well for drinking and eating in the coming decade.