Almost two years after opening Bambolina, an acclaimed “neo-Neopolitan” pizza-focused restaurant in Salem, owners Tim Haigh and Larry Leibowitz have introduced a new project to the neighborhood: Kokeshi. Now open at 41 Lafayette St., a very short walk from Bambolina, Kokeshi features Haigh’s and Leibowitz’s take on Asian street food, from ramen to banh mi and beyond.
“While we are not Asian, we hope to respect the craft through continuously learning, reading, and refining our skills and techniques,” the duo writes on Kokeshi’s website. When they first announced the project in the fall, they noted that the menu would be “‘Asian’ in the way Bambolina is ‘Italian’ — steeped in the inspiration of the culture but with [their] own casual spin.”
The restaurants’ names are linked as well, with “bambolina” meaning “little girl” or “baby doll” in Italian, while “kokeshi” are wooden Japanese dolls. Both pay homage to Leibowitz’ and Haigh’s families; they each have two daughters.
The duo’s spin on Asian street food manifests itself as dishes such as Colonel Sanders’ Ramen (fried chicken, lime, sambal, wakame, soft egg, Thai basil, and Vermont butter), Osaka street corn (miso aioli, pickled onion, and togarashi), octopus hot dogs (Sriracha aioli, daikon slaw, lime), and more. Here’s a look at the current menu, which, as Leibowitz tells Eater, is evolving daily as the team figures out what’s popular and how to serve customers most efficiently. (Kokeshi has undergone a series of private events and soft-opening services throughout the past week or so, and things are still ramping up, but the restaurant is now officially open to the public.)
Read on for a look inside the space, formerly an ambulance depot and significantly larger than Leibowitz’s and Haigh’s original plan for a second restaurant, which they initially thought would be something like a cozy 10-seat ramen shop. But the high ceilings, abundance of natural light, and other features drew them into the Lafayette Street space, which is located by The Cheese Shop of Salem and A&J King Artisan Bakers. The completed Kokeshi space incorporates work by local artists, including striking murals in the entryway and on one of the dining room walls by Danny Diamond. The Kokeshi logo and branding are by Beverly native Andrew Bablo.
Take a look inside:
Kokeshi is currently open for dinner only — 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Mondays. Stay tuned for updates.
“We are humbled by the excitement of the opening and grateful for the welcome outreach by the Salem community,” Leibowitz tells Eater.