Kuma Inn’s façade looks like the entryway to a sketchy “massage” parlor. It’s located on the second floor of an old building in the lower east side, right above an underground Bulgarian bar that greets you with a sign that was made in power point and printed on an HP inkjet.
Born to a Filipino mom and a Thai dad, King Phojanakong, Kuma Inn’s chef and owner, developed a tapas menu inspired by his childhood upbringing. Zazi and I feasted on a bunch of mini dishes. Unfortunately, they were utterly inconsistent in quality. Therefore, I will attempt a different approach with this review and rate every dish individually. My “bottom line” will represent the average score (give or take a point or two).
1. Yellowfin tuna tartar with rice noodle crisp – 90
The tuna tartar, laid on a bed of cucumbers, was super fresh and was served chilled yet not “straight out of the fridge”. The dressing, a mix of soy sauce and sesame oil, did not overpower in flavor.
2. Pork spareribs – 88
Grilled and braised with garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and coconut milk. The marinade was lightly sweet and very well spiced. The meat, however, was a little dry.
3. Tofu – 92
Sautéed in a spicy soy and mirin sauce with Thai basil and wood ears (Chinese tree mushrooms), the tofu was an absolutely great dish. Thai basil is such a fragrant herb. The dish smelled as good as it tasted.
4. Shrimp shumai – 100
The best shrimp shumai I’ve ever had. Juicy and soft – perfect.
5. Sautéed Chinese sausages – 100
This is, by far, the best dish of the evening. Served on crispy fried onions with a Thai chili-lime dipping sauce and sticky rice. The sausage was spicy and sweet. Dipped in the chili-lime sauce it felt like my mouth was throwing the coolest party in town and I was the guest of honor. Zazi confided in our waitress and whispered; “I want to marry this sauce”. The rice took “sticky” to the next level.
6. Pan roasted ocean scallops – 65
Cooked with bacon, kalamansi (Asian lime) and sake. I was not impressed. It was too fishy. I think I’m just not a big fan of scallops in general. Also, I think the bacon was playing hide and seek with us and we were “it”.
7. Coconut and ginger panna cotta with pomegranate seeds – 100
Wow, this was magical. Airy and lightly sweetened, the coconut, ginger and pomegranate made for a great ménage à trois.
8. Coconut and lemongrass rice pudding – 55
It was bad. The texture was of rice smothered in pudding and the flavor was of a cold side dish, not dessert.
As for booze – Kuma Inn is a BYOB restaurant. This was my first BYOB experience and I must say it was kinda fun. Zazi got us a six-pack of Blue Moon. However, I much prefer having an extensive list of them tipsy-making liquids to choose from.
So, the average comes to 86. I’ll throw in 3 extra points for excellent service, nice dimmed ambiance and prompt seating. Not to mention, the beautiful Bulgarians having a smoke downstairs as you leave the restaurant. Beautiful Bulgarians - who knew.
Bottom line: 89 :)
113 Ludlow St., 2nd fl. (bet. Delancey & Rivington Streets)