Uptown Chinese, Dressed to Kill

Hakkasan is the kind of Chinese restaurant that makes a lot of Chowhounds suspicious, if not downright hostile. It's part of a high-end international chain. Entrées are priced mostly from the $20s to the $80s, climaxing with a truffled abalone dish that fetches $888. And its CEO describes the house approach as how the West wants to celebrate Chinese food. But guess what? Hounds who've visited Hakkasan in its first two weeks say it's actually pretty good, especially for dim sum.

Cheeryvisage recounts a very good brunch highlighted by delicate prawn-and-chive dumplings with a fresh, tasty filling and well-made wrappers, steamed just right. A big, crescent-shaped seafood dumpling, whose umami-laden filling features crab, scallop, shrimp, and shiitakes, comes in flavorful yellow-chive soup. Soup dumplings, or xiao long bao—known here as siuw long buns—are filled with very good broth, but not enough of it for Cheeryvisage's taste. chloes singles out the vegetable dim sum platter (morel dumpling, bamboo dumpling, bean curd roll, and chive flower dumpling), distinguished by especially fine skins. "The dumplings are worth the trip—everything else was just ordinary," she says (though she adds that roasted chicken with satay sauce had extraordinarily crispy skin and a vegetable stir-fry was seasonal and flavorful). Cheeryvisage finds Hakkasan on a par with Chinatown Brasserie and RedFarm, two other Manhattan destinations for upmarket dim sum. "CB and RedFarm win for better value, but Hakkasan wins for having the most variety and high level of service."

Even veteran Flushing explorer scoopG, who usually prefers Chinese food in more authentic guise, finds plenty to like here. Wok-fried Wagyu beef—10 slices for $78, served over enoki mushrooms with spicy peanut sauce—is meltingly tender, he reports. Green beans with minced pork and preserved vegetables are delicious, though the preserved-vegetable presence is scant. Lobster soup with tomato and bean curd offers a hint of spice, and a Hakka pork-belly clay pot, with leeks and black fungus, strikes a subtle chocolate-like note. Despite the pan-Chinese menu, scoopG discerns a Cantonese sensibility in the cooking. "Seasonings were light," he says, "and I did not detect much garlic or ginger."

"Many are going to complain of steep prices," he adds—and in the case of the soup dumplings (three for $10) and green beans ($18), "they will have a point, as estimable versions of these dishes can be found elsewhere in the city at a fraction of the cost. Still, I’ll be back." The dining room, living up to its billing, is dark, handsome, and dramatically lighted. "The restaurant is beautiful. The servers are beautiful. The music is soft and on the clubby side," Cheeryvisage reports.

Hakkasan [Hell's Kitchen]
311 W. 43rd Street (between Eighth and Ninth avenues), Manhattan

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