I don’t know what’s going on at the Fontainebleau hotel, but I like it. Whoever is in charge of food, drink and hospitality deserves a raise, if they aren’t already being paid handsomely. First Scarpetta delivers an eye-opening Italian spread, and now Hakkasan, their in-house purveyor of traditional Chinese cuisine, knocks it out of the park. Two for two ain’t bad folks.
When comparing high-end Chinese eateries, I use Mr. Chow as a measuring stick. Both New York locations, as well as the one in the W on Miami Beach, are outstanding. The Hakkasan brand has long been known as a heavy hitter in the Chinese ring, both London outposts have earned Michelin stars. Naturally my expectations for Florida’s own Hakkasan were high. I’ll spare you the suspense, my expectations were met and then exceeded, not only by the food, which was outstanding, but the decor, ambiance and especially the impeccable service. I felt like Don Draper in my favorite New York hangout minus the smoke and infidelity.
But this is Eat a Duck, and unlike my esteemed colleague who is unmatched when it comes to spinning an intriguing pre-review yarn, I’m an anti-Lorax, I’ll let the food speak for itself. At first glance, the menu looks to be in lock step with tradition, until you notice some luxurious interlopers. Sure the typical standbys are here, Peking and roast duck, dumplings etc., only at Hakkasan they pair these items with Petrossian caviar, foie gras and black truffles. Some might say those ingredients are cliché, a simple gimmick to lure dummies with too many greenbacks. I assure you, there are no gimmicks here, the crew at Hakkasan wields their flavors with care and respect. Not once did the gourmet additions take away from the traditional soul of the dish, on the contrary, they only served to enhance it.
We began with an order of duck rolls and foie gras Shanghai dumplings. Neither looked particularly fancy, which was a good sign, the chefs didn’t feel the need to impress with flash, they let the flavors do all the work. The duck rolls were moist and tender, with flecks of green onion interspersed among the fowl. Fried to a crunchy perfection, the wrappers picked up globs of tangy hoisin, delivering a satisfying crunch before your teeth hit the meat. It was basically fried Peking duck to go. Somebody open a drive-thru where I can pick these up after a night of heavy drinking!
As I said before, the foie gras only enhanced the already silky flavor of the dumplings. There was just enough foie to feel it on the tongue and detect its buttery flavor. It added a whole other dimension to an otherwise ordinary, though incredibly delicious dumpling.
Scintillating conversation made the time between courses fly by, and soon our entrées had arrived. Spicy assam prawns in a baby coconut had almost a Polynesian look to it. The broth was savory with a glowing heat that lingered on your lips. Little doughy puffs allowed the ever satisfying dunk, soak and slurp ritual that begged to be performed. The stir-fried Chilean sea bass was out of control. We’ve never really discussed the black cod miso from Nobu in any detail, (which must mean it’s time to visit again) but this dish was like having a bowl filled with it. Each slab of fish flaked away to reveal pearly flesh, sweet as could be. They were lightly tossed in a sanpei sauce, a mixture of soy, rice wine and black sesame oil that gave the fish an attractive sheen without crossing the line to gloppy syrup you find at most Chinese joints.
A handsome plate of hand pulled noodles tossed with wild mushrooms and a whole other side order of mushrooms arrived to the exclamation, “mushroom party!”. I’m a sucker for a good plate of noodles, and this was a great plate of noodles. The medley of mushrooms made this a most comforting dish, something I’d love to eat when it’s cold outside and I’m feeling a little sniffly. The main event for me though, was the black truffle roasted duck. Have you ever heard of a more appetizing dish? I can just hear the chefs who thought this up, “roast duck, how can we make it better?…”, a rookie line cook raises his hand and mumbles “…truffles?”. Yeah that’s how it happened. It was genius. The broth gave off an aroma so full of truffle essence that they could charge for that alone. Thankfully they actually include the food as well. As with each dish before, the duck was cooked perfectly, crispy skin glazed with five spice and truffle, tender meat luxuriating in the broth, and if that wasn’t enough, large slices of fresh black truffle on top.
Dessert is not a course usually enjoyed at many Chinese restaurants I’ve visited. But I just couldn’t pass it up, seeing how fantastic the meal had been up to this point. Lately I’ve been distancing myself from chocolate options as more refreshing and tropical items lure me with their siren song. Tonight it was a mango custard with grapefruit, calamansi and coconut sorbet. It was bright and tangy and hit you right in the back of your jaw. The tiny globs of concentrated mango added shiny bursts of flavor that were gently mellowed by the sorbet. I believe the calamansi was nitro frozen and sprinkled like bacon bits. The grapefruit slices added a welcome bitter note, without overpowering the natural sweetness of the mango.
Meals like this are rare, where every dish is a winner and no complaints. I may sound like a brown noser (it’s only hoisin don’t worry) but sometimes restaurants just get it right. The Miami branch of Hakkasan may not have a Michelin star of its own, but that doesn’t take away from the amazing cuisine they’re producing nightly. I’m looking forward to returning soon to sample their dim sum service that they offer at lunchtime on the weekends. Lord knows Miami is in dire need of it. Until next time!