Noreetuh Brings Palm Trees to NYC's Concrete Jungle

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June 11th marks Kamehameha Day, a public holiday in Hawaii honoring Kamehameha the Great, the monarch who first unified the Islands. When it comes to Hawaiian cuisine in NYC, we've found our new favorite spot: noreetuh. A former sous chef at Per Se and Lincoln Ristorante, Chef Chung Chow is no stranger to New York City's restaurant scene. Noreetuh, a casual Hawaiian restaurant located in the East Village, is his latest endeavor with partners and fellow Per Se alums Jin Ahn, and Gerald San Jose. With ties to Japanese, Korean, and Filipino cuisines, the menu highlights a variety of Asian tastes and reflects Chef Chung Chow's time in Hawaii. From spam tortellini to silk tofu with uni and ikura, the menu incorporates many traditional Hawaiian ingredients and flavors. In this episode of  LUCKYINSIDER, we delve into the mind of the chef who's bringing tropical Hawaii to the East Village:

LUCKYRICE: The word 'noreetuh' means 'playground' in Korean - how did you settle on a Korean name for a restaurant serving Hawaiian cuisine?

Chung Chow: The original concept of the restaurant was going to be a modern Asian American menu that brought together the cultures of my partners and I. We chose the name noreetuh because it meant playground and at the playground is exactly how we wanted guests to feel when dining - fun and excited, but at the same time familiar and comfortable. As we developed and evolved our menu, it was only natural that we slanted towards Hawaiian since that is the cuisine I grew up with, but we decided to keep the original name. That said, you will still see a lot of the various influences of modern Hawaiian cuisine in noreetuh’s menu such as Korean, Filipino, Chinese and even Portuguese.

LUCKYRICE: Hawaii is a destination for immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal, Korea, and Southeast Asia - would you define Hawaiian cuisine as Asian "fusion"?

Chung: Hawaiian cuisine by definition is fusion because of its rich culinary history of the various immigrants that make up its culture, but even more so than just fusion. It's very much a cuisine of its own, similar to how you could call the cuisine of New Orleans fusion, but no one calls it that.

LUCKYRICE: When people think of Hawaiian food, they think of spam, pineapples, tiki drinks, and macadamia nuts. Do you think this is indicative of “authentic” Hawaiian culinary culture?  

Chung: While these ingredients are not necessarily parts of indigenous Hawaiian cuisine, if you go to Hawaii today you would definitely see many of these elements in the food so that is why we wanted to feature these items on our menu. Hawaiian cuisine is not, and should not, be defined only by this narrow spectrum of ingredients and we’re excited to use noreetuh to showcase some of the lesser known aspects of the cuisine.

LUCKYRICE: The restaurant is well-known for its extensive wine list – why is the focus on wine instead of soju or sake?

Chung: Wine is the anchor of our beverage program for no other reason than my partners and I just love wine.  My partner and General Manager Jin Ahn, who curated the wine list, is particularly a fan of Burgundies, so the wine list is very classic, mostly represented by France and other Old World wines.

LUCKYRICEHawaiian food is almost nonexistent in NYC and often considered kitschy. What do you hope guests will learn about Hawaiian food after dining at Noreetuh?

Chung: Kitsch is what makes Hawaiian food fun for us, and for many others that enjoy it. We loved the idea of having musubi on the menu, albeit with a New York twist using corned beef tongue and having Spam on the menu in the form of a filled pasta.  The menu at noreetuh celebrates the kitsch, but at the same time allows us the opportunity to showcase and also celebrate the wide spectrum of influences that make up Hawaiian cuisine beyond the kitsch.