First Look Inside “Kuma” – Tofino’s New Japanese Comfort Food Eatery

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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…

  • Kuma Tofino
    Kuma Tofino
  • JK__1843
  • Bar seats with a view of the open kitchen at Kuma Tofino
    Bar seats with a view of the open kitchen at Kuma Tofino
  • From the back corner looking toward the front door | Kuma Tofino
    From the back corner looking toward the front door | Kuma Tofino
  • Mits and Rob | Kuma Tofino
    Mits and Rob | Kuma Tofino
  • Tuna tataki service | Kuma Tofino
    Tuna tataki service | Kuma Tofino
  • A Jeremy Koreski photo of a bear | Kuma Tofino
    A Jeremy Koreski photo of a bear | Kuma Tofino
  • jig-caught local albacore tuna tataki | Kuma Tofino
    jig-caught local albacore tuna tataki | Kuma Tofino
  • Mits takes a bite of tuna at Kuma Tofino
    Mits takes a bite of tuna at Kuma Tofino
  • The woody interior | Kuma Tofino
    The woody interior | Kuma Tofino
  • A31I3021
    A31I3021
  • A31I2620
    A31I2620
  • Service detail | Kuma Tofino
    Service detail | Kuma Tofino
  • JK__2028
  • Retail ceramics | Kuma Tofino
    Retail ceramics | Kuma Tofino
  • JK__1623
  • Retail detail | Kuma Tofino
    Retail detail | Kuma Tofino
  • Retail shelving at front door | Kuma Tofino
    Retail shelving at front door | Kuma Tofino
  • Tuna Tataki | Kuma Tofino
    Tuna Tataki | Kuma Tofino
  • Shio pork belly ramen with kale at Kuma
    Shio pork belly ramen with kale at Kuma
  • Chef Simon Burch | Kuma Tofino
    Chef Simon Burch | Kuma Tofino
  • Hat detail | Kuma Tofino
    Hat detail | Kuma Tofino
  • Local taps | Kuma Tofino
    Local taps | Kuma Tofino
  • Mits behind the bar | Kuma Tofino
    Mits behind the bar | Kuma Tofino
  • Dining room | Kuma Tofino
    Dining room | Kuma Tofino
  • Mitsumi Kawai on opening day | Kuma Tofino
    Mitsumi Kawai on opening day | Kuma Tofino
  • Bar stools | Kuma Tofino
    Bar stools | Kuma Tofino
  • Open Kitchen | Kuma Tofino
    Open Kitchen | Kuma Tofino
  • Bar and open kitchen | Kuma Tofino
    Bar and open kitchen | Kuma Tofino
  • Banquette | Kuma Tofino
    Banquette | Kuma Tofino
  • Dining room | Kuma Tofino
    Dining room | Kuma Tofino
  • Signage | Kuma Tofino
    Signage | Kuma Tofino

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