By Bonnie Chan
HaruHana is the latest newcomer to the little enclave of Korea town, its Japanese cuisine offering a unique change of pace from 32nd Street’s norm. However, Korea town regulars will be pleasantly surprised to find familiar elements on the restaurant’s menu. Just as the name HaruHana unites separate meanings in different languages — “spring flower” in Japanese, and “once a day” in Korean — so, too, does the restaurant offer up harmonious combinations of various cuisines.
HaruHana’s selection includes traditional Japanese fare such as udon, sushi, and hot pot, but other dishes arrive steaming onto the table with a tasty French and/or spicy Korean kick. Responsible for this unique menu is Chef Jin Ho Kim, specifically invited from Korea to steer HaruHana in its special fusion direction. While his background is Korean, and he grew up surrounded by his home’s cuisine, he perfected Japanese and French cooking during his stints as master chef at various notable hotels and corporations. This means, Chef Kim says with a laugh, that he’s always brainstorming ways to unite the main ingredients of the different cultural styles.
Fusion dishes, at the very best, marry two unexpected elements of separate cuisines and make them sing on the tongue. The eater’s response is usually surprise, wonder, and then delighted glee as they hastily reach for another bite. One particular HaruHana invention lands within these happy parameters: the kimchi katsu. The dish may initially sound unusual, but is utterly mouth-watering in its execution. One first experiences the flaky crunch of the breaded, deep-fried skin, then the tender succulence of the pork, and lastly, is shocked into taste bud bliss by a roll of spicy Korean cabbage and mozzarella tucked in the middle. As if one isn’t satisfied by this already-flawless dish, the special katsu sauce sprinkled with fragrant, freshly ground sesame seeds adds the perfect accent to each bite.
The décor of HaruHana manages to be both trendy and natural at the same time, from the sprays of pink blossoms carefully strewn along the restaurant to the long mirrors and warm lanterns arranged on the wooden walls. Even the pestle used to grind the sesame seeds for the katsu sauce is whittled out of wood, its bark still visible on the sides. Indeed, no detail is overlooked by the meticulous, dedicated 31- year-old manager Junbum Kwon, who is also responsible for the successful Chinese/Korean restaurant next door, Shanghai Mong.
The novel spirit of Asian fusion cuisine evokes Kwon’s passion. “I wanted to introduce something new and different to Korea town,” he says of HaruHana’s creation. He believes that HaruHana will draw a more diverse crowd, including those seeking traditional Japanese fare, as well as those willing to experiment. While some Korea town businesses may worry about diluting the culture of the neighborhood, Kwon favors a more modernized approach. In his mind, a variety of choice only increases Korea town’s appeal, particularly to Americans.
And with such a tasty array of choices on the table, who can argue? HaruHana is open 24/7, which means that one has no excuse to miss the fantastic offerings of this new restaurant! Lunch hours are from 11 to 3 PM, with a menu that starts at an attractive price point of $7.50. Happy hour is from 4 to 6 PM, Mondays through Fridays, but that shouldn’t limit anyone from enjoying the restaurant’s extensive drink menu (a sporting selection of sake, soju, and beer) at other times. HaruHana’s late late hours means that after a night of karaoke and drinking in the neighborhood, you know the perfect, delicious place to continue your revelry.