Hutong, a huge, Art Deco-ed restaurant specializing in the cuisines of Northern China—there are regional specialties from Beijing and Sichuan, Hunan and Shanghai—opened earlier this week on the ground floor of the Bloomberg Building, where the legendary Le Cirque resided in its final years.
It's the first foray into NYC's restaurant world from David Yeo's expansive Aqua Restaurant Group, which currently operates 23 establishments in Hong Kong, Beijing, and London, including two other Hutongs. We attended a complimentary preview dinner on Tuesday evening, stretching out in one of the many round, spacious banquettes in the soaring dining room, and ate a small chunk of the sizeable menu. Everything was nicely plated on heavy china (or in fancy baskets), most of the dozen or so dishes we tried were skillfully prepared, and all of it was crazy expensive.
Hutong's "famous" Dim Sum Platter, for example, is an eight-piece variety pack that includes two each of meaty Lobster Squid-Ink Dumplings, lively Pickled Chili Cod Dumplings, Vegetarian Spinach Dumplings, and bright pink Rose Champagne Shrimp Dumplings. They all tasted good, especially after a dredging in chili oil, and the whole set costs $28.
The Wagyu Beef Mille-feuille is a playful, upscale meat patty of sorts, with seasoned and sauced bits of meat filling a puff pastry that's been carefully sliced to resemble the "thousand-layer" dessert. Three of these two-bite snacks will set you back $17. Other starters include Jade Hearts, Calamari Flowers, poached Kou Shui Chicken, and a pleasant-looking Tea Smoked Vegetable Tofu Roll.
The best thing we ate was probably Hutong's extremely straight-forward version of Mapo Tofu, the fiery chunks spooned over bowls of plain white rice. The Mutong Dan Dan Noodles were fine, but cost $14 for an "individual portion," which apparently is about the size of a small cup of diner soup... and a lot of that is broth. The Seafood Fried Rice is a better deal: the same $14 will at least get you a shareable mound of the stuff, though the dried salted fish lacks the intensity you find elsewhere.
Entrees all hover around $40 and up and, really, it takes a lot of confidence to charge that much money for so little food. The very good Slow-Cooked Lamb Rack was infused with cumin and rife with peppercorns, but $42 for three tiny ribs? At least the Halibut Red Star Noodles brings some drama to the presentation, as your server slowly reveals the headliner by opening the red-pepper "star," though again, there are remarkably few pieces of actual fish on your plate for $46. And even though we weren't paying, we still couldn't bring ourselves to order the $84 Roasted Peking Duck.
Save some money for dessert, though! The Bao and Soy Milk is both clever and delicious, a fluffy sesame mousse hiding within a white chocolate shell that looks like a dumpling, with a gooey caramel core adding some welcome sweetness.
Hutong is located at 731 Lexington Avenue, between 58th and 59th Streets, though the restaurant entrance is in the plaza surrounded by the Bloomberg Building called Beacon Court. Dinner service runs from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday through Wednesday, and until midnight on Thursday through Saturday. Lunch starts next week, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (212-758-4800; hutong-nyc.com)