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East End Eats: Kumiso Is a Little Gem

Mon, 08/28/2023 - 13:43
Peking duck, Buffalo K.F.C. cauliflower, and chicken katsu buns are among the many small, tasty, and affordable offerings at Kumiso.
Laura Donnelly

A tiny little jewel box of a restaurant opened three weeks ago in an alleyway in East Hampton Village. I knew nothing about this place, but suddenly was hearing good things. Kumiso is its name, and it is based on the many izakayas found in Tokyo.

In anticipation of witnessing a historic event on television Thursday evening (the mugshot of prisoner number PO1135809), we popped in to Kumiso at 5 sharp, just when it opened.

The restaurant is in a space previously occupied by two small galleries. As you enter the bar area, there are a few tables with bentwood chairs. Turn to the right and there is another tiny dining room with an open kitchen surrounded by dark green tiles and other colorful blue, green, and brown patterned tiles. When I spied a huge Danny Lawless mural on the wall and read the menu, I realized this is a Sen/K Pasa situation. Lucky East Hampton Village!

We began our meal with baby corn "cornlettes" that had been tempura-battered and fried, served with a matcha (green tea powder) ranch dressing. They were delicious crunchy little bites. We also tried the crispy rice, rectangles topped with cubed hamachi (yellowtail) and a honey miso glaze. These are reminiscent of the crunchy rice tuna served at Sen in Sag Harbor. They were chewy, crunchy, sweet from the sauce, and topped with cilantro microgreens adding a nice pungent note. Our third appetizer was steamed chicken lemongrass gyoza with a great sauce that we couldn't quite identify. Our waitress, Lori, kindly reported back to us that it was composed of sweet ponzu, tamari, and lime, lemon, and orange juices with a touch of sugar and cornstarch.

We then tried the three buns on the menu, Peking duck, K.F.C. Buffalo cauliflower, and chicken katsu. The Peking duck was excellent: shredded moist duck meat with hoisin sauce, and julienned scallions, carrots, and cucumber. The K.F.C. cauliflower was a floret of cauliflower tempura doused with just the right amount of hot sauce, some julienned pickled carrots, and cilantro microgreens.

The chicken katsu was another winner, a little square of panko-bread-crumb-coated chicken topped with a bit of slaw, Kewpie Japanese mayo, and perhaps some of the traditional tonkatsu sauce, a thick, salty-sweet condiment. We also sampled two salads, two sushi rolls, chicken ramen, and a "kimcheese" grilled sandwich. The salads were very good, one was a mixture of seaweeds, salty and sesame-oil-flavored, with some beautiful butter lettuce lining the bowl. The chicory carrot salad was huge and refreshing. It was mostly Little Gem lettuce along with strips of radicchio and shredded carrots in a ginger sesame dressing.

One of the rolls we tried was beets with whipped feta tofu and pistachios. Sounds weird but it was delicious, sweet beets with salty feta and crunchy pistachio bits. The other roll, Super Mario, was hamachi with edamame, quinoa crunch, and jicama. Again, a quirky funny combination that worked very well.     

The only dish that didn't elicit raves was the chili chook ramen. Chook is Australian slang for hen. It was good but not great and didn't have much chicken for such a big bowl. It had plenty of noodles and bean sprouts, some fresh sweet corn kernels, microgreens, and a dollop of chili paste on top, perhaps gochujang or kanzuri or doubanjiang; the possibilities are endless. The kimcheese grilled cheese sandwich was mighty fine, just slightly tangy and spicy from the kimchi with gooey melted cheese. We couldn't finish the sandwich or the ramen and the generous chicory salad so they were packed up to take home.

Prices at Kumiso are very reasonable. Most offerings are small, making for a wider variety of things to try, which we very much appreciated and enjoyed. Snacks and sharing dishes are $9 to $23, buns are $6 to $8, salads are $9 to $21, ramen is $23 to $34, kids menu offerings are $8 to $15, and mochi ice creams are $3. Our waitress, Lori, was great, knowledgeable, and friendly.

We passed on the dessert offerings -- mochi ice creams in chocolate, lychee, matcha, and coconut flavors -- because we were in a hurry to get home to watch history in the making. Mochi are little rice dough buns, sticky, stretchy, and chewy. They are often filled with savory or sweet bean paste called daifuku. They are an acquired taste and mouthfeel and I am a huge fan.

We learned an interesting tidbit about Kumiso on our visit. Firstly, Kumiso is a made-up word. Secondly, back in May, this tiny restaurant was meant to be a chicken rotisserie joint but PSEG informed the owners right before opening that the gas-use permit had expired in the 1990s. Yikes! With a quick pivot of concept and menu, they managed to open a few weeks ago using electricity only. Apparently, the muralist will be making a return visit to add some Japanese images to all the cute chickens already adorning the wall.

There aren't many affordable, fun, and creative places to eat in East Hampton so it is very likely that Kumiso will be a big hit for locals and vacationers alike.

Ouen shite imasu, Kumiso!

37 Newtown Lane
East Hampton
Mondays and Thursday, 5-9 p.m.
Friday through Sunday, 5-10 p.m.

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