It’s not often that my wife Jun and I go to the same restaurant after visiting just a couple of months ago given the sheer number of places in New York City that we want to visit, but our first visit to Kāwi left a strong impression (see my previous review here https://kenscale.com/2019/06/29/kawi/) that we made a point to check it out again in the near future, especially for the dishes that we didn’t get to try. Recently, we planned a double date with Jun’s friend (a fellow Korean) and her newly engaged fiancé (a Frenchman), and figured Kāwi would be a perfect place to show them a very good Korean restaurant in the city. While it was another solid dinner, the second visit also taught us what not to order at the restaurant.
We mostly ordered new dishes that we hadn’t tried on our first visit and it helped to have four people instead of two in the party. For an appetizer, we shared soft tofu and salmon roe which offered a nice contrast in flavor and texture to get the dinner going. Another starter, pickled brisket and mustard (full disclosure: this was offered as a complement from the kitchen, probably as a thank you for my last Yelp review), was even better, with the brisket reminding us of a popular Korean boiled thin beef dish called sooyook and the citrusy flavor really enhancing the meat’s taste. On our last visit, we were sad to learn the rice cake was not available at all. This time, we were able to get the rice cake dumplings with parmesan cheese and summer truffle on top. Unfortunately, Jun and I thought the dish didn’t work as well as we had expected. In our view based on our childhood experience in Korea, rice cake needs to have chewy feel to be successful; the rice cake dumplings (not sure why the kitchen called it “dumplings” because we didn’t see any fillings inside the cylindrical rice cakes resembling tteokbokki) instead tasted like soft gnocchi, and the combination of parmesan and truffle felt a little too overwhelming.
Another dish that we didn’t get to try last time because it wasn’t on the menu was the “Yesterday’s Stinky Soy Bean Stew” which was available this time. It’s not often Jun and I disagree on the merit of a Korean dish, but we were quite decisively so on this stew. Jun was expecting a modern version of Korean fermented soybean stew called “cheonggukjang” (notorious for its funky smell but having a cult following among Koreans), and was disappointed to find the stew didn’t have much semblance of that funky yet addictive flavor. If you judge this dish without that preconception of what a Korean dish should taste like, however, I thought this stew was quite a good one with French accent (it reminded me of a delicious beef stew that I had on our honeymoon in Nice https://kenscale.com/2018/07/24/le-bistrot-dantoine/). Well, at least there was no disagreement on the only dish we ordered again at Kāwi, the grilled New York strip that was just as outstanding as last time. Enough said on the strip; it has a very strong likelihood of making it to one of the top dishes of the year in KenScale annual review at the end of this year.
I was able to secure a reservation a couple of weeks in advance, but after seeing the fully packed dining room (and the bar area), I have a feeling that finding a table to eat at Kāwi will become more and more challenging. After a round of cocktails, we proceeded to sharing a couple of red wine bottles. If you feel adventurous, there is a separate wine page with the playful heading of “Rock Paper Scissors!” that features wines from esoteric regions around the world from Corsica to Texas. While our second meal didn’t quite leave the same strong impression we had on our first visit, we are eager to check out Kāwi again and again after crossing out dishes we didn’t think worked well while continuing to order the stars like the grilled New York strip.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 20 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001
Telephone: (646) 517-2699