Haru Sushi Brings a Sea Change to Hell’s Kitchen Cuisine
BY DENNIS LYNCH | Haru Sushi opened its seventh restaurant in the city on the corner of W. 55th St. and Ninth Ave. last month, so Chelsea Now stopped by to see the new space and sample the menu.
Haru’s top brass hope that it’s not just a strong link in their mini-chain, but a good addition for the neighborhood. Vice President of Operations Seth Rose said that they saw a “vibrant” restaurant scene in Hell’s Kitchen, and thought their presence could further enhance it.
“We like the mix of all the different cuisines, and we kind of felt the sushi cuisine in particular was maybe underserved. We just thought we’d be a great addition to an exciting neighborhood,” Rose said.
While there are sushi places in the immediate area, many are of the fast-and-cheap variety. There’s a handful of others in the same vein and price point as Haru though, but Rose thinks that Haru separates itself with generous portions and Haru-made ingredients.
“We have a lot of house-made sauces and our nigiri [sliced fish on rice] is typically a bigger cut than you might see in independent restaurants,” he noted. “We’re sort of the Ford F-150 of the cuts of sushi,” he said, referring to the American automaker’s flagship pickup truck.
They may have the most diverse menu of all such places in the area. Sushi is their bread and butter, but it’s an injustice to all the other food they offer to think of the place as just a sushi restaurant.
Haru’s hot menu includes chicken teriyaki (a company-wide favorite), a Chilean bass, crispy duck, and even a filet mignon, each with characteristic East Asian flavors. The filet mignon, for example, is served on Japanese-style partially boiled spinach, topped with a shiitake mushroom and a Japanese-spiced sauce, and a side of potato-wasabi fritters.
The shishito peppers and king crab dumplings are popular at Haru Hell’s Kitchen, Rose said. But sushi remains the focus. Like they do for all of its locations (including the one on Eighth Ave. in Chelsea), Haru chefs created a special roll just for the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant — aptly named the Hell’s Kitchen Roll. The roll is a “double salmon roll” with some delicious additions, Haru Executive Chef Ben Dodaro said.
“Salmon inside, salmon outside; inside it’s got tempura crunch and lemon-chili mayo, which is our spicy mayo mixed with preserved lemon, so it’s kind of a little Middle Eastern, North African influence there. Then you have avocado, black tobiko [caviar], Sriracha; and we do a cool design on the plate with the sriracha and mayo to look like flames,” Dodaro said.
Rose and Dodaro gave Chelsea Now a Hell’s Kitchen Roll, some lobster tacos, and Dodaro’s decadent green tea ice cream with miso chocolate brownie. The gyoza shell lobster tacos, billed as an appetizer, were very fresh, thanks to the quality of the meat and the cucumber, cilantro, and scallion that topped it. A spicy jalapeño-ponzu dressing made it pop.
The green tea ice cream and miso chocolate brownie were fantastic. The brownie was rich and thick and played very well off the ice cream. It’s definitely a good way to end a meal — so long as you’re close to home, as it’ll probably put you right to sleep (it nearly did to this reporter).
In terms of quality, you should expect similar to that of Haru’s other NYC locations, partly because of their commissary kitchen model — a central place where chefs make in-house sauces, dumpling fillings, and other main ingredients to ship out to all the restaurants. That keeps things consistent, Dodaro said.
“We’re kind of our own purveyor essentially, so we can do a lot of things. We can make the brownies, we can make all our own sauces, and you get consistent flavors throughout every Haru in the city,” Dodaro explained.
Rose said that the company wants to open a few more NYC locations, and then perhaps venture outside the city again, as they first did with a restaurant in Boston. Although they’ve been opening new restaurants fairly consistently — they opened in Chelsea in late summer — they’re not in any big rush, Dodaro said.
“It’s important to grow steady and slow, though. Some people outgrow themselves, then they lose their consistency and they lose their fine touch; they lose the details,” he observed. “We’re in a good space where we opened two restaurants in eight months, but we’ve been able to do it in a way to maintain quality.”
Dodaro, who himself has been with Haru for two decades, said that besides using fresh ingredients and products, keeping employees happy is the most important thing for maintaining quality.
“The old adage is, ‘An unhappy cook makes food that doesn’t taste good.’ You can tell a cook’s mood by what they put out. So the fact that we have sushi chefs that have been here for 14 or 15 years, the longevity speaks for itself,” he proudly noted.
Haru Hell’s Kitchen has a capacity of 61 and is open for larger events and parties, as long as there is ample notice. Haru also caters. Dodaro and Rose have some new seasonal items, including desserts, planned for a May rollout.
For the menu and info on all NYC locations, visit harusushi.com.