If you are braving the crowds at Union Square this holiday season, you might want to take a break and pamper yourself with lunch at Hakkasan. Open a year now, Hakkasan has a rap for being very expensive. It is. But during the week, Hakkasan offers a prix fix lunch menu for $28. Just the other day I had lunch at Hakkasan (thanks to a good friend!), and let me say the interiors are worth the price of admission, and the food will satisfy.
The Hakkasan “look” was originally created by Christian Liaigre (one of the top designers in the world) for Hakkasan London, combining a distinctly modern jet set aesthetic with Chinese motifs. This aesthetic is continued in San Francisco, with a rumored $10 million budget, by the Parisian design firm Giles & Boisier. It’s amazing the type of bells-&-whistles $10 million can buy! Stepping off the elevator, one is transported to a colonial Singapore or Shanghai with the initial burst of incense. The feeling of the Orient is created with a clever blending motifs from Chinese myth and tradition, feng-shui and Taoism, motifs all wrestled free from context or meaning. Put all together it LOOKS expensive.
Walls are created using traditional Chinese building techniques, where vertical wood columns rest on stone foundations, and walls are punctured with white Carrara marble “windows”. Lattice work screens in laser-cut metal and dark oak wood continue this theme, creating a mood of mystery, and heighten the voyeuristic thrill. Leather banquettes are embroidered with dragons, the Taoist symbol for the power-lunch! White glass lanterns, looking like folded paper, illuminate the space. It’s worth going just to see the craftsmanship.
The building is an awkward shape and hard to use. The designers maximized the wedge-shaped space of the One Kearny building by placing a horseshoe-shaped bar in the very middle of the space.The dining tables flank bar, hugging the two exterior walls. The bar is in chrome and under-lit blue sapphire glass, which will make your martini look fabulous.
Hakkasan San Francisco serves modern Cantonese cuisine. You’ll find high price point items like Pekin Duck with Truffle oil, and stir fried lobster. Both my friend and I ordered from the prix fix menu, and started with the Hakka steamed dim sum platter. The scallop shumai (with pieces of shrimp on the bottom) and the shrimp dumpling were perfect, a small step above the usual dim sum available.
For our main course, my friend had the Spicy Prawn with Lily Bulb and Almond, and I had the Halibut Claypot. Each was served with steam or shallot friend rice, with a large side of bok choi. My Halibut was deep and rich, in a seafood broth. The bok choi was tasty, although difficult to eat. My friends Prawns look great (and she said they were amazing). But I couldn’t get over the fact that this dish is cooked with butter and cream! Perhaps this is the French influence, and the reason the dish was so flavorful. But when did we start adding dairy to Cantonese food? I was probably just miffed because I could not eat the dish. Hakkasan accommodated my dairy-free diet by offering me an alternative dessert: Tropical Fruit Sorbet. I loved the rock candy which gave the sorbet some crackle and pop. My friend had Macaroons, continuing the colonial motif.
Let me say that the quantity of food should be enough to satisfy most. However, my friend and I were little piggies, so we started by sharing the duck spring rolls and crab dumplings. The only word that comes to mind is gluttony.
David Bjørngaard, December 2013