This week, The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviews two restaurants, East Village’s Han Dynasty, which draws 45-minute lines, and SoHo’s Hirohisa, which has no lines but takes reservations.
While Han Dynasty boasts long lines, Wells struggles to understand why. “…I’m mystified by the popularity of Han Dynasty in Manhattan, where there are far better Sichuan restaurants. Han Dynasty’s translation of the cuisine has a thick American accent. Many main courses are heavy on sugar, bell peppers and especially MSG, which is often used in great, slashing doses. They come across as close relatives of the kung pao chicken made by the best Chinese takeout in your neighborhood. In fact, your local joint might do this Sichuan crossover hit better than Han Dynasty, whose version was one of the sweetest and least appealing things on the menu.
He may not be all that impressed by the food, but Wells compliments the service and atmosphere at Han Dynasty: “I had hoped that somebody would curse at me when I ordered. It never happened. Actually, the service was unusually friendly and forthcoming with the kinds of detail about the dishes that can be hard to obtain in some Sichuan restaurants. And the egg-yolk-colored paint and modern, Chinese-themed art on the walls give the place some energy. Still, if I want Han Dynasty’s wings again, I’ll get delivery. A 45-minute wait for the doorbell to ring would be well within reason.
Hirohisa, on the other hand, has no lines, and reservations are not hard to come by, according to Wells. Still, Wells seems to enjoy the food and atmosphere at this restaurant a little more than at Han Dynasty.
“…I love the way Hirohisa Hayashi, the chef, brings out the whispering harmonies that result when one small wave of flavor laps against another… He finds those harmonies in the way lightly charred blocks of sesame tofu come together with buttery lobes of sea urchin and shreds of fresh wasabi. And again in the bowl of raw salmon layered over white rice, which becomes a steaming soup as you add roasted green tea from a pot. And again in the gently sweet and seductive stew of lobster in white miso and dashi.”
He describes dining at Hirohisa as “if a friend had invited you over for dinner.” “There are two kitchen islands floating at the edge of the serene white dining room, one for cold dishes like sashimi and another where the cooking takes place,” he says. “You watch the action and relax, drink in hand…”
At Hirohisa, “all the lines around the city seem very far away.”
For Wells' full review, click here.