Story by Barbara Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis, Interior photo courtesy Haru Sushi Gramercy Park
Haru Gramercy Park
220 Park Avenue South
New York, NY
Located on the corner of Park Avenue South and 18th Street - in the area of Manhattan that could be called foodie central - is the happening Japanese cuisine and sushi restaurant called Haru. It’s one of 5 locations thought-out Manhattan - plus a sixth in Boston - that insures that whether you are in Wall Street, Times Square, the Upper East Side near Third Avenue or the Upper West Side near Amsterdam Avenue, you are in easy range of a Haru Sushi location. Why is that good news? Simply because we found the quality and flavors of Haru Gramery Park to be top notch!
We have been eating sushi for dozens of years, having first been introduced to this delicious and (at that time) exotic cuisine in Hawaii. On returning to New York we could find only one sushi restaurant that existed in our area which happily turned out to be within walking distance of our apartment… and believe me that path was well trod. Of course there has been an influx of sushi chefs to the U.S. in the intervening decades - many of whom only spoke Japanese in the early years when communication consisted of point to a picture or plastic model and smile in hopeful anticipation that your selection would turn out to be as good as it looked - and the art form and flavor combinations have grown exponentially much to the delight of both our eyes and taste buds.
So imagine our glee in being introduced to Haru Gramercy Park where the innovative and exciting special roll combinations are so well balanced that you do not even need the addition of soy sauce for flavoring. The new summer menu has just been introduced and it is inventive, tasty and eye candy for foodies like us.
We began with one of the summer special drinks called Watermelon Lemonade that was a pretty watermelon-red and flavorful blend of Absolut Citron, Ty Ku Silver Junmai (Sake), St-Germain Elderflower liqueur, fresh watermelon juice, fresh lemon and thyme syrup while we studied the extensive and mouth-watering menu. There were so many novel combinations that we were itching to taste but we finally settled on some new and some old favorites to gage quality, presentation and portion.
Haru’s featured summer sushi roll Watermelon Roll was first on our list. It’s an inside out roll made with snow crab, green onion, mint and watermelon in the center topped with shrimp and with a side lemon dipping sauce. The meld of flavors and textures was outstanding as was the Shagatsu Roll, another inside out roll consisting of slices of tuna, salmon, albacore tuna, spicy snow crab and asparagus, topped with cilantro, mango, strawberry and tobiko (flying fish roe) and served with a wasabi tobiko dipping sauce.
For a variation on a theme of Peiking Duck try the Crispy Duck with black plum hoisin sauce and pancake triangles for wrapping. Instead of separating the meat from the crispy skin, the slices of duck breast meat were left attached to the skin which was perfectly rendered to reduce fat content. The tender morsels were generously coated with hoisin sauce which could be wrapped or not depending on your preference – mine was to wrap, Manos’ was not.
Like the duck, the Sashimi Ceviche was a variation on the popular South American ceviche but with its own personality. It was less tart than the traditional versions with citrus-marinated creamy salmon wedges and striped bass, cubed tender octopus, string cut cucumber and jicama, topped by shrimp and accented by lemon slices and cherry tomato half’s.
The Eel Cucumber Roll is one of our all time favorites and it was generous in size and handsomely presented but the Strawberry Fin Special Roll was a summertime winner, consisting of crunchy spicy yellowtail, jalapeño peppers and mango slices, topped with scallops, wusabi tobiko (flying fish roe) and fresh strawberries. I must admit that Manos did not care for this roll as much as I did and he generously allowed me the larger portion for which I was very grateful.
The sushi staples for us, against which we judge all sushi restaurants, are “yellowtail”, “octopus”, and “smoked eel”. Again the fish was fresh, well cut, generous in size and properly put together so it held up if you choose to dip in soy sauce – what could be worse than having a piece of sushi dissolve in the sauce and be forced to “fish it out” – no pun intended...
Of course there are dozens of selections of Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Special Rolls, Hot Entrees, Sushi and Maki (rolls) Entrees, and Sushi and Sashimi pieces to choose from and while Haru is pricey to our mind the quality and portion size warrants the cost.
The restaurant is on two levels, each with its own drinks bar, and due to its current popularity the tables are located very close to each other to optimize seating. TIP: ask for a booth on the upper lever which is spacious and out of the path of the sometimes too efficient wait-staff that tends to encourage excessive alcohol consumption. The décor is simple inside and in warm weather outdoor seating is also available.
Of course not everything is perfect, and the ebullient 20’s and 30’s something’s that frequent foodie central – the Park Avenue South corridor of trendy mostly ethnic eating establishments - tend to talk to each other about two octaves above comfortable for my seasoned eardrums. If you like dining in brash and bubbly action by all means arrive on the early side for Happy Hour. But if like me, you prefer a more conversational atmosphere, make your visit after 8:30 or 9 P.M. when you can relish each succulent morsel over sake and conversation.
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