The team behind Bambolina in Salem will open a new restaurant, Kokeshi, nearby, serving up "Asian-inspired street food." Owners Tim Haigh and Larry Leibowitz are aiming for a winter opening for their noodle-filled new project, which will feature their spin on ramen and more. No strangers to carbs, the two serve up excellent wood-fired pizza ("neo-Neapolitan," they call it), pasta, and more at Bambolina, which celebrated its first anniversary in June. Plus, they’ve just announced plans to host a regular Montreal-style bagel pop-up at Bambolina; more on that below.
Kokeshi will be located at 41 Lafayette St. in Salem, next to The Cheese Shop of Salem and A&J King Artisan Bakers — and a mere three-minute walk from Bambolina. Leibowitz and Haigh tell Eater via email that both businesses, as well as the residents at Derby Lofts, have been very supportive of the project, and the Kokeshi team can’t wait to be neighbors. "It’s already a culinarian’s destination," they write. "We hope to assist in that endeavor."
While the Bambolina and Kokeshi concepts will be different, there’s a link between the names from both a branding perspective and a sentimental one. Bambolina means "little girl" or "baby doll" in Italian, while kokeshi refers to a type of Japanese doll, and the names pay homage to the fact that Leibowitz and Haigh each have two daughters, they explain.
When Leibowitz and Haigh initially set out to open a second restaurant, they thought it would be on a smaller scale, something like a 10-seat ramen shop. But when they found the space behind the Salem Laundry, "it just clicked," they write. "The laundry space was filled with old machine parts, scrap metal, and a work truck. We saw a vision for the high ceilings and long and linear layout, and we loved the way natural light could penetrate through the garage doors at both ends. The space is rich in history as an ambulance depot and was a public street before that."
So the idea for a modest 10-seat ramen shop quickly bloomed into a space with the capacity for more than 100 seats, not to mention 18-foot ceilings, a full bar, and a stage for live acoustic music. Expect a "rustic and industrial" vibe with exposed ductwork, polished concrete floors and concrete bar tops, brick walls, and natural wood accents. The hot kitchen will be inside a shipping container, while the cold kitchen will be open. As for the decor, diners will see "a yin yang mashup of monochromatic color scheme intertwined with artistic graffiti murals." Leibowitz and Haigh explain that they never take themselves too seriously and enjoy the idea of having a movie projector showing Japanese anime or subtitled Kung Fu movies. They’re also on the lookout for the 1980s Kung-Fu Master arcade game. "We want to have fun and want the staff to have fun as well," they write.
On the menu, ramen will be joined by other Asian noodle soups as well as broth-less noodle dishes, plus a variety of starters and shared plates. "The menu is going to be ‘Asian’ in the way Bambolina is ‘Italian,’" Leibowitz and Haigh write. "Steeped in the inspiration of the culture but with our own casual spin."
They see ramen as "red hot" these days, a booming trend reminiscent of the Neapolitan pizza craze they saw get started in the mid-2000s. "Guests are looking for comfort food with an ethnic spin at an affordable price point," they write. "The concept for Asian street food allows us to create food that is approachable, inexpensive and filling."
On the beverage side, expect to find local beers, mixed drinks, and imported sakes.
Kokeshi will likely be open for both lunch and dinner service, and Leibowitz and Haigh promise that the food will be "approachable, casual, and whimsical."
As for the aforementioned Montreal-style bagel pop-up, it’s called Rover Bagel, and starting this Thursday, it’ll appear at Bambolina on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and on Sundays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., courtesy of a couple faces that may be familiar to Somerville residents. Kimberly Chaurette (Journeyman and Backbar; Forge Baking Company) and Alec Rutter (Forge Baking Company; Red Hen Baking Company in Vermont) are hand-shaping bagels made with a four-year-old sourdough starter, boiled Montreal-style, and baked in the wood-fired oven at Bambolina.
They’ll also be serving house-made cream cheeses (such as lemon thyme and honey cream cheese) and butters, coffee, and light pastries. For now, the Rover Bagel pop-up is take-out only. Bagel lovers can also catch the duo at the Swampscott Farmer’s Market on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (cash only at the market; cards accepted at Bambolina).