Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Hangawai - 12 E. 32nd Street (5th and Madison)

Located on the edge of K-town, Hangawai has indisputable class. Hidden behind heavy wooden doors, the restaurant is traditionally decorated - complete with low slung tables, floor cushions, caligraphy covered candles and even a strict no-shoes policy. Even stricter is the no-meat policy - for Hangawai is purely vegetarian (and almost vegan, with the exception of an occasional egg.) So Korean BBQ fans beware...there's no Galbi here. Don't even try. Fortunately, I'm vegan...so Hangawi seemed custom-made for my tastes, which skew towards a love of spicy Tteok Bokki, Veggie Mandoo, Injulmi and bowls of Bibimbop (with egg and beef removed.)

You'd think it was a match made in culinary heaven. And it would have been - if Hangawi had any flavor whatsoever.

The troubles started with the selection. Though painfully expensive, Hangawi does offer price-fixed lunches ($19.99) and dinners ($39.95) - a refreshing option, given the average price of $20 per main dish. Interested in a dash and run, I asked for the Mini Emperor's Lunch - complete with porridge, dumplings, stone bowl rice and the dessert of the day. A good value - if it had been available. Unfortunately, it couldn't be served to go. Though sad, I gamely took the takeout menu, finding several of the same items available (though at a more expensive price, of course.) They, too, turned out to be unavailable - offered only during weekdays. After a few go arounds--for there was no sesame porridge, either-- the meal was chosen: consisting of dumplings, spicy jeon pancakes, and a cinnamon broth for dessert, accompanied by fresh fruit.

Lightly steamed--and somewhat large--the dumplings proved the best of the lot...fluffy and tasty (with thankfully no need for the plain, salty soy sauce served on the side.) The rest of the meal fared...well, significantly worse. Despite the pepper symbol on the menu, the jeon pancakes proved greasy, undistinguished...and just plain bland. And despite an enticing description, dessert proved to be a quarter of an apple, and a handful of pine nuts, floating in cinnamon colored water. (One look, and I found myself wishing I'd ordered the tofu pudding.) Given the Korean pedigree, I'd expected some spice and some flavor...but there was none to be had. Adding insult to injury, I was even billed for a second plate of dumplings (though they quickly and graciously removed the charge when notified.) The cost for the meal? $25.00. Without even a snippet of gochunjang on the plate.

Don't get me wrong - there were a *few* highlights. Hangawi has atmosphere galore, the service is good, and the staff is sweet. But the food? Ah, there's the rub. Hahn Ah Reum grocery would have been a better experience.

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