66 Park Avenue
Hakubai is renowned for its simple and traditional Japanese dining experience of the highest quality. Hakubai’s Omakase Kaiseki ($170) - a multi course tasting menu customised daily depending on the daily market availability of fresh ingredients, and each course is served on unique plates and pottery imported from Japan.
Advance reservations are required for this. (Note: none are required for the Okonomi Kaiseki ($95)). The only clue I have to what lies ahead of me is a brief description: Appetisers, Sashimi, A Simmered Dish, A Dish of Various Delicacies, a Main Dish and Dessert.
Located within The Kitano, the first and only Japanese owned hotel in New York City.
I am led to the same simple private room I was in yesterday. My server, a kind elderly Japanese lady clad in a kimono, gracefully and quietly makes her way in with each course, and is kind enough to provide me with a brief explanation as to what each dish is. Her English is fairly limited and at times she is at a loss for words, but at Hakubai, the flavours are simple and they shine through, rendering explanations unnecessary.
The first course is carrot tofu, topped with uni, and garnished with the most delicate perfectly-shaped okra and wasabi. The tofu is simple and pure, paired perfectly with the creamy rich uni.
Exquisite tray of unusual delicacies in gorgeous pottery and porcelain.
The whelk was beautifully tender. I’m quite partial to escargot, though this was a lot bigger and reminded me of a garden snail.
Deceptively gorgeous on the outside.
I wasn’t entirely sure what this was. A little disappointed given it was encased in such a beautiful little duckling. I nibbled on it hesitantly, its appearance was quite unsettling. The texture was crunchy and firm, it did not have much flavour. There was a piece of seaweed sandwiched between. A sea jelly of sorts perhaps.
She struggled a little with this one. She knew the Japanese term but not the English one. After some thought, she declared “Prant!”. Emboldened by the fact that it wasn’t some sea slug without its shell, I proceeded to sample this mysterious plant.
The liquid was quite sour, and each plant, which had a blueish tinge to it, was encased in clear gelatine. After a tiny mouthful, I decided to move on. My server, bless her kind soul, was quite sorrowful when she noticed I had not finished this particular delicacy (wait till she opens the duckling).
Clean, refreshing steamed vegetables with juicy shiitake mushrooms topped with bonito flakes.
Tender octopus with a dollop of a golden creamy tartare-like sauce.
This had a bouncy prawn paste like texture which I quite enjoyed.
Unwrapping the leaf pocket reveals a delicate piece of eel sushi. The sushi rice had a mix of sesame seeds and little herbs through it.
Wonderfully tender simmered abalone seated on top of a beautiful velvety blend of crab in a light flavoursome broth, visually striking in black lacquerware.
Beautifully fresh sashimi on a bed of ice, wasabi presented in a beautiful leaf shaped platter.
Gorgeous vibrant mix of pickled vegetables with tangy notes.
Royalty pottery aside, this crab dish was beautifully flavoured. Breaking into the crunchy layer reveals delicate crab morsels within, sitting in a hot crab infused heavy broth. Garnished with mild flavoured shallots and tender crab shavings.
The crunchy golden tempura prawn and calamari was tender on the inside, fragrant fried quail and a slice of egg coated fish.
This was again slightly sour and gelatinous, two bites were enough. I was treated to yet another sorrowful look and an inquiry as to whether I liked it. Feeling slightly guilty, I explained I really was quite full and it was all very good.
Beautifully cooked salmon placed on top of a bed of soft fluffy rice, garnished with cod roe, seaweed and a teapot of hot fragrant broth. The broth is poured into the bowl and I had to break up the salmon piece to ensure a good mix of salmon, rice and broth. A wonderful classic dish which I adore.
Dessert of mochi, creamy vanilla ice-cream and a trio of fruits.
Coated in powder, the sticky mochis were covered in a generous mound of sweet azuki. Went beautifully with the icy cold creamy ice-cream.
Very simple, light and traditional flavours, showcasing the freshness and quality of each course. Presented on the most exquisite pottery, porcelain and lacquerware. A little piece of true blue Japanese dining located in the heart of New York.