The Hurricane Club: Tiki Food Done Right?
The Hurricane Club
360 Park Ave South, New York NY 10010; map); 212-951-7111; thehurricaneclub.com
Service: Friendly, knowledgeable, perhaps a tad too keen
Setting: Tropical—tiki trying not to be tacky, and largely succeeding
Compare to: Trader Vics, Don the Beachcomber
Must Haves: Pu Pu platter, Baby back ribs, Peking pig
I can see The Hurricane Club getting a drubbing from the critics. It is, after all, essentially an upscale theme restaurant dedicated to a culinary trend that is itself an abstraction of actual Polynesian cuisine. The concept might smack of colonialism and cultural misappropriation. Those seeking an authentic exploration of the cuisine will probably be disappointed. Don't bring your Hawaiian friends here and expect them to feel at home.
If, on the other hand, you want enjoy fruity cocktails and food that is not only better than it has to be, but is actually very good indeed—then step right up. But be sure to bring friends with you: the massive cocktail list demands experimentation and the menu is mostly designed for sharing. Don't arrive without an appetite.
The room is of an imagined time, the Pacific through a Hollywood prism—a benign vision of colonialism, devoid of racism, in which Western explorers share great feasts with indigenous tribal royalty. (On one visit the striking similarity between my waitress and actress Karen Allen, which is to say that she was strikingly beautiful, led me to believe that Indiana Jones might swing in on a vine at any moment.) The waiters are decked out in prim white jackets evoking a subservience not entirely in keeping with modern labor practices. The room has the requisite foliage, Tiki themes and chandeliers, though perhaps not enough wicker furniture. Really, for the style, it might even be a bit restrained—it could use a swing band or a least a grand piano, maybe even a parrot cage or snake tank to complete the scene.
More than any other dish, the Pu Pu platter ($28) reflects the spirit of The Hurricane Club. It holds more in common, thematically, with the type of Pu Pu platter popularized in the 1940's during the original Tiki bar craze which had more in common with Cantonese cuisine than a traditional Hawaiian "pūpū", but given how tasty it is, it's hard to care.
You aren't on a cultural exchange mission, you are here to eat and drink and be merry—and to this end, the roasted beet "cannoli" with candied walnuts, Samoan deviled eggs, and sausage-stuffed Korean fire chilis, will make for a good start.
But the highlights of the platter for me are the dainty Peking duck tea sandwiches—crunchy little bread squares stuffed with duck, Hoisin sauce, and lettuce, and the wonderfully crisp little parcels of coconut shrimp that resemble haystacks.
A Jenga-like stack of baby back ribs (10 pieces, $24) comes suitably glazed in honey and littered with Thai basil, mint, and crispy disks of fried lotus root. The ribs have a nice crunch and are tender within but, like good barbecue, the meat does not "fall off the bone," rather retaining some bite. The sweetness from the honey nicely balances the dish's savory elements.
Meatier and more flavorful, the Pork Spareribs (6 pieces, $22) were tender enough on my first visit, but lacked any external crispness. That was not a problem on a subsequent visit, when the ribs retained their tenderness but came with a good external crunch. I liked the accompanying tamarind chipotle barbecue sauce—tangy and sweet with some pleasing heat—that puts the sauce at many local barbecue spots to shame.
Hawaiian Fried Rice ($14) is served table-side in a hot stone bowl. Stocked with bacon chunks, scallion, pineapple, a curry sauce ,and a fried egg it is a meal unto itself. But it tended towards the stogy, particularly after it sat around for a bit (and given the sporadic nature of the meal's pacing, you may well be occupied with other things when it lands at the table). It is, after all, early days for the restaurant—a fact that is also evident in the service, which at times might be a little too effusive and eager. (I am not taking about Karen Allen. She was perfect.)
The best of many tasty things I ate at The Hurricane Club was the Peking pig ($44)—a porcine homage to Peking duck. It comes served with those familiar steamed buns, scallions, cucumbers, and Hoisin sauce, but also with the inspired addition of a spiced apple sauce.
The pork is succulent with an impossibly crisp skin.
If by some miracle you saved room for dessert, the mighty Samoan($16) awaits you—a creamy coconut-laced mousse of sorts that is enough for three or four people. (Its sweetness seems to anticipate the fact that you will probably be liquored up on sugary drinks by the time you get to it.)
The Hurricane Club is much closer to The Strip House in spirit and execution than to a restaurant like Ninja. No, it is not a serious cultural or culinary exercise—but it is not intended to be. It's remarkable to find a place that doesn't take itself too seriously, yet still produces seriously delicious food. The thematic elements will not appeal to all, but they shouldn't interfere too much with the food itself—which can stand on its own, without the props. It is admittedly pricey, considering the somewhat frivolous nature of the menu, but it is an expense that I think is largely justified by the execution and the quality of the ingredients.