HanGawi, Gourmet Zen Vegetarian Food in NYC.
For months I have wanted to dine at the other worldly HanGawi restaurant http://www.kangawirestaurant.com in Midtown where I had been told had traditional Korean Clay pot cooking. This stunningly pure restaurant is decorated in rich antiques, lovely dishes, asian art, enhanced with peaceful music. A real Oasis in the Herald Square bussling neighborhood.
Very traditional dining where you remove your shoe and sit an lovely silk embroidered cushions on low tables. The prep for a most unusual, exotic and healthy meal.
If I had seen more individuals of Korean desent dining at lunch, for a moment, I could have believe I was actually in a heavenly place in Korea. I was surprised at metal chopsticks and a spoon vs. wood or bamboo but they were presented in a silk slip pouch that help you appreciate the unveiling of your utensils. Everything element with the exception of a water Thermos show the attention to detail to maximize your dining experience.
Since I was on a specific mission of Clay Pot Cooking, I selected the Tofu Clay Pot In Ginger. HinGawi was offering a Ginseng Mini Prix Fixe Lunch ($19.95) that included my sought out dish so I selected the full offering to better understand this restaurants goal of being a vegetarian shrine in another space and time.I also ordered a green tea from Mt Jolie, Korea($5.) which arrived in lovely glazed clay cup with fitted strainer and top that served dually to capturing the steaming and a rest for the strainer.
The meal started with a choice of Porridge. As soon as she said pumpkin I said yes, even-though they have other porridge like Black Sesame which I am sure would have been equally as interesting.
This Pumpkin Porridge had a lovely creamy texture and delicate taste. An almost glossy surface where you think it will be very sweet yet there is only the hit of natural sweetness. Served warm in a little brass bowl that weight, color and manufacturing reminded me of a Tibetian singing bowl.
The next course I had a choice of ginseng salad, steamed or fried dumplings. I selected the steamed dumplings.
4 very large steamed dumplings came out beautifully presented over a slice of banana leave on a rectangular handmade plate. No way to eat these dumplings in one bite so it takes some chopstick skill to dip them into the ginger sauce that accompanies them in a shallow glazed clay saucer. The inside of the dumplings had a wonderfully satisfying texture, not to sound meaty at a vegetarian restaurant but it reminded me of an ultra milled chicken salad. Delicious… a soy like broth accompanied these dumplings for dipping.
The next course was the main entree of a Tofu Clay Pot in ginger Sauce. The waitress brought out a large steaming pot of Tofu and Vegetables in a thick stew sauce. The smell was immediately appetite stimulating. Rich but not overly ginger scented. A healthy mix of snow-peas, carrots, mushrooms and marinated tofu. Very tasty. I kept pinging the side of the vessel since it just did not seem to be clay. I asked the waitress if it was a clay pot and she kept say yes. I figured by the time I got to the bottom of the pot there was no confusion… this was not a clay pot but a very aged, encrusted cast iron vessel. I pressed and she admitted it was not clay.. she did assure me that sometimes they do serve this dish in clay. I asked her to bring me an example of a clay pot… she looked at me confused but ended bring over a clay pot. One I had seen at other Korean restaurants.
I had seen another dish at an adjacent table served in this clay pot. It was too small for the meal they were serving so I concentrated on the traditional style of cooking referred to “clay pot” cooking. Clay pot refers to a style of cooking a stew based on the tradition of cooking in clay. Chefs so not feel confined to serving this dish in clay. I inquired if they used a clay pot in the kitchen to prepare the meal but ran into a language barrier again.
This lovely Tofu Clay pot was served with one of my favorite rice dishes I have eaten. A mixed grain rice with small Asian beans. Nutty, rich and complimentary to the Ginger Tofu Stew.
In addition a spicy and less spicy large rolls of Kimchi accompanied the entree. The total combination offered a perfect blend of smooth rich stew, dense rice and vinegary kimchi. I preferred the spicy kimchi but both were very tasty.
The final dish was very surprising. A light very cold citrus sugar syrup with floating pieces of pears and pine nuts. Very refreshing and perfect ending.
This whole eating experience was an unusual delight. Calming, exotic and exciting. Highly recommend selecting one of the Prix Fixe menus to get the full atmosphere and grace of going from one course to the next. This will be one of the better vegetarian meals I have ever eaten out.