Eight years ago when I moved here the Lower East Side wasn’t exactly what you’d consider a culinary mecca. You’d certainly consider it a place to find some drugs, that’s for sure. Maybe some cheap late night munchies after partaking in said drugs. But that has all changed now. Restaurateurs are flocking here and it shows. You can visit 5 different countries without crossing one street. There is no better expression of this than on Clinton Street. As you walk south from Houston you will find some of the best restaurants in NYC like Clinton St Baking Company, Ivan Ramen, Pig & Khao, and Speedy Romeo. You can now add The Whales to that list.
I met Andy Kim, the owner of The Whales, for lunch at his brand new restaurant last week. He had major success in the real estate industry and is not trying his hand at restaurants. Immediately I had to know where the name originated. He said he wants people to come eat & spend like whales. I liked him instantly for his hilarious honestly. His restaurant isn’t large; lots of counter seating and a bar taking up the predominant amount of space in the venue. Whiskey decanters hang from the ceiling functioning as light fixtures. There is nothing fussy about the décor; the kind of place you can relax and throw back a few drinks after work casually (or long into the night).
The food is primarily Korean. Every dish is the kind of food you want to pair with alcohol. You’ll see kimchi, rice, and fried goodies all over. It’s the kind of comfort food I imagine my mom would make me if she were Korean. The Korean style fried wings are killer; fried twice and available in face numbingly hot glaze. Kim went outside the box and created a “pizza” with pressed fried rice as the crust. He uses the same rice as a patty for a burger you get with an edible wrapper. How fucking cool is that? If you want something lighter they have an excellent version of poke with all the soy-sesame-umami flavors you crave in the Hawaiian dish. Finally, let me tell you about the ramen. It’s ballsy to even attempt to make ramen when you are next door to the ramen god, Ivan Ramen. However, Kim once again went outside of the box and created a cheese broth ramen that’s a playful fusion version of the traditional dish. Everything is packed with flavor, creative, and not fussed over too death. There’s an ample bar stocked with cocktails to wash it down. I look forward to their continued success. Here’s what we had:
Poke Salad- tuna, mixed greens, edamame, avocado, seaweed salad, spicy mayo
Spicy Korean Style Fried Wings
Rice Pizza - Korean spicy paste, beef, peppers, onion, mozzarella cheese
Cheese Ramen - cheese, scallion, onion, bean sprout, egg
Rice Burger - beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, fried egg, house spicy mayo
71 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002