Times critic Pete Wells publishes a two-star review today on Haenyeo, in which he says the Park Slope Korean restaurant could be seen as “intimidating” if it weren’t for owner Jenny Kwak’s prior work popularizing Korean cuisine in New York City.
Wells spotlights Kwak’s trailblazing work in the kitchen — she was behind now-closed but seminal Korean restaurants Do Hwa and Dok Suni — though he says “intimidating restaurants” don’t tend to “prosper” in this particular area of Park Slope, generally home to fast-casual mini-chains. He follows up by saying no one in the restaurant “looks the least bit intimidated” by the food, commending Kwak for laying down the groundwork for NYC’s now-thriving Korean restaurant scene.
Still, the use of the word “intimidating” is questionable, considering that Korean food is alive and well in New York, and has been for some time, with popular restaurants extending far beyond Koreatown for many years now. It’s something Eater critic Ryan Sutton particularly points to in his two-star review, calling out writers who have used troublesome language in reference to Korean restaurants in the past, such as “forbidding” or mentioning that waiters “speak English well.”
The Times critic has come under fire for similarly strange language before: In a December 2018 review of Flatiron District’s also Korean Hwaban, he describes it as “the modern Korean restaurant where you’d take your mother.”
As for the food, Wells notes that the menu at Haenyeo is more seafood-oriented than Kwak’s previous restaurants Do Hwa and Dok Suni, with dishes like “smoky” mackerel spiced with garlic and gochujang or pan-fried cod coated in a “thin gold sheet” of batter appearing. He also praises the chef’s detour away from traditional Korean cuisine with options like beignets, grilled oysters, and a “joyous” rice cake fundido. The fried chicken, “pasty and airless,” though, can be skipped. Two stars.