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Pookipichu | | Jul 5, 2012 09:18 AM

My family dined at Hakkasan for Father's day and I hope that our experience will be helpful.

The restaurant has been much discussed, mostly negatively, with regard to decor, food and pricing. The restaurant needs an awning or sign. The door to the restaurant is difficult to find and other than secret societies and private glee clubs, restaurants shouldn't make it difficult for patrons to find the entrance.

The restaurant is capacious, maybe overly so, there's a lot of wasted space and the cavernous dark hallway makes it feel more like a nightclub than a restaurant. Overall I didn't have issues with the Chinese by way of Blade Runner interiors but the music is overly loud, thumping, distracting and completely inappropriate for an upscale dining experience.

Service was in the vein of upscale casual restaurants, friendly and solicitous, think Union Square Cafe or Mas Farmhouse. Professional but still rough around the edges and the ignorance of Chinese cuisine is disheartening. Not that waiters should be experts on the cuisines they are serving but for an upscale restaurant, I expect more training. There were lovely thoughtful touches, the waiter having overheard we were celebrating a family event, wrote congratulations on the dessert and all the staff wished my father a happy father's day as we were leaving.

As for the food. I will refrain from going on a diatribe but I will disagree strongly with Pete Wells and Adam Platt, both of whom call their professionalism into question with their jarringly inaccurate reviews in contrast with my experience. First, my experience, dishes ordered may vary greatly from theirs and perhaps there is inconsistency of preparation. That being said, the food at Hakkasan ranged from good to exceptional.

Highlights included the pipa duck. As a duck lover this dish is non pareil, text book perfection of moist duck elegantly presented with exacting cuts of rectangular medallions. The skin is crisp and refined, the meat is tender counterpoint with clear, rich duck flavor, lacking the gaminess I find objectionable in ducks that are mass farmed. The saucing is judicious and if served with steamed mantou, it would set a high standard for Peking duck iterations in NYC. I have had duck in many restaurants, many highly esteemed Western restaurants, and the flabby skin always disappoints. Even when I ask, if the skin is crisp and am invariably informed yes, it never is. The skin at Hakkasan is perfection and it puts other restaurants to shame.

The chilean sea bass with Chinese honey was another standout. The fish is cooked firm but tender with skill to avoid the overly soft preparations at other establishments. The miso cod at Nobu, for all its fame, was not prepared as skillfully as this honey fish at Hakkasan. The fish is laquered with a wafer thin crust of honey that is indescribably complex, herbaceous and floral. The flavor is not immediately enticing, it's challenging to the palate and satisfies like a piece of fine chocolate. The dish is topped with battered crisp mushrooms and offers a pleasing parallel texture structure of crisp and soft.

We ordered the vegetarian dim sum platter and the steamed (meat) dim sum platter. The vegetable dim sum platter has vibrant contrasts of textures, crisp, crunchy with soft, rich. Herbs are used generously and pungently. The skin of the crystal dumpling is beautifully translucent. The skill in the preparation of the dim sum is by far among the best of the East and West coast. It puts Koi Palace to shame. Is it the best dim sum I've ever had? No, but certainly respectable and in NY, only rivaled by Chinatown Brasserie.

As a side note, the chili dipping sauce is searingly spicy, thankfully so.

The stir fry pepper beef was well prepared, the protein was of unquestionable quality, lacking gristle and uniformly tender. The sear was exceptional, the high heat wok sear that is undefinable but whispers of how it was prepared. Overall the dish was well received but acknowledged as unexceptionally creative, nor was the quality of the ingredients as elevated above the competition, such as the duck. Good steak is not hard to find.

The three style mushroom was a gorgeous array of fresh, plump, firm mushrooms complimented by a rich sauce and the luxurious fat of macadamian nuts.

The Hakka noodle is a master class in stir-frying, the noodles also had that breath of wok sear, but was censured for being delicately portioned.

No one wanted to pay for rice.

The desserts were excellent. The pastry chef should be proud as clearly the skill demonstrated shows pride in execution and technique.

The apple tarte tatin is head and shoulders above Artisanal and gives Balthazar a run for its money.

The chocolate "bar" is vastly superior to the version at Eleven Madison Park in flavor, texture and presentation with elegant gold ombre and rich pure flavor complimented by the sensation of the accompanying "snow"

The desserts would acquit themselves admirably in 3-4 star kitchens across the city, regardless of cuisine.

Total bill, including tax and tip was $288 for 5 adults.

While Hakkasan is undoubtedly an expensive restaurant and my members of my party experienced sticker shock, after all was said and done, Hakkasan was no where near the most expensive restaurant we've dined at in NYC. Not even the most expensive Chinese restaurant. My family has dined at EMP, Daniel, Bouley, Le Bernadin, Del Posto, etc. etc. Hakkasan was less expensive than all of the above. Full disclosure, the portions at Hakkasan are delicate, but not excessively so. Shared plates compare to the portions of tasting menus and there are few upscale restaurants where we truly leave full. BUT there is a definite perception of Hakkasan being expensive, because the entrees are higher in price than your typical Chinese restaurant in NY. What Hakkasan attempts is the super luxury category of EMPs, Bouley's etc. There is no direct comparison to other Chinese restaurants. No other Chinese restaurant in NYC aspires to be on that level.

In my opinion, Hakkasan has been judged unfairly, partially, and ignorantly by both people who have dined at the restaurant and worse by those who haven't. The skill level at Hakkasan puts it squarely at the top of the Chinese restaurant scene in New York. Comparison to current food media darlings Mission Chinese and Red Farm are as laughable as comparing Per Se to Balthazar. I enjoy both, and welcome the broadening tapestry of Chinese food in NYC but the difference in skill is palpable. The quality of ingredients at Hakkasan is unquestionable. The price is high, but unless ordering the "treasures" dishes with caviar, abalone, etc. not more so than other comparable restaurants. And most surprisingly, the desserts are better than restaurants that are FAMOUS for their pastry chefs. To award Hakkasan one star out of four or no stars a la Platt is ignorant and ridiculous. Negative hype has overwhelmed this restaurant and is revolting in character. The food is expensive, no doubt, and so is rent in NYC, especially for a restaurant of its size, near Times Square. However, this restaurant is no more Ruby Foo than Marea is Olive Garden. While it misses the mark on ambiance and hits off notes with service, it has been overly penalized and excoriated for not being perfect, probably in part because it serves high end Chinese cuisine.