The newest David Chang restaurant isn’t so much a Chang restaurant as a Eunjo Park one. The celebrity chef and Momofuku head is throwing all his weight behind Park, who goes by “Jo,” for the company’s Hudson Yards debut. “I’m deferring everything to what Jo wants,” he said in September — and he’s now living up to that word.
Park — born in Korea and raised in Philadelphia before going to culinary school and working at fine-dining institutions like Daniel and Gaon in Korea — developed her own style for the restaurant, which she defines as “playful.” It’s what she wants Kāwi, located on the fifth floor at the Shops at Hudson Yards, to be above all: “genuine, fun, playful,” she says. The menu is rooted in Korean foods and traditions, though like with many other Momofuku restaurants, it’s not necessarily tied to one genre.
“It starts with Korean, but it doesn’t have to finish in Korea,” she says.
Indeed the sections on the lunch menu, which the restaurant will only serve for the first month, are anju (drinking snacks), hwe (raw fish), greens, rice cakes, stews, lunch sets, and kimbap, ingredients rolled in rice and dried seaweed. Dish options include a soy-glazed grilled mackerel lunch box set with pickled young ginger, shishito peppers, and steamed rice ($24); fermented soybean stew ($26); and white pepper wings ($12).
Her style can be best represented in two dishes: One of the kimbap, which comes stuffed with candied anchovies and omelet, two of her favorite banchan; and a spicy roasted rice cake with chile jam and country ham ($23). Those rice cakes are made in house — something that’s very rare both here in NYC and in Korea. The rice is grown in Korea and milled and ground in Flushing; Park even purchased her own extruder from Korea to make different shapes. Once dinner debuts on April 15, more options will be available.
Of course, not everything can be a straight representation of Park. This is Hudson Yards, after all, and so the salad section allows people to add grilled chicken breast to their greens. But by and large, the menu reflects her experience, in Korea, the U.S., and fine-dining kitchens, she says.
On the drink side, Isabella Fitzgerald put together a wine list focused on small producers mainly in France, as well as sake from smaller breweries. Cocktails come from Lucas Swallows, who created drinks to pair with spicy and fermented food, such as the Rock Paper Scissors, which has sake, ginger-infused fino sherry, and salted apple syrup.
The bisected room may feel familiar to anyone who has been to the pre-renovation Momofuku Ko. A painting that from Chang’s friend David Choe that first hung there is now in Kāwi. The 130-seat space has a bar, lounge seating, dining room seating with leather booths, and kitchen counter seating.
Then there’s Peach Mart next door, Chang’s answer to the cult-beloved convenience stores in Asia. Here it’s a tiny stall, with various non-perishable snacks from around Asia as well as prepared food such as egg salad sandwiches on Japanese milk bread, packaged kimbap, and pork jerky. Momofuku’s R&D chef J.J. Basil is behind most of the prepared food, though Park also had plenty of involvement in the kimbaps and snacks sold.
But most of her time the last few months has been on Kāwi, developing and testing dishes, training her 25-person staff, and still tweaking items this week.
“I put my heart out, and it’s my first time being very open and honest to myself in front of people,” Park says. “It’s like me inviting people to my home. Kāwi is me.”
Kāwi is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., until dinner starts on April 15. Peach Mart is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.