As many of the Kumino fans know, chef Haochen Liu, a Manresa alum, closed down the fusion noodle, bun and rice plate place in Mountain View last year, citing a small dining room and an inability to expand the restaurant as factors. Since then the chef has been looking for a suitable location. Recently I got a note from the restaurant FB page that they were reopening in Cupertino as Kumino China. We went there on their third day of operation, for a Sunday lunch.
Chef Liu’s partner, chef Bryan Leavey, has gone back to Boston already, and the chef is now partnering with the owners who own CBI Boiling Fish and some other restaurants. In fact, CBI Boiling Fish’s Cupertino location (the other in Milpitas) has converted directly to Kumino China. I’ve never been to CBI, but judging from Yelp pictures, Kumino China just put a new sign on the door and reused all the interior elements- design, furniture, bar, utensils. It was quite a shock because Kumino in Mountain View went with a minimalist modern look, and personally I think it matched the style of the food quite well- forward looking, not bound by tradition. The current CBI interior has heavy and exaggerated traditional Chinese accents, e.g. the chairs especially, so it was a bit weird as we sat down inside for the first time.
The menu has changed somewhat. Gone were the soup noodles, which had some of my favorite dishes at the original Kumino. After the meal we had a chat with the chef and he mentioned that those dishes were often compared to ramen around the Bay Area and misunderstood. I felt his garlic oil pork noodle soup ranked as one of the very top bowl of ramen in the Bay Area, (still drooling). But perhaps cooking multiple big vessels of stock every day is just too much hassle and unprofitable compared to cooking the soupless noodles that the menu retained.
We were told there are two chefs in the kitchen now. We ordered some new items not found on the old menu, and we also had some old standbys.
Uni chawanmushi. My vote for the best dish of the meal. Silky, steamed egg custard with uni on top and a savory, salty, and rich brownish soy sauce-based sauce. Steaming, decadent, and delicious.
Complementary fried buns before the meal. Slightly sweet.
Truffle and mushroom jiaozi. Done quite well. These were made in house, including the skin, which was chewy, and full of gluten. The chef, coming from Tianjin, should be well versed in all things jiaozi. The inside was full of what looked like small chunks of oyster mushrooms and Chinese? black truffles. Tasted pretty well. My wife liked it more than me. Later recommended to us was the pork jiaozi, which we’ll try next time.
Garlic pork noodle. We were told by the chef after the meal that the noodle was made in house. We told him that the medium flat noodle was overcooked substantially, which really affected the whole dish. So chalk that one up to day 3 hiccups. The pork was cooked well, tender and well flavored. The asparagus was bland. The chef mentioned that Kumino China now shares the same ingredient sources as the rest of the CBI (+ other ) restaurant operations. I felt while the asparagus was already pretty bland (just like most random asparagus found in supermarkets) when Kumino was a standalone restaurant with the chef controlling its sourcing. Now, its even more so. So let’s hope that if its a sourcing issue, that the chef can keep the sourcing at a certain level for Kumino China.
Dan dan noodle. The ramen noodle was slightly overcooked this time, but better than the garlic pork noodle. The sliced pork was seasoned well, as usual. Both plates of noodles, however, missed just that little spark that took them to the level at Kumino. The flavors were just a little less pronounced.
As expected, Kumino China on day 3 remained a work-in-progress. Some of the kitchen issues like cooking timing- I am certain the chef will sort it out in time and not worried about at all. Some, related to flavors, we’ll have to wait and see if its personnel ramp up or sourcing or something else. Overall the dishes are promising, and its clear he knows how to cook (see the chawanmushi). Its not fair to compare day 3 of Kumino China to the well-oiled machine that Kumino was when I had my first meal there.
I do hope that the partnership between the chef and the CBI people is a good one, because I don’t think any constraints on his talents is good on anybody’s part, and I hope that its more than a marriage of convenience because the chef has been out of the kitchen for almost a year (and he has a young family to feed). He did slim down significantly, however. He attributed that to the stress of opening a new restaurant. In any case, I’ll be cheering the chef on and will return once they ramp up to try the duck, a new item on the menu.
The money-making beverages now: maotai and various types of whole leaf teas:
Soft-opening menu. The chef recommended the half duck for us next time, which came with two bowls of duck ramen.
New Kumino China, or existing CBI, decor:
The original Kumino discussion: