[Here's my long overdue post on my birthday dinner at Kuma Inn that's taken place on November 7th.]
After having [cref my-birthday-celebration-part-1-cakes-drinks-and-fried-hot-dogs a cocktail at PDT], we (as in Helen, Giulia, Seungmi, and I) all walked down south to the Lower East Side for Asian tapas at Kuma Inn. Since it’s a relatively small group than what I’ve originally planned on, I didn’t bother with reservations even though it’s a Friday night.
We’re lucky that a party of four canceled last minute so we’ve scored a table. We just have to wait five minutes or so for them to set up the table. Once seated, we started to figure out what we want to eat. Problem is, our stomachs were kind of full because of the fried hot dogs we ate at PDT but we pressed on and ordered a bunch of plates.
We started with a light starter, mixed seaweed chuka salad with sesame and chili. It reminds me of the cold noodle and seaweed dish we had in [cref dinner-not-drinking-for-me-at-least-at-kasadela Kasadela]. The difference between these two was that Kasadela’s was a bit more refreshing. Kuma’s version tasted a bit more earthier, if that made any sense.
Then we move on to the Grilled salmon, shitake mushrooms and baby bok choy. It’s cooked to a well done but still moist, topped with salty salmon roe, and sitting on a bed of stir-fried bok choy and other vegetation mixed with a sweet-hot sauce. It’s a favorite for the majority (Helen and Giulia loves salmon). I prefer the salmon to be a bit more rarer but it does taste very good.
Following up with sautéed tofu, thai basil and wood ears in spicy soy mirin, this is arguably the least liked. I do like the fact that it came out of the kitchen piping hot but it’s really spicy which Helen doesn’t like. Giulia doesn’t like wood ears mushrooms and Seungmi doesn’t want to eat it because her stomach isn’t feeling so great that particular week. I ended up eating most of that dish and my throat was in relative pain from the heat. It’s not a bad dish but most of us can’t handle the heat.
But thankfully, we have that evening’s special to save us, the steamed pork buns. Perhaps a nod to Momofuku’s but it’s not close to it. They used the actual Chinese mantou and stuff it with lean, pulled pork meat and top it with pickled daikon and sliced scallions. There’s too much bread to meat ratio and without any sauce (except for that salty/sweet dippping sauce on the side) and the pickled veggies, it’s on the bland side. I prefer the pork belly fattiness of Momofuku’s buns.
The pan roasted ocean scallops with bacon, kalamansi and sake was arguably the smallest portion size for what we paid for. The scallops were small (about the diameter of a quarter) and it lacked bacon flavor unless you eat the greens that’s sitting on the side.
Then we move on to the highly touted dish (at least on Chowhound), Sautéed Chinese sausage with Thai chili-lime sauce. I think the ones used from Kuma Inn are the mediocre stuff from that’s bought from Chinatown. I mean, probably for the ones who haven’t traveled to China or Hong Kong and eaten the “real” thing (or have a really awesome aunt from HK to ship a few pounds to you and eat them), I guess it’s passable. I’m just not thrilled with it because I’ve eaten superlative Chinese sausages at home.
Finally we’ve reached the final dish of the evening, deep–fried pork belly lechon kawali with atchara. I loved the crispiness of the pig skin melding with the large, moist chunks of pork meat. If there was an after shot of that dish, there’s nothing much left remained except a few strands of shredded pickled vegetables and a small pool of dipping sauce.
We all felt stuffed and bloaty, regretting that we ordered that many dishes but we enjoyed our meal. We paid the check and waddled our way around the semi-crowded streets of Lower East Side, filled with the Europeans and nightlife-loving people, to go home.