Hutong feels like a flagship retail store in Midtown. It’s a gaudy space filled with tourists carrying shopping bags, people who work nearby, and their adult children who never look up from phones. But instead of mannequins that would definitely suck as real people, this place has $88 Peking duck. And unlike flashy stores in the area, you can’t just window shop at Hutong. But if you have money to burn, you’ll have a good meal here.
Hutong, the first US location of a Hong Kong-based restaurant, serves excellent dim sum, but the reason you’re paying $4 per dumpling is the setting. After walking through the large doors of the Bloomberg Building and checking in with all four hosts, you’ll make your way through a hallway framed by illuminated racks of wine rising from marble floor to mirror ceiling. When you’re seated in the cathedral-sized dining room surrounded by mirrors, chandeliers, and blue leather booths, you’ll get the distinct feeling that you’re inside of a Stella McCartney Falabella tote bag.
Like at lots of nearby retail outlets, the ornate showroom at Hutong is a not-so-gentle reminder that you’re about to pay more than you should - and depending on what you get, it can be worth it. This is especially the case with the dim sum, which ranges from pork xiao long bao to rosé Champagne shrimp dumplings. Start with the sampler that includes four different varieties, like the lobster squid-ink ones with lots of meat and shockingly thin dough. After the sampler, try the Wagyu beef mille-feuille - peppery meat stuffed into pastry crust that looks like something from a wedding registry at Bloomingdale’s across the street. The buttery crust disintegrates in your mouth, and it’s the best dish on the menu.
But outside of the dim sum, most things don’t live up to their high price tags. There’s $46 beef tenderloin that wouldn’t stand out on a hot lunch line, and chili prawns that would be totally forgettable if not for the fact that six of them cost $42. If you ask for rice, which is a necessary complement to any of the sauce-heavy dishes, your only options are vegetable or seafood fried rice that are dry and offensively light on vegetables or seafood.
For the most part, though, the food at Hutong is pretty enjoyable, and with a lenient corporate or personal expense account, you can have a good meal here. You just need to go in knowing that it’s an unapologetically ostentatious place, where getting upsold on a bottle of wine doesn’t really feel like you’re being hosed. It feels like a genuine recommendation based on the assumption that you’re here to spend money. Because unlike the other showrooms in this part of town, you can’t just window shop at this one.
You should focus your ordering at Hutong on dim sum, and by that we mean it’s all you should order. This sampler platter has four different types, and while we wish we could just get the pickled cod and lobster squid ink varieties, it’s still a good way to try a bunch of different things without spending an obscene amount of money.
This is the best of the dim sum options. The gooey, peppery wagyu in these would still be delicious if it were served in still-thawing hamburger buns, but inside buttery millefeuilles that flake like freshly baked croissants, it’s so good that you won’t mind paying $6 apiece.
These bao are like American muscle cars - the outsides have so much going on that you might overlook the lack of substance. Each one has a strip of seaweed around it that squeezes the thick, fluffy shells like belts around Santa’s belly, but there’s virtually no cod under the hood.
The soup dumplings are filled with hot and sour soup that coats your mouth like a thick blanket, and while they’re very good, they’re not worth $4 each.
There’s no plain rice here, so if you want some on the table, your only options are a $12 vegetable or $16 seafood fried rice, both of which would be disappointingly dry and bland even if they were free.
This is the one dish on the menu that actually feels like a good value. The noodles are coated in a heavy peanut sauce, which helps lower the chances you’ll find yourself at a dollar slice shop on your way home, and it balances out the spice. This should be on your table.
The prawns themselves are salty and nicely fried, but we’re hard-pressed to find someone who’s happy paying $7 for a single prawn.
If friends served these bites of beef tenderloin at their apartments, you’d probably thank and compliment them, and feel that the $10 bottle of shiraz you brought was appropriate. But considering the small portion of forgettable meat here costs $46, you’ll react differently.
The smooth, fruity hoisin sauce goes well with the fatty meat, and the pancakes are so thin that they’re little more than wrappers to keep your hands clean. If you order an entree here, this should be it.
Dim sum should be the beginning, middle, and end of your meal at Hutong, but that doesn’t mean you need to end dinner with a glass of Port and a plate of soup dumplings (even though that sounds fantastic). The bao and soy milk dessert looks like just another steamed bun, but the shell is made of white chocolate, and the “broth” inside is melted caramel.