The rumor’s been fermenting that “New Korean” cuisine is the next big thing. Now it’s happening at trendy restaurants such as the recently opened Jung Sik in New York. And it happened last week at Alan Wong’s Restaurant when 28-year-old chef de partie Hongsoeb Kim presented a Next Generation Dinner interpreting the foods of his native Seoul and his adopted home in multicultural Hawai’i.
The four-course menu by the KCC Culinary-trained former Kobe Steak House teppanyaki chef was delicious throughout–lean, light and bright. But it was perhaps most successful when it was most traditional.
Crisp white (daikon) kim chee starred in a first course play on a Vietnamese summer roll with bits of Alaskan king crab and refreshing pomelo, but perhaps a tamer green than basil would have been less distracting. Coconut-crusted onaga jhun (an homage to Wong’s ginger-crusted fish) was perfectly cooked, playfully graced with hair-thin shreds of sweet Korean chili and silky Peterson Farm Egg Tartar, but the crust wanted crispness.
The highlight of the evening for me was a tantalizing lobe of butter-poached Kona cold lobster paired with homey mandoo, the green spinach and yellow carrot pasta wrappings handmade and stuffed with a tofu seafood melange just as Kim’s mother did in Korea. I also loved a “Forbidden Rice” cake with dates and kabocha pumpkin alongside a fork-tender Maui Cattle Co. beef tenderloin, though the smear of sesame jus didn’t rise to the occasion.
When he stopped by the table, Kim said his goal was to please western palates long accustomed to the too sweet, too shoyu-drenched dishes that have dominated his experience of Korean food in Hawaii. He said he wanted to present authentic Korean food but “with a little twist.” A second helping would be welcome! Honolulu abounds in traditional Korean restaurants but the success of Kim’s dinner suggests there might be an audience here for Nouveau Korean when a chef steps forward.