HO Dinner at Hakka Cuisine

We ended up at this restaurant after planning a dinner at a different one, and as luck would have it, on the night before it was reviewed in the NYT. There was some concern about crowds (@JenKalb is probably not the only one who gets Pete Wells’ advance notice newsletter), but the place was not overrun. And we had a great time and a good meal! And a ton of food! One highlight was the fish maw soup with chopped seafood. I was overall impressed with the attention to texture in all the dishes, and fish maw has a very distinctive one.

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My absolute favorite was this deep fried squid stuffed with shrimp paste, like a mash-up of salt & pepper seafood and dim sum.

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The fried grey sole required some work - a lotta bones, a lotta fry. Worth it, though.

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Grubstreet did a write-up a couple of months ago (and Infatuation did a shorter review) — though I found those only while checking if the NYT review was out today.

We ate a lot, and hit most of the “advertised” dishes (except the sweet and sour pork over ice - iirc @SteveR loves sweet and sour pork so maybe that was an oversight?)

My 2c:
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Hakka place in nyc because I grew up with a completely different branch of Hakka chinese food in India (not Indianized, but also not Cantonese-d).

Much of this meal tasted to me like well-done Cantonese.

My favorites were the stuffed squid that was reminiscent of the ubiquitous fried shrimp balls at dim sum, and the tender, braised pork belly (though I couldn’t discern the preserved greens, and I missed a bit of plain rice to soak up the braising liquid).

I didn’t enjoy the whole fish as much as I usually do (I may have been expecting the one with the fish cubed up and fried and the skeleton fried separately) - there wasn’t much flavor to it aside from crunch. Similarly the pumpkin, which was nice and crunchy but without much else.

I liked the silverfish (which was new to me a couple of group dinners ago and I now enjoy), done well with the chives bringing freshness.

The e-Fu noodles were fine (iirc the last place we ate them was Noodletown, perhaps a bit more flavorful than these), as was the bok choy (though by the time I ate it - my own fault - it was very soggy).

I’m not a tofu fan but I thought that dish was well-prepared. I didn’t try the dessert soup.

The famous Blossom Chicken was interesting, though I’m not sure I’d recommend it forward.
I was trying to recall what the stuffing reminded me of, and it finally struck me this morning — the stuffing of imperials rolls / Viet spring rolls with taro and pork, through this was taro and shrimp. The dish clearly takes effort to prepare and the presentation. Is impressive, but that seems to be its main claim to fame. And there’s no chicken in the dish other than the skin, by which some of us may have been surprised (as it was the “poultry” dish choice).

I’d go back to try other things we couldn’t get to last night, because the food was very well-prepared and the service was very attentive and kind.

Adding pics to what @small_h already posted:

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Braised pork belly with preserved greens

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Sauteed silverfish with chives

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Fish maw and crab soup

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Stuffed tofu (stuffed with pork balls and braised)

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The famous Blossom Chicken (not chicken but chicken skin stuffed with shrimp and taro)

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Crab e-Fu noodles

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Squid stuffed with shrimp (deep fried not sautéed)

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Bok choy with mushrooms

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Deep fried whole grey sole (there are a couple of different options)

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Pumpkin with salted egg yolk

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Dessert soup (tapioca and some other things?)

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  • fish maw soup: Hot, soothing, thick-ish soup, perfect comfort food on a cool, autmun night.

  • pork belly - The richness of the pork belly reminded me of foie gras, I couldn’t eat more than a piece or two but as someone who has spent the malcolm gladwell requisite 10K hours smoking, roasting and judging pork, I thought this an exceptional dish.

  • fried gray sole - Jen called it right, the coating made the dish for me, at home I would have gnawed it all off the bones.

  • silverfish: the ginger in the dish made for a nice palate cleanser, I’d have liked to have seen more fish.

  • blossom chicken: as the manager or maybe it was the owner pointed out, this would be tough for two people to get through, four pieces were plenty for me, but I’d order it again for a crowd.

  • e-fu noodles with crab: I guess I just don’t love e-fu noodles, this was a good rendition but color me a chow fun or hand ripped noodle guy.

  • squid stuffed with shrimp: liked this dish, but it started to feel like maybe we ordered too much deep fried food and next was

  • Fried pumpkin with salted egg yolk which I thought skippable.

  • Bok choy: always nice to have a green vegetable on the table but just ok

  • Tofu stuffed with pork balls: unfortunately, my pork ball fell out, anyhow, I thought this just ok.

I’m sure they’re going to be slammed tonight by the nyt 2* review, just took 5 minutes to download the menu from their website…Also, I dunno if they laid in a supply of wine in anticipation of the review but they have about five cases of $300-$600/bottle california cabs sitting on the shelf above the cashier.

thanks to @Saregama for managing the everchanging logistics and dave did his usual wonderful job managing the order and splitting the bill. It was great to see everyone!

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I’m sure that more pictures will be forthcoming, since there were more cameras at the table. Which brings me to the 1st thing I loved – it was a round table with a nice spinnable centerpiece. And the overall appearance and atmosphere of the place was nice. And the staff great. Waiting for the other shoe to drop? Well… nope. I really liked most of the food and it’s now on my list for where to take others when they want C’town. If we can ever get back in, now that the Wells review has dropped.
I don’t like pork belly much, as I find it too fatty. This was a good version of something I don’t care much for. And the coating on the fish was very nice. Unfortunately, the fish itself was ehh: too thin, with meat not too flavorful. I really, really liked the silverfish dish and the blossom chicken and the squid and the tofu and the fish maw soup. As small_h mentioned, these were all texturally above average as well as tasty and well prepared. Unfortunately the bok choy w/mushrooms wasn’t crisp nor flavorful and the pumpkin, as vinouspleasure nicely put it, “skippable”.
And the good news is that there are many other things on the menu (& going to other tables) that look like things to order “next time”.

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this was a lovely chinatown restaurant with great facilities and service. I enjoyed my dinner but wished I had enjoyed it more… I thought more garnishes and perhaps condiments would have elevated some of the dishes from blandness, especially the fried dishes of which perhaps we chose too many, which gave our meal a sameness - the fried stuffed squid, the tofu, the blossom chicken, the pumpkin and even the fish ( which I thought was perfectly cooked and delicious though there was more tasty crunch than flesh for our 8 person group). Even the excellent fish maw soup could have done with some scallion, cilantro or perhaps fine ginger shreds stirred through.

In addition to the fish, I most enjoyed the pork belly (thought it should have had three times the amount of dried vegetables, which were delicious), the soup, the dessert soup and the fried silverfish with squid, chives and jicama and the e-fu noodles which were full of flavor tho I didnt get any crab. The pumpkin coated with preserved egg and fried was greasy and I was thinking how much it would have benefitted from some sharp and savory dipping sauce (like tempura) . The tofu was very delicate and well seasoned by the pork button on top, but i prefer more robust stuffed tofu versions. The blossom chicken was a tour de force in presentation, but the shrimp and taro filling was too similar to that of the stuffed squid. The bok choy and mushrooms was soft and bland - I would have preferred a crunchier dish.
All in all I would gladly return and aim at more of the braised and stir fried dishes rather than banquet type items, since the kitchen is clearly very capable.

thanks so much to @saregama for hanging in there through the complicated process of finding a restaurant that would accomodate us on Monday night and to Dave for herding the cats. It was a pleasure to get back together!

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Gift link to the NY Times review of Hakka Cuisine:

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Excellent dinner last night, and QUIET! Forgot phone so no pics…just lovely!

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We get together in NYC with a small group of friends almost every year on the first or second weekend of January, when hotel prices are at their cheapest. Last year our first night’s dinner was at Dhamaka, the “unapologetically Indian” restaurant on the Lower East Side. The experience was loud, crowded, bustling, exciting, outstandingly delicious, and over-the-top spicy (especially the dish with goat testicles, which was on the verge of being hotter than I could eat). Certainly one of my top ten meals of 2023.

This year our first meal was at Hakka Cuisine in Chinatown. The contrast with Dhamaka couldn’t have been greater. In a lovely setting with solicitous servers, the experience was quiet, gracious, and relaxing – very good food with not a chili pepper in sight.

We started with the vegetable spring rolls (one of our group is a very cautious eater), which were very deep fried with a nice crunch, but the vegetables were pretty bland (cabbage, carrots, and maybe bean sprouts) and the frying left the rolls greasy. Not an auspicious start.

The stir fry chicken with pine nuts and lettuce wraps was very good - everyone liked it (especially the cautious eater) – but the pine nut flavor was not very prominent. It was a nice, savory stir fry, with a few noodles and some shredded carrots.

I thought the blossom chicken (chicken skin stuffed with shrimp and taro) was the best and most flavorful dish of the meal, with the crunchy skin being a nice contrast to the ground filling. Others in the group liked it too, but I think maybe not quite as much as me.

The sweet and sour pork on ice generated much more mixed opinions. I liked this a lot. It’s way tilted toward the sweet side of “sweet and sour,” which not everyone shared my appreciation of. I also really enjoyed the lightly frozen garnishes of cherries, grapes, and pineapple.

The low point of the meal for me was the crispy whole squab. This had to be pre-ordered (as did the blossom chicken, sweet & sour pork on ice, and the braised pork belly). Squab was a new protein for me, but one member of our group specifically requested that we order it (but seemed to be surprised when I told him after the dish arrived that it was baby pigeon). It came deep-fried, with head intact, and for me was very reminiscent of the deep-fried quail you sometimes find in Vietnamese restaurants. I don’t find it to have a lot of flavor and it’s hard work getting the little bit of meat off the bones. I definitely would not order this again at Hakka Cuisine and I’m not sure I’ll order squab again anywhere. It just seems a little too young on its life cycle for me.

Our last dish was the Hakka braised pork with preserved vegetables, which Wikipedia says is the classic Hakka dish. To me it was very reminiscent of the classic Chinese dish red braised pork, except with no discernible anise. This was generally well received around the table, but I think I’m with SteveR on this one – this was “a good version of something I don’t care much for” (I also don’t much like red braised pork). Unlike SteveR I liked the fatty part quite a bit, but found the lean part too dry and chewy.

Finally, I really enjoyed the two lists of instructions in the restroom, one for the staff and one for the customers. On the customer’s instructions, I’m partial to #1 – “Please keep the toilet seat clean. Don’t step on it.” On the staff employee instructions, I like them all, but particularly #9 - “Together, a clean restroom and everything is possible!”


Overall, I found our meal at Hakka Cuisine to be very good and we had a great time, but it was probably not among the best Chinese meals I’ve had in New York City.

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If you’re ever in bordeaux, roast squab paired with a bottle of bordeaux is sublime. And I believe it was @THECHARLES who got us pointed to fantastic squab in hong kong. both are worth trying if you have the opportunity.

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Heads on or off? The tiny little bird head was a little off-putting (though not enough to stop me from nibbling on it).

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The Hong Kong ‘Sha-Tin’ style roasted squab/pigeon offered here in Toronto are mighty fine too!!


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It needs a little hat, imo.

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the french prep was head off, hong kong, I asked them to take the head off. I’m sure you could have done the same at hakka.

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It never even crossed my mind. We had ordered a half of the blossom chicken, which therefore came without the head.

not to beat a dead pigeon, but after it arrived, if you found it offensive/disturbing, I’m sure they would have removed it.

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please… stop squabbling

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How cute!

Cute things always taste better.

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I wouldn’t have wanted the server to pigeon-hole me as a picky eater.

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I hate to squawk but… some people maybe should just flock off!

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next time just ask them to hakka the head off.

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