Posted 30 April 2012 - 03:29 PM
Expectations are a funny thing.
When Hakkasan was supposed to open as the initial restaurant in the renovated Gramercy Park Hotel a few years ago, everyone got excited. It was then thought to be, as Frank Bruni was quoted as saying above, the haute Chinese place that New York lacks. But that plan fell through, and instead we got a different haute Chinese place in the Gramercy that no one but the Johnsons seemed to have thought much of. (Now, the space belongs to Danny Meyer's Maialino, and everybody is happy.)
Meanwhile, Hakkasan engaged in a program of international expansion, opening in places like the Emirates. And now they finally have a branch in New York -- off Times Square. So the international expansion and the suspect New York location have combined to lower people's expectations: we now hear that it would be best to expect, not the height of sophisticated Chinese cuisine, but someplace like Tao.
Well, I've never eaten at Tao, so I don't know. But I suspect it can't be as good as this. But don't misunderstand me: I'm not recommending Hakkasan. Not at all. The food isn't bad, but it certainly isn't great. And the value calculation is all out of whack. For what they charge, the food should be a lot more special than it is.
I started with a spicy fried soft shell crab in a mound of fried noodles or something. The key word here is spicy. It was fine, but nothing to beat the band.
A hotpot of turbot and pork belly was, at least, more interesting -- although it didn't have me swooning. A side of noodles with chives and mushrooms was delicious.
Cocktails are stupid. (As were, as you can guess, my fellow inhabitants of the bar [they have another, "sommelier's bar" -- a wine bar -- deeper into the room that might conceivably get a less stupid crowd, but I was too lazy to walk the extra distance from the cocktail bar].) The by-the-glass wine list is surprisingly good, albeit short.
So this isn't bad food. It isn't dumb, or dialed-down, and it's competently prepared. But the prices! Appetizers in the $20s, main dishes in the $30s to the $50s or even more (and, for a set of "special" dishes for the ballers, way way more). It isn't that this food isn't worth it because it's Chinese, it's that this food isn't worth it because it isn't great. If, say, Annisa charged this much, it wouldn't be worth it, either.