The team behind two Michelin-starred Oriole debuts Kumiko (630 W. Lake Street, Chicago) on the cusp of the New Year. Led by partners Julia Momose and husband-and-wife team Noah and Cara Sandoval, the formal bar showcases the craft of food and beverage with a focus on offerings from Japan, Momose’s home country. Kumiko soft opened to the public beginning on Wednesday, December 26 with previews of the food and drink menus, which will be followed by the official opening with full menus on Monday, December 31.
At Kumiko, the team embraces a philosophy similar to Oriole, highlighting precision and improvisation, particularly through the customized omakase-style tasting menu that blends the creativity of the bar and kitchen together and allows them to play off each other. At the core of the ethos of Kumiko is a respect for the process and the moments that make up a truly memorable dining experience, not simply the final result. From the choice of glassware and service pieces to the exact mixing and cooking techniques, each element is thoughtfully considered and carefully executed. At Kumiko, Partner & General Manager Cara Sandoval is committed to providing the same level of service and hospitality that people have come to know at Oriole, making each guest feel welcome and guiding them through the evening with a sense of discovery.
Leading the bar at Kumiko is Partner & Creative Director Julia Momose, who brings her unique perspective to the craft of mixing spirits and spiritfrees, an inclusive movement that she has championed. The a la carte drink menu features both cocktails and spiritfrees, and each drink is served in a specially-chosen vessel which enhances the experience, many of which were found during Momose’s recent visits to Japan. Highlights include the Triptych, with purple sweet potato, Armagnac, umeshu, sweet potato shochu, and junmai sake, and the Pepperberry Tonic with Tasmanian pepperberry, sansho, angelica root, verjus rouge, Fever-Tree elderflower tonic. Kumiko also features a rotating Japanese whisky highball, starting with Highball no. 1, which features Iwai Japanese whisky paired with 20 -year-old Oloroso sherry and Q club soda.
For the bar’s 5-course omakase-style tasting menu (priced at $130 per person), which pairs five dishes from Partner & Executive Chef Noah Sandoval with five beverages from Momose, the selection process begins when the guest makes their reservation. Momose and her team consult with the guest, asking them their preferences and getting to know their palate before putting together custom beverage pairings for the five courses. These can be a mix of cocktails, spiritfrees, shochu, sake, wine or other spirits, depending on the guest’s tastes. Once they arrive, the customization continues, with the bartender asking the guest about their current mood and cravings, and then tweaking the plans as needed.
Sandoval and Chef de Cuisine Mariya Russell bring the same laser-focused attention to detail and quality to Kumiko’s food program as they practice at Oriole. In keeping with Japanese culinary tradition, Sandoval and Russell look to source the best ingredients they can find and treat them simply, while surprising guests with little luxuries and new flavor profiles. Dishes will change with the seasons and with the evolution of the cocktail menu, so returning guests will always get to experience something new each time they visit. The a la carte menu features 12 savory and four sweet dishes, meant to be shared. Standouts include Capital Oysters served warm in kombu butter with kumquat and nasturtium; Cardinal Prawn Tempura with prawn head mayonnaise and yuzu; and Japanese Milk Toast with fermented honey ice cream.
Designed by Momose, the Kumiko space feels refined, yet relaxed, with special touches at every turn. Upon entering, guests are welcomed at the door and guided through a corridor to the main dining and bar area, building anticipation of what’s to come and allowing them to decompress a bit before being seated. Stunning pieces of Kumiko woodwork created specifically for the bar by Tanihata Co. in Toyama, Japan, are found throughout the space. Kumiko is the ancient Japanese woodworking art focused on “joinery” in which no hardware is used to hold the intricately carved pieces together. The Kumiko panels, strategically placed, are both beautiful and functional, allowing light, air, and music to flow from one side of the room to the other. Momose also worked with local designer Alex Dunham of Brokenpress Design + Fabrication, who created the bar’s custom mid-century modern furnishings including the tables, host stand, bar, and window frames.