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Sometimes when entering a well-heeled establishment it can be a bit standoffish, especially when dining alone. I felt just the opposite as a was entering Hutong from a world-renowned restaurant group that now occupies the former LeCirque space on the East Side. Robert, the matre d, was in town from London for the launch. He was also one of the nicest people you could meet, escorting guests to their tables, seeing to their every need, even if it meant grabbing a menu or filling a glass of water. It is all about hospitality here. And when you are paying a bit more, it goes a long way.
As you walk through the front door, the first thing you see are these glorious ornate screens and one of the few oriental accents. The next thing you notice are the floor-to-ceiling windows. There's a large marble bar in the center of the space with lovely wood and brass elements. It is surrounded by a ring of tables. Delve a bit deeper, behind another screen, and it opens up into a large formal dining area.
I settled in at the bar where I met Frankie, the bartender, another friendly chap who was busy busy creating classic cocktails. The first, called the Red Lantern, arrives in a high-rimmed glass filled with crushed ice. It's a mix of island rum, maraschino, pineapple, watermelon and lemon and comes with a bamboo umbrella inserted into the ice. It’s the kind of drink you crave on a hot summer day. Another cocktail - the Island Goddess of Mercy - is made pisco, absinthe, oolong-pepper syrup, lime and egg white. Black sesame seeds dance along the rim. It’s elegant, tasty and powerful. There is also a lengthy wine list (which most people seemed to be enjoying) and craft beers.
The menu is made up of small and large plates meant for sharing. There are Calamari Flowers in peppercorms and chili oil, Sichuan Shredded Beef with a chili glaze, and Tofu with King Crab. The Hutong Prawn Roll filled with luscious shrimp and scallop arrives cut into lengthy strips staggared on a plate dusted with bread crumbs. It's fabulous. As are the deep fried Yu Xiang Pork Mochi dumplings. They are jet black with a cripsy skin and moist bits of pork in the center. Another dish worth seeking out is also name Red Lantern. A large wooden bowl filled to the rim with peppercorns is placed before you. Dig around and you will find chili-dusted soft shell crab that is crispy on the outside and utterly delicious on the inside. It also gets high marks for presentations. Other offerings include Kung Po Prawns, Hutong Lobster wok-tossed with black beans & dried garlic, and Roasted Peking Duck with pancakes. There is also a rendition of Dan Dan Noodles with minced pork and Seafood Fried Rice.
Hutong is the perfect spot for a special night out or if you simply want to hang out at the bar for some cocktails, conversation and fiery bites from Northern China.
- Thomas Rafael
Neighborhood: East 50s
Reservations: Click for reservations