While leading off a resumé with the phrase "Momofuku's first hire" is an introduction any cook might welcome, Joaquin Baca is a chef who prefers to let his menus do all of the talking. The Texas-born chef formerly behind The Brooklyn Star and the short-lived Teo has made a habit of indoctrinating New Yorkers with obscure Southern specialties like crispy pig ears. Those dishes go on to build cult followings, perhaps because Baca brings a piece of them wherever he goes. And with his latest opening, a cozy Greenwich Village spot called Būmu, which translates to "boom" in Japanese, Baca's Southern-accented izakaya-style fare is a collection of greatest hits that should be making plenty of noise with loyal patrons and new fans alike.
Opening and then closing a restaurant within five months as Baca did with Teo is emotionally draining. However, after working as a private chef over the summer, the opportunity to take over another space presented itself. The chef bit at the chance to get his kitchen crew back together. "Būmu is an izakaya-style restaurant, very much filtered through the lens of my background, cooking experience and our home in New York City," Baca explains. While the chef's love of bringing pig tails to the masses hasn't changed, Būmu's menu of raw seafood, yakitori, noodle dishes and variety of plates where Asian ingredients feature prominently should make everyone content. "As Teo never really got a chance to put down roots, the dishes that we worked so hard on didn't reach as many people as anticipated. And the diners that did enjoy them didn't get much of a chance to come back," Baca says. A few dishes, including Teo's well regarded okonomiyaki made with smoked tobiko, Benton's bacon and Duke's mayo, have returned.
For guests familiar with a traditional Japanese izakaya experience, Būmu's menu and atmosphere will contain elements of familiarity, but is very much charting its own course in the culinary arts. "When cooking food from another culture, what matters most is research, respect and understanding. We pay homage to the spirit and cuisine of Japanese izakayas, but we don't claim to be a Japanese izakaya," Baca advises. Būmu's menu leads off with a selection of raw seafood dishes including scallops with bacon jam and pickled onion petals, and a wagyu tataki carpaccio. Yaki, a selection of single meat or vegetable skewers accompanied by sauces, is also a menu highlight. The chicken skin yaki comes sitting on top of a buttermilk and sambal sauce, while rabbit tsukune arrives with a carrot barbecue sauce and quail egg.
For plates, which tend to expand ever so slightly as you work your way down this section of the menu, guests will find plenty of vegetable-forward items. There are wok fried pea leaves with black garlic and yuzu, a grilled winter squash with red eye gravy and a yaki onigiri with miso apple butter and Brussels sprouts. Fried oysters are served with smoked yam and pickled jalapeño, while grilled short ribs come alongside Spam fried rice. If you can make it all the way to the noodle section, there are three to choose from based on your noodle of preference, including a spicy shrimp broth udon served with fried garlic and charred scallion. But one of the best parts about Būmu isn't just tasting the innovative menu, it's being able to pull up a front row seat to watch the kitchen staff artfully plate your dinner.
"We want to cater to the post-work groups of friends, the date nights and the late-night industry crowd," Baca explains. With a kitchen firmly entrenched in the middle of the dining room, a copper bar ideal for couples and solo diners provides a true opportunity to connect with Būmu's staff, or just be left to their own devices when enjoying a bowl of seaweed-fungus ramen.
While an original cocktail menu is soon to come, managing partner and beverage director Chris Johnson is offering a selection of wines, sakes and craft beers focused on smaller producers. The sake selection is around 25 different bottles from Japan as well as one made locally by Brooklyn Kura. "Since we're focused on shareable small plates, we hope our guests will mix and match pours throughout their meal if that's their jam, or order a large format bottle of something they've been really loving or are intrigued by," Johnson states. And since shareable plates are ideal for sharing a bottle with friends, the restaurant is planning to offer half-priced magnum bottles of wine, too.
Photos by Andrew Bui.