Kuma Izakaya is not your typical Japanese izakaya restaurant in Vancouver. The Chef/Owner Kim Hyun Woo, a South Korea-born and classically trained, has an impressive resume that includes working at the michelin-starred juggernaut, Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, as well as Miku, the local high-profile eatery of modern Japanese cuisine. When Sophia from Sophiaeats.com invited me to Kuma’s media tasting event, I was eager to find out how the chef would incorporate all Korean, Japanese and French cooking to his menu.
We started with Kuma Signature Salad ($10.75), a plate full of vibrant fresh ingredients, with yam chips in different colours (purple, white & yellow) and iceberg lettuce for the crunch , topped with some house-made ricotta and sliced avocado for the creaminess, drizzled with a house citrusy dressing, and finally finished with a ring of balsamic reduction. Besides being visually pleasing, the salad boasts some great texture contrast and the refreshing flavours, which makes it fun to eat. But personally I’m not a big fan of iceberg lettuce as it provides so little taste while get bruised so easily and messy.
Booze is definitely one of the most important integral part of the izakaya experience. Kuma recommends soju as the choice of alcohol to go with the tapas dishes. Chef Kim was showing us all five flavours of the Chum Churm and Jinro soju: Original, Citron, Apple, Peach and Grapefruit. Being always a fan of the Chum Churum Original, I actually never tasted their flavoured soju. I always prefer using plain soju in creating cocktails or shots. But if you want to drink like a real Korean, sipping soju straight is certainly how they do it.
For hot tapas, we were served with the izakaya classics, the Ebimayo and Chicken Karaage, although the versions here were the Mango Ebimayo ($12.50) and the Crispy Chicken ($15.50). While The mango mayo was delicious, it was great to see the little touches like some sprinkled herbs, cherry tomatoes, and garlic chips that elevated the whole dish. The fried chicken dish was more of the Korean style. Although the chicken was not as crispy as I had hoped, the sweet, tangy and spicy sauce on top was fantastic with some final touch of finely chopped chili pepper.
Kuma Izakaya has a sizable section of sushi and sashimi on their menu. We were able to try the Kuma Assorted Sashimi ($29.99) with Sockeye salmon, Albacore tuna, Hamachi, Amaeb and Masago Tai. For 30 bucks, the sashimi is super fresh and tasty. But what’s more impressive about this dish is the serving bowl made from a piece of ice, quite whimsical in presentation. The Aburi Nigiri included Hamachi and Amaebi ($3.75/piece). I just loved the size of the cut of Hamachi on those little rice pillows, which provided such a satisfying sensation in my mouth. The prawn heads from Amaebi were also served deep fried tempura style. But the tempura batter kinda protected the prawn head from the heat, where can i buy diovan 160 mg causing the head itself not being as crunchy as desired.
After the Japanese style sushi and sashimi, Chef Kim presented us a couple Korean dishes. The Osso Buco ($29.99) was my favourite. After being slowly braised, the AAA short rib were juicy, succulent and flavourful. Although Sophia mentioned that the rib should have been more tender, this is already a perfection for me as I’m such a texture guy. The dish also has a spicy version if you love the Korean spices.
The Kuma Seafood Champon ($17) is packed with familiar Korean flavours as I’m always a fan of Korean spicy noodle soup. And I was happy to find a whole meaty squid on top of the noodles. It was also interesting to see the use of bean sprouts in the soup – an idea borrowed from Vietnamese pho maybe?
The meal was completed with House Tiramisu, which the chef is planning to put on his menu soon. Aren’t we lucky to have the first taste. The serving vessels was definitely making the dessert more appealing. And the dessert tasted a lot lighter than it looked.
It’s also worth mentioning that Kuma Izakaya is sharing the same block with a few other Asian influenced restaurants such as Simply Thai, Nautica 21 Miles (Chinese fusion), Kibo (Japanese lounge), and House Special (modern Vietnamese), making this quieter part of Yaletown as attractive as ever for foodies. The interiors of the restaurant are quite unique and appealing, featuring those big round light fixtures under the dark ceiling that resemble the giant jelly fish at the Vancouver Aquarium, and a wall of glimmering silver chains with Polaroid images of former diners clipped on them. The chic lounge ambiance reminds me some of the places I have visited in Seoul. It is great to see the chef has brought part of his culture into the design.
Although I have found the restaurant cozy, the food decent and the the price quite reasonable here at Kuma Izakaya considering its Yaletown location, I truly wish the chef had put more French influence in the dishes that I was anticipating. However, their classic Japanese/Korean dishes as well as some typical izakaya fare are impressive with quality ingredients, refined details or little twists, which showed us a glimpse of the chef’s classically trained background. According to my friend Food Wench, the chef is planning to train his line of chefs to adapt more modern ways of cooking. This is definitely exciting if it’s true and I am looking forward to the updates.
* All food and beverages in this review were complimentary. Opinions are on the reviewer’s own. *
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