Our Gourmet: A taste of Japan, just off Interstate 93
New Hampshire is terrific for discovering hidden treasures, whether they be ocean and mountain vistas, byways through charming countryside or attractions off the beaten path.
And with its thriving restaurant business, little-known locations in the Granite State offer up some of the best dining.
We stumbled across this one at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning recently when we stopped for a coffee in Windham at one of the ubiquitous doughnut shops that seem to be on every street in the state. There, directly across Route 111, was a sharp-looking sushi restaurant tucked into a small shopping center.
Coffee secured, we drove across the street and peeked into Kumo Sushi, and decided on the spot to return for dinner. We're glad we liked what we saw that morning, and even more pleased after our return but a week later.
Kumo is tiny. Only half a dozen tables, and half a dozen seats at the sushi bar, for a total of two dozen seats. Each table is thickly laminated and spotlessly clean, with Asian decorations of black and gold under the lacquer, and contrasting brown leather chairs and bright yellow walls.
The restaurant is nicely decorated with Japanese rice-paper dividers and window coverings, and spotlighting above the small sushi bar.
Hibachi-grilled dinners are on the menu, but our server explained they are prepared in the kitchen, so there are no tableside demonstrations of that style of cooking.
We decided on a Sunday brunch, Japanese-style, and arrived early in the afternoon soon after Kumo opened. It was good timing, to relax in a comfortable eatery where there were diners at only one other table.
Sharing everything we ordered, we started with a bowl of Dumpling Soup ($3.95) and my dining companion's Miso Soup and House Salad, included with lunch.
I have had many Chinese dumplings, and plenty of wonton soup, but nothing compared to Kumo's Dumpling Soup. Two large, stuffed dumplings, similar in shape to Peking ravioli, were floating in a large steaming bowl of clear chicken broth, with the remainder of the bowl chock full of super-thinly sliced vegetables and clear rice noodles. There were so many vegetables I was tempted to ask for a fork, and there was no shortage of broth to warm a winter stomach. This is an outstanding soup, and an overwhelmingly healthier start to a Sunday mid-day meal than anything on an American-style brunch menu.
We shared a small plate of Spicy Yellowtail sushi roll ($5.50), and were impressed with the moistness of the rice, the flavor of the seaweed-style inner wrapper, and the fresh tuna inside. Good and proper sushi is moist, but holds together, and is served immediately after being prepared so the flavors of different ingredients remain distinct. Kumo scores on all points.
Our deep-fried Soft-Shell Crab appetizer ($6.95) was also flavorful and nicely presented, with a lightly-breaded coating, served on a bed of lettuce with garnish. Too much breading and too long in the fryer makes such dishes taste sometimes like french fries, but this crab was allowed to breathe and impart its own unique taste. It's large, too — enough for a modest lunch for one.
Our main course, Seafood and Vegetable Tempura ($16.95) , featured a large selection. Salmon, crabmeat, shrimp and delicious sea scallops were very lightly dusted with panko breadcrumbs before lightly deep-frying, and the tastes of the individual seafoods shone strongly through — accompanied by a bevy of vegetables and dipping sauce. It is a full dinner, with a crisp fresh salad, warm rice and soup on the side.
The serving was large enough that we shared it at brunch, and it provided two small lunches the next day.
We had nearly had enough, but the dessert menu tempted, with various ice cream dishes and a fried-banana offering. We chose Tempura Ice Cream ($3.95).
We rarely eat dessert, doing justice to our palates during the main course, but this simple dish topped off our Japanese brunch in fine style. A large scoop of vanilla ice cream, dusted in the reliable panko breadcrumbs and deep fried for some minimal time, arrived at our table amid a tic-tac-toe design of chocolate sauce, topped by whipped cream and a cherry. What a treat! Cold, cold ice cream with a layer of warm, crispy panko, each bite dragged through as much chocolate sauce as one wanted.
The ice cream did not last long on our plate, but the ending to our fine meal is a memorable one.
Kumo is located on the north side of Route 111 about a mile west of Exit 3 off I-93 — a short excursion indeed from the road most traveled — and we believe it is well worth the trip from just about anywhere in southern New Hampshire.