Nowon, the new Korean restaurant in the East Village, specializes in a genre of food I like to call “Asian American” fusion food. It’s been popularized by the likes of Roy Choi of Kogi and Pot in LA, as well as Dale Talde, Chef Jae Lee’s old boss at Rice & Gold. Lately the trend in Asian food seems to be either elevating a cuisine (fine dining Korean at Atomix or Jungsik as an example), or to be super authentic and introduce a regional cuisine unfamiliar to American audiences (mixian noodles, Taiwanese noodle soup, etc). Asian American fusion food, though, truly mashes up the two different cuisines together. Normally the foundation of the dish is a familiar comfort food, like a hamburger, served with Asian embellishments like kimchi or gochujang. And of course it can go the other way around, like spicy korean tteokbokki rice cakes sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Speaking of a burger, the dry aged steak double cheeseburger is really what put Jae Lee on the map. He served these at a pop up in the East Village this summer and initially he only served these before 7 pm at Nowon. Now the burger is available at all hours, and thank goodness for that. It reminds me a lot of the burger at Au Cheval–double patty and a softy, fluffy bun. I personally thought the kimchi flavor in the accompanying mayo sauce was a little too mellow, but otherwise I was pretty satisfied with it.
I had the same reaction to the Shin Ramyun chicken wings. The chicken was cooked perfectly and had that double-fried quality that is a trademark of Korean fried chicken. The Shin seasoning, however, was pretty faint and almost nonexistent. I’m not sure why you would make the Shin so prominent in the name of the dish when you can barely even taste it.
My personal favorite were the honey butter tator tots, which was inspired by the honey butter chip phenomenon that took Korea by storm a few years ago. The skin on the potato was golden and crispy, and the sweet strands of honey were crusted on in the right kind of way. I could have eaten two orders of this by myself.
Nowon also devotes space on its menu to more traditional Korean dishes, but the ones I tried were not as successful as the Asian American fusion mashups. The sizzlin’ kimchi fried rice is not something I would seek out again. It was a little dry and lacked that wonderful juicy, saucy quality that traditional kimchi fried rice tends to have. Nowon needs to tinker around with it a little more.
Nowon will be successful not only because of that burger and the tater tots, but because it’s occupying an underserved niche in the Asian food market. It’s not trying to be a Ktown place or a fancy Michelin star restaurant. It’s happy being a connoisseur of pub grub, mixing a little (or a lot of) Korean here and there into the recipes of familiar American comfort foods, and there’s a lot of chemistry in this experimentation.
507 E 6th St (between Ave A and Ave B)
New York, NY 10009