A little more than three years ago, I wrote about a beautiful neighbor on this blog: Kumiko Imamura. A woman who worked as hard as anyone I've known, and always had a warm hello or good-bye and a smile.
Really, her smile started in her eyes - the smize - and then made its way across her whole face, like sun up at Sun-Chan.
The quintessence of a hostess, she and her husband Tokishige own Sun-Chan, and Kumiko's way is to welcome you in, tuck you into her apron, make sure you have a hot cup of green tea, and take care of you while you were "hers" -- in her care at her hearth.
If you've been to Sun-Chan, you know her hearth was, in fact, an inferno. So this genuine hospitality was all in spite of standing long hours in the yakitori's scorching heat with constant motion around her coming from her loyal staff in a very tight space.
I wrote about her robata here and it's all still true, except it's not:
The front is run by the loveliest of lovelies, owner Kumiko Imamura, who daintily helms the robata. An inferno. Unflappable come long lines or relentless heat, Kumiko is the Goddess of Umami. She churns out caramelized rice balls packing salty salmon or spicy cod roe. If her yakitori menu were an LP, it would be my desert island disc because I never get tired of any of it: chicken meatballs with a sweet-salty glaze, toro salmon and scallion skewers, roasted ginkgo nuts, scrumptiously salted yellow tail collar, smoky mackerel. Each morsel comes off her iron grill in the requisite, slow-food time it takes to make something this authentic.
In Japanese, depending on how it's written, her name means beauty, forever, child.... To paraphrase James Joyce: She was Kumiko by name and kumiko by nature. And her loss is immense.
She weathered a terrible bout last year with the restaurant losing its gas, and she rebounded from the anguish of the saga with her arms spread wide to welcome her customers back. It's too cruel a twist that she's now gone.
In mourning, the staff and her husband Tokishige have closed the restaurant this week to bid her farewell. I understand there may be a service at the New York Buddhist Church in roughly six or seven days. If you would like details should I learn them, please leave a comment below and I'll be in touch.
I hope Tokishige and Rie and all the Sun-Chan extended restaurant family know that Kumiko is a neighbor who will be missed dearly and that Sun-Chan's community mourns alongside them all.
I won't soon forget this Queen of Queens.
With warmest thoughts of Kumiko and deep sympathies to her loved ones.