Eat Here Right Now

An Izakaya Finds Its Soul at Bumu

Succulent skewers! Sake! If you only go to one restaurant this month, make it Joaquin Baca’s new spot on West 8th Street.

Photo by Andrew Bui/Courtesy of Bumu

Manhattanites just lucked out: One of Brooklyn’s best chefs has crossed the East River to open his new project.

You may know Joaquin “Quino” Baca from a few places—a long-term stint working his way through the Momofuku empire; nine years helming the darling Southern joint Brooklyn Star; and the critically acclaimed but untimely shuttered Teo, some elements of which (a vegetarian katsudon and umami-loaded ramen, most thankfully) are resurrected at his new izakaya-style joint on West 8th Street. But this time around, Baca intensified his flavors by several notches; the restaurant is called Bumu, after all, which means “boom” in Japanese. Here’s why it’s deserving of the triumphal name.

Baca’s inspirations are wonderfully wide-ranging. 

One of this chef’s strengths is his culinary sentimentality. As a tribute to his Texas roots, he serves a mountainous pile of pig tails and dedicates an entire DIY tsukemen course to succulent hanger steak. And, in a nod to Neta, the restaurant that lived in Bumu before Baca moved in, there is an expansive selection of raw fish that’s as intricate as it is lovely. Then there are the bites that New Yorkers are extremely familiar with—a smoked salmon plate evoking your weekend everything bagel order, insanely tender beef tongue you’d have on a Katz’s sandwich, and spicy shrimp udon you’d probably Postmate in the middle of the night.

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Photo by Andrew Bui/Courtesy of Bumu

Bumu gives the izakaya concept a sensuous update. 

Baca’s influences also add a real succulence and soul to Japanese small plates: Fried oysters are beautifully presented with smoked yam puree, for example, and the giant Scotch egg with red-sauce gravy is draped over grilled winter squash. Onigiri is artfully unwrapped and deconstructed into a mouthwatering mountain sprinkled with fried brussels sprouts and miso apple butter, while lightly seared carpaccio is dotted with a spectrum of toppings (vinegar wasabi chips on the low end, caviar on the high). Most notably, though, are the yaki, particularly the rabbit tsukune meatball with carrot barbecue sauce and a quail egg, and the crispy pork belly with grilled pineapple and hoisin. Both are masterfully made and presented.

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Photo by Andrew Bui/Courtesy of Bumu

The drinks menu covers underrated gems from far and wide.

Beverage director and general manager Chris Johnson, who worked previously at acclaimed gems Maialino and Metta, knows what’s what in New York’s libations scene. Aiming to highlight the best indie producers he could find from here and beyond, the menu is primarily made up of natural varietals from boutique wineries, beers from local breweries, and Japanese sake with eccentric names. (We’ll order a bottle of the Moon Mountain’s Dew, please!) Johnson also ensures that ordering some Chenin Blanc or junmai for the table is affordable, with several bottles falling well below $75.

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Photo by Andrew Bui/Courtesy of Bumu

The best seat in the house is at the counter.

Fate—aka the hostess—sat me at what I consider the most prime seat in the house: deep down near the back of the restaurant, directly facing the compact open kitchen. An aroma parade drifted my way from the pans and binchotan charcoal simmering a few feet ahead, giving me the first teaser of what others were ordering. The second glimpse came from mere inches away, where plates were being artistically staged and prepped for their final destination. (Watching the sous chef delicately flake horseradish over baby octopus and clean excess black garlic sauce off bowl edges is surprisingly calming, especially when your plus-one is 20 minutes late due to the perpetually tardy MTA.) Several employees—both front- and back-of-house—noticed my admiration, so they gave me intimate insight into the dishes that I had my eye on, specifically the towering nest made of taro root and the grilled mackerel that’s a low-key fave among staffers. Take my advice as I took theirs and reserve a counter seat in advance.

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