Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to a Japanese spot on West 20th street for addictive bar food.
First you should know that, in addition to being impossible to Google and unsatisfying to say in that plosive-less way, the new Japanese restaurant Hall is also in no way the sort of grand room its name might be evoking in your brain right now. Think more like the dim and narrow passageway sort of hall, albeit one that serves fancy cocktails, labor-intensive coffee and, as it turns out, some pretty accomplished bar food. All in a space where the cozy wooden walls come from a mansion upstate somewhere.
The chef at Hall is Hiroki Odo, who spent many years at the vegetarian, Michelin-starred Kajitsu (and many years before that cooking kaiseki in Japan) before shifting to the slightly more casual, much more meaty fare here.
For now, Hall is mostly bar, and the entire place seats about 20 on somewhat rickety old backless stools. Next year, in the not-yet-finished dining room behind one of three unmarked doors in the back (the other two lead to the kitchen and the bathroom... good luck guessing which is which!) Odo is planning on serving a more refined tasting menu.
They're also currently serving pastries at breakfast and sandwiches at lunch, but Hall takes on a purposefully sophisticated air after 5 o'clock, when the booze starts flowing and the music gets all jazzy and mellow.
The menu is short and, given its bar food inclinations, unsurprisingly reliant upon both salt and the deep fryer. The best dish that emerges from the latter is the lightly battered, crisp and juicy chunks of Fried Chicken which, like most everything here, is skillfully prepared, meagerly portioned, and utterly addictive. The small pile of Fried Calamari is also served tempura-ish style, and the heavily-seasoned French Fries are excellent, especially when dredged through the dollop of oily mackerel puree.
There are a couple of straight-up plates of meat to be had, both built upon wonderfully rich cuts of Washugyu beef. The "signature" Hamburg Steak is like a dream-come-true version of the diner classic, the peppery ground meat smothered in brown gravy and baby mushrooms, a bit of buttery mashed potato on the side. Even more intense (and eight bucks cheaper!) is the Washugyu Sausage and Smoked Pepper Steak, with two fatty slabs of steak laid across circles of salty, crumbly red sausage. The accompanying Dijon mustard adds a bit too much bite to the already almost-overpowering dish, but the celery root puree does a nice job of smoothing things out.
The only salad offered is really just a small pile of raw white mushrooms, with bits of red onion, a drizzle of olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper amping up the funghi flavor. There are a few specials listed every night—the canapes were popular with other patrons on both nights I went last week—but the only one I tried was called simply Sardine and Mashed Potato, and turned out to be a cake formed from the densely-packed tuber, with a layer of crushed fish in the middle. Like everything else at Hall, it definitely didn't need salt.
Hall works well for an adult night out—complicated drinks, conversation at a reasonable volume, big-flavored nibbles and share plates—especially if your companion is paying. There's no signage out front yet either, giving it a slightly "secret-spot" quality that some people enjoy when out on a date. It will be interesting to see what Chef Odo does in the back room next year.
Hall is located at 17 West 20th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, and while hours seem to be fluid for now, is open for lunch and dinner during the week, and dinner only on the weekend (hall.nyc)