Review: New Taiwanese kitchen in Westport is a melting pot of flavor inspirations

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

Every Sunday as a child, Katie Liu-Sung would accompany her family to a dim sum restaurant. This was tradition, whether they were living in LA, where Liu-Sung spent her first decade, or Taichung, Taiwan, where her family moved back to when she was ten. She especially loved har gow, delicate shrimp-filled dumplings that she would beg her mother to order en masse.

“She would get annoyed because it was too expensive to have six or seven orders of har gow,” Liu-Sung says. “One day, she started making the har gow, and we had our own endless supply. That was the best day ever.”

It was a sticking moment: “Once I realized that we can make the things we love at home, that we can recreate the things that make us happy, it was all I wanted to do.”

You will not find har gow on the menu at Chewology—not yet, anyway. But there are a few other dumpling options, tried-and-true recipes Liu-Sung perfected over the three years she ran her counter-service spot inside Lenexa Public Market. She left Lenexa in July 2020, and in November, she reopened at 900 Westport Road in the space vacated by Bluestem.

The new location has afforded Chewology several new features: more square footage, table service, a long bar with a devoted cocktail program. Liu-Sung’s touches are more redecoration than remodel. Every other table has been plastered with a floral tablecloth, walls have been painted green, the dining room has been strung with festive twinkling red lights. 

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

It’s the food that clears out the Bluestem cobwebs. Chewology’s best-selling dumplings are filled with a punchy pork-cabbage combination seasoned with fresh ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. There’s a beef option, too, flavored with kimchi and not short on funk. These dumplings are crimped into crescent moon-shaped presents, the same fold Liu-Sung’s father taught her. Wield your chopsticks carefully: The rose petal-soft dough is thick but delicate.

If ugly dumplings are on offer, get them. Liu-Sung and her team take the reject-dumplings that are too misshapen to land a starring role on the regular dish and give them a second life as an occasional nightly special. When I had them, seam-popping beef dumplings arrived in a spicy, gory, blood-red bath of the best sauce ever—a magic combination of chili oil, black vinegar and garlic. Liu-Sung’s dumplings are usually seven to an order, guaranteeing an argument over who will have the last one. 

Dumplings will come with your preference of a side of rice or a ramekin of pickled vegetables. The latter is credited to Andy McCormick, last seen at The Restaurant at 1900 and the Hey Hey Club before. Liu-Sung recruited him to be her chef de cuisine. He makes a dashi with dried shiitake and kombu and uses the resulting broth in the three-cup mushroom ramen. McCormick cures the leftover shiitakes in a Shaoxing wine and rice vinegar brine he has perfected. A scant few slivers of these snackable mushrooms are nestled prettily alongside pickled cauliflower and cucumbers.

Chewology’s dishes are a mashup of Liu-Sung’s experiences and McCormick’s interests, blending her family recipes and traditional preparation with his penchant for bright flavors and delicate plating. From this meeting of minds, we have dishes like the bibimbap—a thriving vegetable garden where different textures (charred green onion, pickled lotus root, the softest poached egg) buzz with flavor.

Liu-Sung and McCormick’s union is perhaps the most Taiwanese thing about the restaurant. Taiwan is an island of immigrants, from the Japanese colonizers who introduced raw fish and miso in the 1890s to the Chinese migrants fleeing communism in the 1950s, bringing with them regional Sichuan, Cantonese and Shanghai dishes. Chewology’s flavors cheerfully glide between all these influences and pull inspiration from several more.

“People always ask me, ‘What is Taiwanese food?’” Liu-Sung says. “But it’s a melting pot, just like America. On our menu, we have a lot of different regions, but it’s what we eat in Taiwan and it’s part of our culture. For me, moving across continents multiple times growing up, food was always what comforted me.”

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

At its best, lu rou fan, a bowl of stewy pork over rice, is everything comfort food should be. Liu-Sung prepares skin-on pork belly in the tradition of Taiwan’s Hakka people—a long, patient braise with soy and five-spice—and serves it with her chili and kombu-pickled pineapple and McCormick’s crunchy pickled cabbage. Here, this dish is nourishing, uncomplicated and unforgettable.

Chewology distinguishes itself with small details. Liu-Sung prefers brown short grain for the extra chew, and a patient cook with lots of water keeps her rice wonderfully plump. The raw ahi and soy-drenched jammy egg in the poke bowl are excellent partners, but it’s the rice that compels you to dig your chopsticks in again and again.

Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

Beef noodle soup is often regarded as Taiwan’s national dish, and at Chewology, fork-tender slices of beef shank float in a fragrant beef broth that is rich but not too decadent. On each of my four visits, someone recommended the dan dan noodles. I liked the just-right spice that tickled the back of my throat, but it’s the mushroom ramen I’m still thinking about: McCormick’s soulful dashi surrounds a fungi forest populated with shaggy lion’s mane, coral tooth and king oyster, and the squiggly noodles are perfectly al dente.

At Chewology’s bao station, the team steams marshmallowy buns throughout the day. The gua bao—golden brown slabs of pork belly braised in a funky, citrusy ponzu—scratches an itch you didn’t even know you had. The kaarage, with bites of juicy chicken thigh coated in an airy sweet potato flour and five spice batter, is an easy contender for Kansas City’s best chicken sandwich.

Not everything works, not yet. A robust Hunan-style dry rub made of cumin, coriander and Szechuan pepper was powerful enough to distract, at first, from lamb ribs that clung to the bone with a sinewy might. And the only dessert—moon cakes from Shang Tea House in Crown Center—has been put on hold indefinitely.

The cocktail program has hits and misses. Flavors in the Taipei 101 (a martini with Japanese gin and bee pollen) were excellent, but the coupes are oversized for the volume, and when the drink disappears in just a few swallows, you feel a little cheated. Go for the 823, an Old Fashioned riff with sesame oil-washed Rittenhouse whiskey that is as smooth as an Ang Lee film. 

This spring, Liu-Sung and McCormick hope to debut Chewology’s sister concept, Stray Kat. The idea has cycled through several iterations since the two began discussing it. The duo has landed on a pop-up dinner series where they can play with more adventurous dishes.   

In the meantime, there is plenty to explore on Chewology’s purposeful and concise menu. Start with the dumplings, order at least one bao and then—well, it only took four visits for me to try every dish. You could probably do it in two.

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