"If you're having one of those trying New York days and you need comfort food, go home to eat, go to Do Hwa and in case you're too frazzled, by the urban buzz, to remember the way it's located at 55 Carmine Street."
Those are the words that I texted to Art Shrian venture capital liaison for the Asian community and co-writer of the multimedia children properties BOOGALOO and LADY, THE SMILING PITBULL.
Shrian wanted a restaurant that merged comfort, superlative dining and Hollywood glamour for his discerning, global clientele.
First impressions seals deals and you can't go wrong when selecting Do Hwa, the authentic Korean BBQ Restaurant owned by Terrence Segura, Jenny Kwak, and her mother Myung Ja Kwak. The sole investor is award winning film-maker and pop culture phenomenon Quentin Tarantino.
Myung Ja Kwak is the executive director and under her directions all of the meals are prepared by ajumas.
Do Hwa is an establishment where deals are sealed and friendships forged. It's an eclectic blending of Wall Street types, passionate foodies, contemporary bohemians and international filmmakers (established and emerging) all of whom share an affinity for Korean cuisine with soul.
This is truly soul food as delivered by Jenny Kwak, an artist whose family emigrated from Korea, in the late 70's, and her mother Myung Ja Kwak.
It's that soulful connection that drew Quentin, then a frequent dinner at her first spot (Dok Suni) which she owned and operated with her mother.
Times change and when Do Hwa became a new venture opportunity, Quentin decided to take the plunge.
Designed by Hassan Abouseda, Do Hwa resembles a chic, Korean house with dark brown leather paneled walls. The bar, accented in vibrant red, always plays a selection from Tarantino films ( in a silent loop) which adds texture and a dash of cool to the dining experience.
The interior can hold 64 comfortably and there are five tables, in the front, that offer smokeless BQ grilling and advance booking is strongly encouraged.
The lighting has a sensual feel without feeling dramatic and the back-lit shadow boxes, decorated with Korean characters that punctuate panels, topped with a row of glazed clay pots, are some of the visual highlights. As a woman, I'm flattered by the lighting and turn to that sexy venue when trying to make a romantic imprint.
As I shared, the meals are prepared by ajumas and with Myung Ja Kwak's eye on delicious details, I've grown spoiled.
It's not on the menu but the signature cocktail "Mr. Blue," is what Mr. Shiran ordered, absolutely sure that his deep-pocketed clients would want the cocktail that Quentin gets when he visits, which is often.
Inspired by the character in "Reservior Dogs" and created by Myung Ja Kwak it's a special measure of Stoli Vanil, blue caracao, and lime juice.
Before I get to the conversation with Jenny, let me share a few words about the soulful, comforting food. The prices are respectful and the portions are so generous that its easy for two to share.
Do Hwa makes my favorite kimchi which I'd consume daily, if possible. Some of my other favorite appetizer choices include the Mak Gooksu, Mul Mandu, Seng Sun Jun and Jap Chae.
Since I was dining with Art, whose purpose was to be a well fed tester for future wealthy clients, we happily accepted the suggestions of our server Mira, whose wide smile and bright eyes made us feel perfectly welcome.
In short order our table was filled with a dizzying selection of fiery goodness. One of the best just happens to be Quentin's favorite as well. It's the JALAPENO CHICKEN and its fluffy, crispy, moist and addictive and drizzled with the most subtle jalapeño sauce ever created, anywhere in the world.
There are great, group choices for new converts to Korean cuisine. That menu feeds four (per person – $29 with a bottle of soju – $33) and has five succulent choices: HEYMUL PAJUN large seafood (shrimp and squid) chili pepper pancake;DUK BOKIr ice cakes sauteed in chili sauce with vegetables; WATERCRESS SALAD fresh watercress in sesame, garlic and chili vinaigrette; JAP CHAE sauteed sweet potato glass noodles with vegetables or L.A. KALBI, beef short ribs in an aromatic barbecue sauce.
As the chilly fall evening wounded down, Art ordered his third and final cocktail ("Mr. Blue") and I took the opportunity to find out some interesting details about Do Hwa from owner, Jenny Kwak.
myNewYorkeye: What do you LOVE about owning a quality establishment in NYC?
Jenny: The customer that becomes your everyday friend. Being able to nurture a neighborhood clientele who appreciates the food and cocktails we serve.
myNewYorkeye: How has the American knowledge and enjoyment of home cooking, from Korea, changed in the last two (ish) years?
Jenny: There has been quite a good amount of dis- mystification of Korean flavors. Kimchi for instance, is common and most, enjoy the flavor and love the health benefits seconds.
The tanginess is addictive and used with confidence in New American Haute cuisine across the country. I once dined in Charleston at S.N.O.B, a well known restaurant and was really delighted to see kimchi combined as a "flavor"
myNewYorkeye: Your family works closely in the business, how does that help shape the feeling form the food to the entire experience?
Jenny: We like warm and simple. The food and people fill the space and all become part of the restaurant space and the experience. It feels robust and lively without being overly ornate. We try not to stray away from what makes Korean food special, at least how I know it in my mother's home cooking.
myNewYorkeye: Does Quentin Taratino have a favorite dish - and why did he express a love for that dish?
Jenny: He got hooked on the my mothers deji kalbi, braised pork ribs that fall off the bone. I think he was delighted to find such a dish...considering he's from Tennessee... then he fell in love with the cook, my mother. The rest is history...
Photo Credit: Art Shiran, venture capital liaison for the Asian community and co-writer of the multimedia children properties, BOOGALOO and LADY, THE SMILING PITBULL.
Cocktail: "Mr. Blue" inspired by the character in "Reservior Dogs" and created by Myung Ja Kwak it's a special measure of Stoli Vanil, blue caracao, and lime juice