Every Sunday, as a child, Katie Liu-Sung accompanied her family to a dim sum restaurant. It was tradition whether they lived in Los Angeles, where Liu-Sung spent her first decade, or in Taichung, Taiwan, where her family returned when she was ten. She particularly loved the har gow, delicate dumplings stuffed with shrimp that she begged her mother to order en masse.
“She was getting upset because it was too expensive to have six or seven har gow orders,” Liu-Sung says. “One day she started making har gow, and we had our own endless supply. It was the best day of my life.
It was a touching moment: “Once I realized that we could do the things we love at home, that we could recreate the things that make us happy, that was all I wanted to do.”
You won’t 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 honed in the three years she ran her service counter at Lenexa Public Market. It left Lenexa in July 2020, and in November it reopened at 900 Westport Road in space vacated by Bluestem.
The new location offered Chewology several new features: more square footage, table service, a long bar with a dedicated cocktail program. Liu-Sung’s touches are more of a redecoration than a renovation. Every other table was covered with a floral tablecloth, the walls were painted green, the dining room was adorned with festive twinkling red lights.
It is the food that cleans Bluestem cobwebs. Chewology’s best-selling dumplings are filled with a punchy combination of pork and cabbage seasoned with fresh ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. There’s also a beef option flavored with kimchi and not short of funk. These dumplings are set in presents shaped like a crescent moon, the same trick that Liu-Sung’s father taught him. Handle your chopsticks with care: the soft dough with rose petals is thick but delicate.
If ugly dumplings are offered, buy them. Liu-Sung and his team take the rejected dumplings that are too out of shape to land a main role on the regular dish and give them a second life as the occasional nightly special. When I had them, popping beef patties arrived in a spicy, bloody, blood-red bath of the best sauce ever – a magical combination of chili oil, black vinegar and garlic. Liu-Sung’s dumplings are usually seven per order, guaranteeing an argument over who gets the last one.
The dumplings will come with your preference of a side of rice or a ramekin of pickled vegetables. The latter is attributed to Andy McCormick, last seen at the Restaurant in 1900 and at the Hey Hey Club before. Liu-Sung recruited him to be his chef. He makes dashi with dried shiitake and kombu and uses the resulting broth in the three cups of mushroom ramen. McCormick processes the remaining shiitakes in a brine of Shaoxing wine and rice vinegar that he perfected. A few slivers of these snackable mushrooms are nestled nicely alongside cauliflower and pickled cucumbers.
Chewology’s dishes are a blend of Liu-Sung’s experiences and McCormick’s interests, blending his family recipes and traditional preparation with his penchant for bright flavors and delicate plating. From this meeting of the minds we have dishes like bibimbap, a thriving vegetable garden where different textures (charred green onion, pickled lotus root, the sweetest poached egg) buzz with flavor.
The union of Liu-Sung and McCormick is perhaps the most Taiwanese thing about the restaurant. Taiwan is an island of immigrants, from Japanese colonizers who introduced raw fish and miso in the 1890s to Chinese migrants fleeing communism in the 1950s, bringing with them regional dishes from Sichuan, Cantonese and Shanghai. Chewology’s flavors glide seamlessly between all of these influences and draw inspiration from many others.
“People always ask me, ‘What is Taiwanese food?’ says Liu-Sung. “But it’s a melting pot, just like America. On our menu we have a lot of different regions, but that’s what we eat in Taiwan and it’s part of our culture. For me, having crossed continents many times growing up, food has always been what comforted me.
At its best, lu rou fan, a bowl of pork stew over rice, is everything comfort food should be. Liu-Sung cooks pork belly with skin in the tradition of the Hakka people of Taiwan – a long, patient braise with soybeans and five spices – and serves it with his chilli and kombu-marinated pineapple and McCormick’s crunchy pickled cabbage . Here, this dish is nutritious, simple and unforgettable.
Chewology is distinguished by small details. Liu-Sung prefers the brown short grain for the extra chew, and a patient cook with plenty of water keeps his rice wonderfully plump. The raw ahi and the soy-dipped jammy egg in the poke bowl are great partners, but it’s the rice that keeps you digging into your chopsticks again and again.
Beef noodle soup is often considered Taiwan’s national dish, and at Chewology, fork-tender slices of beef shank float in a fragrant beef broth that’s rich but not too decadent. On each of my four visits someone recommended the dan dan noodles. I liked the just spice that tickled the back of my throat, but it’s the mushroom ramen that I still think of: McCormick’s soulful dashi surrounds a forest of mushrooms populated by shaggy lion’s mane, coral and king oyster, and the wavy noodles are perfectly al dente.
At Chewology’s bao station, the team steams marshmallow buns throughout the day. Gua bao – golden slices of pork belly braised in a funky citrus ponzu – scratches an itch you didn’t even know you had. The kaarage, with bite-sized pieces of juicy chicken thigh coated in an airy sweet potato flour and five-spice batter, is an easy contender for the best chicken sandwich in Kansas City.
Not everything is working, not yet. A solid Hunan-style dry rub of cumin, coriander, and Sichuan pepper was potent enough to draw attention away, at first, from the lamb ribs that clung to the bone with nervous force. And the only dessert – mooncakes from Shang Tea House at Crown Center – has been suspended indefinitely.
The cocktail program has hits and misses. The flavors of Taipei 101 (a Japanese gin and bee pollen martini) were excellent, but the cups are oversized for volume, and when the drink disappears in a few sips, it feels a bit cheated. Go for 823, an old-school riff with Rittenhouse whiskey washed down in sesame oil as smooth as an Ang Lee movie.
This spring, Liu-Sung and McCormick hope to launch Chewology’s sister concept, Stray Kat. The idea has gone through several iterations since the two started discussing it. The duo have landed on a series of pop-up dinner parties where they can play around with more adventurous dishes.
In the meantime, there’s plenty to explore on Chewology’s helpful and concise menu. Start with the ravioli, order at least one bao and then, well, it only took me four visits to try each dish. You could probably do it in half.