Who knew that ramen was exactly what East Hampton needed? Jesse Matsuoka did.
“We’ve had a lot of fun being able to figure out what people are looking for. Our focus became ramen, rolls and buns, where we can talk about ingredients and have a fun, delicious approach. It’s not too out there but still has the foundations of Japanese cuisine presented in a bowl of fun,” says Matsuoka, co-owner of Sen and, speaking of a good time, the morning-to-night taco bar, K-Pasa, both in Sag Harbor.
If Sen was his father’s dream and the place where the younger Matsuoka learned the ropes and Manna at the Lobster Inn was where he further cemented his commitment to sourcing locally, K-Pasa was where he began to show his personality as a restaurateur. In Kumiso, which had its soft opening in August, you’re witnessing the mash-up of all those things: Matsuoka’s embrace of multiple cultures, his commitment to high-quality ingredients, and his drive to present it all with a playful vibe.
It’s a tight little menu further pared down into sections — Snacks, Rolls, Salads, Buns, Ramen — with no more than three to five offerings in each, served in a petite L-shaped spot lined with ruby-colored banquette seating down a brick-lined alley off Newtown Lane.
But what offerings they are. And, as Matsuoka promises, they’re fun. Think crispy, crunchy deep fried, tempura-battered baby corn with matcha ranch dipping sauce (why didn’t Doritos think of that?!), the typical condiment of oil and vinegar re-imagined into a tangy citrus-miso drizzle on burrata and tomato salad, and a steakhouse wink in the Torched Wagyu roll with au poivre rice. Even the more familiar bites get a little something special, like the sprinkling of smoked salt adding an extra earthy pop to the normally ubiquitous edamame starter.
There’s joy, too, in the more traditional-ish dishes, like the plush little Peking duck bun, draped in delicious hoisin with fresh pops of chopped cucumber and scallion, and the crispy, crunchy cakes of rice with velvety cubes of hamachi tuna spiked with a sweet-and-savory honey-miso accent.
The star, though, is the ramen. It’s warming and filling and chock full of fun surprises. The Classic Piggy is bulky with a generous helping of tender sliced of chashu pork with a heap of bamboo shoots and gently bitter radish to counteract the rich, meaty broth swimming with oodles of noodles, and the Chili Chook is a wonderful umami bomb, with savory-sweet soy chicken with a hit of chili paste spooned into the center and tucked with scallions and a tangle sprouts, and a lifting smattering of fresh cilantro. If you think a poached egg on each is overkill, think again — it’s the protein cherry on the sundae (and, truth be told, it’s more soft boiled than poached; our yolks were not oozy in the least).
The main elements of design come in the form of a wild black and white mural on the main wall, designed and painted by Canadian-based tattoo artist Danny Lawless, who also was responsible for the mural in the back at K-Pasa. “He was schoolmates with one of our parters, David Hart. He’s an Irish lad who lives in Canada and we flew him down to the Hamptons,” says Matsuoka. “What’s so beautiful about Danny is we literally give him only a couple of ideas and say ‘go!’ and he builds out and out and out.”
Lawless also just designed a whole new series based on Matsuoka’s Japanese lucky coin cats that you see when you enter the space. “He designed one to look like iron man, another like [Audrey Hepburn in] Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He did a whole bunch of different styles of our Kumiso cat. It’s all to say: Come as who you are. We accept all here, all the cool cats!”
Matsuoka is definitely onto something there. While you might find yourself parking in front of places like Cartier or Prada, Kumiso’s all-for-ramen spirit ditches the glitz and embraces the joy (and reasonable price point) of this casual, popular Japanese street food. Its diners on any given night are the proof.
“It’s great because when you look at the clientele coming through the space, it’s the widest demographic of people – you have the kids who just came out of school to have a bowl of ramen. The East Hampton police come in and order our take-out. And then the EH elites coming in wearing these crazy Prada shoes and have a bowl of ramen,” he says. “Anyone and everyone loves ramen!”
Kumiso is not the coda on Matsuoka’s East Hampton exploration. Stay tuned for his next spot slotted to open in November, Kizzy T’s in the former O by Kasaki space at 47 Montauk Highway, a space he took over in September. “It’s going to be our Japanese tapas gastro pub with really well done bar food, like curry and cheese wings, teriyaki burgers with pickled pineapple and lots of dumplings,” along with pub games like fooseball, darts, shuffleboard and pool in a room plastered in retro Japanese posters.
Says Matsuoka with a smile: “We are all about fun.”
Kumiso is located at 37 Newtown Lane, 631-527-7926 — enter via the alley; open Sunday to Thursday, noon to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m..