I’m all for places that have personality and familiar touches. One thing to know about me: I’m a sucker for house/hotel-themed restaurants like Hotel Tortuga and Hangawi (which is more temple themed, but whateva). Kuma Inn had promise — places with this theme are hard to come by. So yay for this recent find!
Kuma Inn has a homely, cozy and welcoming feel. As soon as you walk up the staircase, you’re greeted by an open-format kitchen, with the chefs busily whipping up dishes on the spot. No shady kitchen business here!
I appreciated the overt transparency backdoor of the Kuma kitchen, but it also means that cooking smells, including the unpleasant char-burn odors or deep fry fumes are also exposed to diners. A better ventiliation system would vastly improve the dining experience.
Décor-wise, Kuma has adorable corner shelving, an open fire escape doorway and personal photos lining certain pockets of the space.
In typical small-business fashion, Kuma Inn proudly (and excessively) displays nearly every magazine/press mention it has managed to garner, since its inception in 2003. Perhaps it’s best to update those articles to ones from the last 5 years to stay relevant, no?
One note before diving in: I personally knew that on the day I went, the chef was short two cooks, so it was an especially slow day. In my eyes, not a great excuse, but worth a mention.
From the outset, service was excruciatingly slow. Our waitress was nice enough, but since she was alone, she only came around when we called her over ourselves. It took us around 20 minutes from arrival to get our food.
Also, they have a vegetarian menu, which she procured for us after we mentioned during ordering that we were vegan. Then she promptly flitted away, even though the vegan menu was essentially the same as the regular one, just with the vegan menu items cordoned off instead of mixed with the whole list of items (quick fix guys, and less work for yall: just have one dedicated veg section on the menu). So we had to wait yet another 10 minutes after she walked away.
After we ordered and got our first two items, she forgot one entrée and had to be reminded after we had finished our two dishes.
Not too important, but she also broke a glass while we were there. Someone was having a bad night!
The music was also much too loud, to the point of me needing to lean in to speak to my dinnermate. Loud music = even louder talking by everyone = headache.
It was nice that they gave out complimentary edamame with our meal. These were perfectly steamed and had a light sprinkling of lime and soy.
Vegetable dumplings ($8) – 4 carrots
I’m not a picky person. But I am a proponent of getting what I pay for. In Chinatown, especially, I expect to have an ample portion size for the price.
After only getting THREE dumplings for $8, I was NOT a happy camper. Plus, it’s not like they warranted such a high price… were they organic? Fair trade? Nope and nope. In fact, they were “local,” meaning the ingredients were probably purchased at the Chinese market down the street for next to nothing.
The taste? I liked them, but nothing to write home about. My mom’s homemade dumplings taste waay better. The filling was your standard carrot and white cabbage deal. The skin was chewy and thick, which I personally like in a dumpling. Not overly salty. Just wish I had another 3 for what I paid.
Sauteed tofu/thai basil/wood ears/spicy soy mirin ($11) –
When a dish’s description half consists of condiments, beware. Condiments/seasonings certainly alter a dish, but but they shouldn’t be a major component in the description.
Makes sense, though, considering you get an appetizer-size portion for an entrée price. The tofu is the type you can buy at the Chinese market for $2.99 an 8 oz. pouch, wood ears as well. I didn’t detect anything special about the dish, save for his light hand when it came to sodium, which I appreciated. Please, moar food!!
Veggie fried rice ($9) –
We finally received our rice after an agonizing — I kid you not — half hour wait. To me, not having a backup when a situation arises is just bad business planning. There’s no real excuse for that.
The veggie fried rice was a bit oily for my taste. It also seemed like there was a dash of MSG in it. Portion size was disappointing, as with everything else — I was better off ordering a plain bowl for $2, which would’ve been half a portion of this dish already.
One line rhyme-ary:
Kuma Inn could’ve been a win, but my empty tummy made me feel real crummy!