Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hide-and-Seek and Asian Tapas

It took way too long, but after 2 1/2 years of living in Manhattan, I finally stumbled into Kuma Inn. This hidden gem serves up Asian-style tapas, strongly infuenced by Chef King Phojanakong's Filipino-Thai heritage, and inflected with techniques learned under David Bouley and Daniel Boulud.

Getting to Kuma Inn is an experience in itself, as it is on the second floor of an obscure tenement on the Lower East Side. They've thankfully now placed a chalkboard outside with the restaurant name, but I got a little bit lost both times I went there, nevertheless.

Once you do find it, though, you are in for a treat. If you've made reservations, you should be seated promptly, with the host immediately asking if you brought any wine or beer that needs to be chilled. Yes, Kuma Inn is BYOB—a quality to swoon over in these times. There's a $5 corkage per bottle of wine that most are more than willing to cough up. The food is amazing. The Filipino dishes are on point. My friend Katherine and I daydream about the delicious pork belly lechon kawali ($10). The skin is left on and fried to a crisp, while the meat is incredibly tender and the slab of fat too tempting to discard. The serving is generous and the pork belly fat formidable, so you might want to order just one serving, no matter what your waitress says about serving sizes. Order some garlic fried rice with this and you'll be in pork heaven.

Another dish I loved here is consisted of pan roasted ocean scallops with bacon, kalamansi and sake. The scallops were so tender and meaty, and benefitted from the pairing with crisp bacon bits and water spinach. I could not have enough of the citrusy, buttery sauce it was swimming in. YUM.

There are also a number of specials every night (you'll be amazed when the waitress recites them, they're THAT many). Last night we tried the pork buns, which had strips of tender, flavorful meat nestled in that addictive soft white bread. We also tried a grilled fish dish, which reminded me of typical home-cooked tilapia or lapu-lapu that's a staple in Filipino households. There was also a beef brisket with bokchoy that bore some similarity to the Filipino dish nilaga.

This place is definitely a haven for Filipinos craving some comfort food, but I would also bring non-Filipino friends who are curious about my country's cuisine. The clientele here is very mixed, which makes it an easier intro to Filipino cuisine than the hard-core Filipino restaurants in the city. And anyway, who can resist "BYOB" these days?

Kuma Inn is located at 113 Ludlow Street, between Delancey and Rivington Streets. Tel. (212) 353-8866 for reservations.

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