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Former Manresa line cook opens Mountain View restaurant

Uploaded: Dec 10, 2015
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Haochen Liu headed west to work at none less than Manresa, David Kinch’s three Michelin-star restaurant in Los Gatos.

The Chinese native began as an apprentice and worked his way through the kitchen, from the vegetable station to the fish station to the meat station. He next moved to Parcel 104, a Bradley Ogden restaurant inside a Santa Clara Marriott hotel.

And now, he’s opened his own restaurant for the first time to bring, he said, the high-end techniques he learned in both restaurants to a broader dining public — and at a more affordable price. Kumino Noodle & Rice has been serving Asian-fusion cuisine from a Mountain View strip mall at 580 N. Rengstorff Ave. since October. The space, Suite J, was formerly home to Bangkok Bistro, a Thai restaurant.

"My dream is to bring the high-end technique, high-end food and super fresh food to a lower level, to bring that to a lower price level," Liu said in an interview this week. "In this way, more customers, they can try the food … and a lot of other new-style cooking (at) a reasonable price. That’s why I opened this restaurant."

Liu stressed that Kumino is not a Japanese restaurant. That starts with the restaurant’s name, which sounds like a Japanese word, he said, but is drawn from the Italian word for cumin, "cumino." The restaurant combines Asian cuisines — Japanese, Chinese, Korean — with Italian, American, French in nontraditional ways, Liu said. Examples: He uses butter in his pork broth and rice bowls, and serves a charcuterie plate with homemade Szechuan sausage, speck and proscuitto ($11).

Other menu items include baos, Chinese stuffed buns, with typical innards like pork belly ($3.50) and pork shoulder ($3.25) and the less traditional corned beef shank ($3.75); ramen ($11 to $13); garlic noodles with spicy chasiu, or Chinese barbecue pork, ($10.50); a rice bowl with poached salmon and miso butter ($13) and assorted mushrooms served with baby arugula and truffle oil ($11).

The menu has and will continue to shift with the seasons, Liu said. This month, during pumpkin season, he’s added a Japanese-style pumpkin curry. Next month might be an appetizer built from winter ingredients like beets, grapefruits, oranges and tangerine, he said. Check out a sample menu here.

Liu also carefully chose several craft beers, on draft and bottled, to complement the food, and only one of them is Japanese (the traditional Sapporo). Each beer has a description and suggestions for what kind of food it pairs well with. There are also several sakes.

Liu said people who used to patronize the Thai restaurant in the same space come in and "kind of worry" about the less traditional concept that replaced it. He’s hoping that with time, that will change.

"I think there are not so many new-concept restaurants around here. Everyone pursues the very traditional way — (whether it’s) Asian, Italian, French … I’m trying to bring my new-style food to them," Liu said.

Kumino is open Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. The restaurant is closed Sundays. For more information, go to the Kumino Facebook page.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Common sense, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm

That background of the chef helps to explain our experience! Some of us tried this place recently for lunch, and were very pleasantly impressed -- the tasteful creativity -- fine layout of the dishes -- a lunch menu of creative rice bowls, and noodle bowls both with and without soup. We tried a range of them. Also the baos or filled buns, not to be missed (try a selection of them!) which could even make up a whole meal.

An unexpectedly good "find" in a modest setting, no more expensive than a typical Mountain-View "Asian" restaurant, but much better than most. This is an extremely self-assured, skilled chef.

We came hoping the quality would match up to that of the recently departed Bangkok Bistro (which had a smallish but well-executed Thai menu). We came away realizing this was even a more interesting and better restaurant than the one it replaced -- maybe one of the best restaurants operating today in Mountain View, or even nearby towns!

Posted by Sylvie, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Dec 10, 2015 at 4:41 pm

I've eaten there twice now and it's pretty good but not very consistent. They do change the menu so your favorite from last time might not be there. The pork buns were good, the fried tofu was just OK (have definitely had better) and the noodles were great one week and extremely oily (with a taste like fake butter!) the next time. I hope he works out the kinks because it could be a really good neighborhood restaurant.

Posted by A nice addition, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Dec 10, 2015 at 7:38 pm

We have been here a few times already and yes, a bit inconsistent, twice the food was great, the other time not as good, but a great addition to the area with easy parking..... small, and not fancy, but functional with original food.... we need more restaurants like this..... quality food, outside of the downtown zones..... makes dining out less stressful regarding parking

Posted by Food nerd, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 11, 2015 at 9:54 am

I hope the chef reads these comments, because in my experience one of the biggest underappreciated killers of restaurants, especially where people have expectations, is inconsistency. If people are trying to decide where to eat, they'll skip a restaurant where they're not sure what to expect, even if they had a good meal in the past. Looking forward to trying it, hope the kinks get worked our!

Posted by Leslie, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 4, 2016 at 7:26 pm

My experience has been the opposite. I live around the corner from Kumino and have been at least a dozen times since they opened. I've found them to be incredibly consistent!!! I highly recommend Kumino and yet I hope it doesn't become too popular that I can't get a table! Super great wait staff too!

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