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.