by Andrew Morrison & Michelle Sproule | We took a trip to Tofino on Vancouver Island over the weekend to check out Kuma, the new walk-in-only casual Japanese comfort food restaurant opened by Rob Leadley and Mitsumi Kawai. We reported on its coming thusly last month:
Mitsumi has the business in her blood. She opened the similarly themed Shika on Bowen Island last summer, while her parents, industry veterans Miju and Hiroshi Kawai, opened East Hastings’ popular Basho Cafe last January. Mitsumi has also been the GOODS Community Manager for Scout Magazine for the past two years. She’s good people with superb taste, and casual Japanese is right in her wheelhouse.
Kuma will see a small menu offering things like chicken karaage, Osake-style okonomiyaki, tuna tataki, and noodle bowls (“to warm the soul”). Expect kimchi udon and veggie udon, plus a pork broth ramen — something I’ve wanted to find in Tofino for years. “The karaage and tuna tataki go back to my parents’ Kokoro Japanese Restaurant days in North Van, where I worked a ton,” Mitsumi says. “My mom is from Osaka so we grew up with hot plate okonomiyaki nights at home. She always used to make the cheese yakionigi for us as kids. So there will be lots of tastes of home.” Sharing plates will figure into the options, too, as will local beer and hot/cold sake pairings.
The interior is getting a complete overhaul, which we’ll preview as opening day nears. We’re particularly excited about the dishware from Vancouver’s own 18 Karat, plus the pottery sake cups, which were handmade by Mitsumi’s mom. As you can see in the gallery below, the branding and design work by AlsoKnownAs and Blair Farrington is super tight.
Kuma will be open for 7 days a week from 4pm starting with 1.5 hours of Happy Hour (limited menu) and stay open until about 11pm. “We might do weekend lunch but it’s not set in stone yet,” Mitsumi adds. Full lunch service will start in late spring/early summer, and it will be Shika-style with rice bowls and rice balls (“we added a karaageonigiri that is super addictive”). Prices have yet to be finalized, but I imagine it’ll be pretty reasonable considering the milieu and the town.
It’s pretty much exactly as we imagined it would be: clean, bright, woody, comfortable, welcoming, simple, modern. Top marks to Lauren Aikens of FLO Designs for helping Mitsumi realise her vision. Though we couldn’t stick around long enough to really get into the menu, the two items that we did try – a bowl of shio pork belly ramen and a plate of local albacore tuna tataki – were both excellent. From what we’ve since heard from local restaurant types about opening night on Saturday, Kuma (“Bear” in Japanese) knocked it out of the park. We wish them all the best, and can’t wait to return. Take a look…