I cringe whenever I see a restaurant publication that says David Chang is a leading voice in Korean cuisine because that statement is just not true. His Momofuku restaurants around the world, like the Ssam Bar that has the famous bo ssam dishes, may have influences and inspirations from Korea (and other Asian countries) but you just can’t call them “Korean.” In fact, the lack of precise culinary identity is what makes many of Mr. Chang’s places so fascinating and at times underwhelming (I have to admit, my experiences at many of his establishments in the city are decidedly mixed). I was therefore surprised and intrigued to learn that Mr. Chang’s new project inside the much-hyped Hudson Yards was to be unmistakably Korean this time (instead of another version of Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar), with a kitchen led by a female chef (Eunjo “Jo” Park) born and raised in Korea. After a recent dinner at Kāwi, I’m happy to report that my wife Jun and I both really enjoyed our time at the restaurant and Mr. Chang’s choice for a more authentic brand of Korean cuisine was quite smart.
Before Jun and I stepped into the restaurant, we picked some dishes that we would like to try from the online menu and reviews. Unbeknownst to us, two of those dishes we really wanted to try, the “yesterday’s stinky soybean stew” and rice cake (our server told us, somewhat sheepishly, that there was a problem with rice cake supplier on the day of our visit), were missing, much to our disappointment. I was already becoming uncertain if we would have a good meal at Kāwi, until a plate of sweet and sour ribs arrived. Jun, a rib aficionado, was very pleased with the texture of the meat and the slightly spicy kick from the outer meat, and I was quite impressed as well. If we hadn’t ordered a bunch of other dishes, we might’ve been really tempted to order a second plate like we recently did at Cherry Point in Brooklyn. The white pepper chicken wings were also quite a nice surprise, reminding us of the delicious fried chicken we used to have while growing up in Korea, with the poultry impeccably fried at just the right level of crispiness.
The only disappointment in our meal was the raw marinated crab with crab rice. Whenever I go to Korea, I try to have at least one meal with the so-called “ganjang gejang”, a dish of raw crab marinated in soy sauce. For some reason, it is awfully hard to fine Korean restaurants in the city specializing in this delicacy, perhaps due to problems with sourcing fresh crabs and/or health code restrictions. Therefore, I was very excited to try Kāwi’s take on this. The real good stuff from ganjang gejang is the inner parts of the crab, and those were sadly missing from the dish that arrived, and the crab meat from the claws wasn’t as generous as I would have expected. On the other hand, the grilled NY strip Jun and I shared for the final savory dish was quite phenomenal. Korea has a deep BBQ tradition that demands the best out of meat dishes, but even by that lofty standard the strip was quite beautifully grilled to nearly perfect texture, and the seasoning around the meat was kept at a minimum as well. For dessert, the Korean version of shaved ice (“bingsoo”) is the way to go here, and the one that was prepared right in front of us at the counter, accompanied by blueberry syrup, lemon buttermilk and blueberries, was quite a thing of beauty here (and overly generous in portions that we struggled to finish half of the enormous pile of ice in front of us).
Getting a reservation at Kāwi can be a challenge, especially with all the positive reviews coming out in recent days, so do plan ahead in booking a table. The bar is also an option if you’re walking in for a meal. There is full bar with a creative cocktail list using liquors of Korea like soju. The vibe of the restaurant may not strike you as quite Chang-ian in a sense that the dining room feels a little bit more intimidating and expensive than a typical Noodle Bar, but I still liked it better than other glitzy places inside Hudson Yards. The meal at Kāwi was a real treat for both of us with Korean background as it was the first time we encountered how Mr. Chang and his Korean lieutenant can fully explore the Korean cuisine without much pretense. The soulful yet playful cooking at Kāwi is what would make this restaurant stand out from a bunch of other pedestrian ones inside Hudson Yards, and Jun and I can’t wait to visit again in the future, this time hopefully to try the two dishes we couldn’t get to try on our first meal.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 20 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001
Telephone: (646) 517-2699