Observations from my first visit
Hutong restaurant from the Aqua Restaurant Group (which has locations in London, Hong Kong and Beijing) opened its first US outpost in the former Le Cirque space. It positions itself as a high-end Northern Chinese restaurant and bar, so in my mind, the immediate comparisons were going to be Hakkasan and Mr. Chow and Shun Lee. I used to pooh-pooh such places but I enjoy dining at them more. Frankly, it is nice to go to a fancy restaurant that is not Western-inspired. I went having read the early reviews from Robert Sietsema’s First Look “Midtown’s Glam New Chinese Restaurant Excels at a Luxe Dim Sum Service” in Eater New York and Jiayang Fan’s The Unapologetic Decadence of Hutong in The New Yorker.
Dress: The dress request is “elegant casual” but I saw some younger diners in un-hip tee-shirts and sorta grubby sneakers, which was a disappointment. I dunno, sometimes making an effort is a delight. The mix was definitely more motley than one would find at say, Blue Hill.
Atmosphere and design: The design is Art-Deco and the place just feels opulent– lots of marble, glass, silver and overall heavy materials. My husband even approvingly commented on the heft of the chopsticks. Music with a beat plays overhead but it is not too loud; just enough to fill in the space of diner din.
Menu & Dishes: I found the size and breadth of the menu, at four pages, to be just right. I skipped over the soups and tofu dishes that had received lackluster reviews, and went rather meat-heavy in our order. The sichuan shredded beef aka crispy beef was an amazing presentation of uniform size and shape; each piece super crispy and shiny with sweet chili glaze. My husband is crispy beef aficionado and was ready to put in another order.
From the dim sum section, we sampled the wagyu beef millefeuille and yu xiang crispy pork mochi dumpling. The former was tender beef chunks in a peppery demi glace, which had a nice lingering finish. The millefeuille pastry layers looked like yarn wrapping, and was light and crispy. The crispy pork dumplings looked like they were dipped in black charcoal and covered in glitter. The mochi layer is thin and the pork filling light. Both were delicious.
The plate of zhenjiang pork ribs were tender and generously covered in a flavorful deep brown/black vinegar sauce. Wet naps were definitely called for. And for good measure, we ordered the chef’s fried rice, which was frankly the least inventive of the dishes we sampled; indeed, it was a close cousin of your regular run-of-the-mill fried rice from almost any neighborhood Chinese joint.
The dessert menu was small and had flowery names but decided to skip the final course.
Overall: Some reviews have called out the cost but I would say it is in line with other upscale Chinese eateries, including Red Farm. And for those who are seeking ‘authenticity’ or ‘value,’ I would recommend they steer clear.
As for myself, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner experience and would go again to continue selectively sampling the menu.
Hutong, 731 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022