Franchia

I have always struggled with my racial identity. Growing older and caring less about what the cool kids think and how to fit in have helped ease this issue, but nevertheless, the concept of race and the nature of being Asian American is often on my mind. I am by blood Chinese. I prefer dumplings over burgers. I become morbidly obsessed with Chinese TV dramas. In school, when other kids’ parents packed them sandwiches for lunch, my parents packed me fried rice, and I loved it. At the same time, I speak English better than Chinese. I can debate you up and down about American history but can’t tell you how many provinces China has, much less where all those provinces are located. I feel out of place when I visit China because I’m so used to being a minority that having everyone around me look like me was disorienting. How do you bridge that? How do I label myself? Do I need to pick a side? All questions that I’ve pondered and wrestled with.

Just as I struggle with fusing these identities in my own life, I think Asian fusion restaurants struggle with their identities and more often than not, fail spectacularly at it. While my experience at Franchia is not that bad, it’s done nothing to stop me from continuing to squint suspiciously at “Asian fusion” places.

Franchia is a modern, vegan, Asian fusion, Korean cafe and teahouse – quite a combination of identities it has taken on, each with varying degrees of success. I do love the ambiance of the space: a serene, tea-infused oasis with a modern kick.

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Some steamed kimchi dumplings to share, which were very yummy. I like the thin skin of the dumplings, and it’s nice to have dumplings steamed. I don’t usually see that as an option – they’re always pan-fried or boiled.

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My friend got the pad thai, which looks so pretty on the plate. It was a decent dish but nothing to rave about.

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The only side dish they have is some more kimchi. Does fusion mean you only get 1 instead of 10 side dishes? This makes me grumpy.

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For me, I went with an avocado bibimbap, which sounded like an interesting combination. Unfortunately, I don’t think the avocado worked too well with the rice and the red pepper paste. After mixing it all together, each bite was creamy but spicy as well, which was so weird. I couldn’t finish it.

Perhaps we ordered the wrong things. Or perhaps, this Asian fusion concept is not that easy to pull off.

Franchia
12 Park Ave (btw 35th & 34th) New York, NY 10016

The General

My friend Julia was recently telling me about how she doesn’t like Asian Fusion restaurants – she thinks they try too hard to be more sophisticated than straight-up ethnic food. While they may amp up the aesthetics of the dishes and the restaurant environment, they will often fall short on bringing that soul-satisfying flavor and punch of Asian food. I can definitely see where she is coming from. It’s hard to get Asian Fusion right. What exactly are you fusing? And what did you have to cut out to create this fusion?

Our meal at The General is a great example. The General started serving brunch not long ago, so we trotted on over to see what Chef Hung (of Top Chef!) has to offer.

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First up is the Chicken & Waffles – highly recommended to us by our waiter. Crispy fried chicken sits on a layer of bacon and a waffle circle, served with truffle honey on the side. I loved the crispy parts of the chicken, but the inside of the chicken wasn’t as juicy or flavorful. The bacon also felt out of place – adding bacon to everything doesn’t always make it better.

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The crab and asparagus benedict also fell flat. At first, I thought using quail eggs in an eggs benedict variation was such a cute concept, until I realized what teeny tiny portions that would mean. You can swallow this in one bite. Plus, my favorite part of any eggs benedict is when the egg yolk oozes out and covers everything in eggy goodness. Quail eggs are so small that you can’t get that effect.

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Thankfully, one dish left us wanting more. The duck hash and egg was unanimously everyone’s favorite. Hash browns with peking duck, plum sauce, chili peppers, and a poached egg. It’s a really creative combination and worked so well. This is Asian Fusion done right. If only the whole meal was also so…

What are your thoughts on Asian Fusion? A fan or a skeptic?

The General
199 Bowery (btw Spring & Rivington) New York, NY 10002

Momofuku Noodle Bar

Last week, I had planned on writing this next blog post on Momofuku. This week, before I can get my post up, David Chang goes and wins the top prize in this year’s James Beard Awards. Perfect timing. A huge congratulations to the chef! I am a big fan of David Chang. He is a polarizing character, and people seem to either love him or hate him. I really admire his story: his perseverance, vision, and honesty. And of course, his food.

A must order each time is definitely…

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the pork buns. They have a good balance of lean and fatty. I could do with a bit more of the plum sauce though.

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I absolutely loved these goat sausage rice cakes. There’s a spicy kick to it, and the rice cakes are pan-fried, so they have a bit of crunch on the outside.

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More rice cakes but in a Korean red dragon sauce, which is a ridiculous name by the way. This reminded me of ddukboki, but less sweet and more spicy.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t as excited about the ramen. Here we have the spicy miso ramen, which is not bad, but I think you can find better ramen in the city. The noodles were soggier than I like, and the flavors not as powerful. Doesn’t detract from my overall love of Momofuku though.

Fun fact: one of my good friends from college is David Chang’s niece. Small world!

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave (btw 10th and 11th St) New York, NY 10003