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Monday
Oct112010

The Hurricane Club

Note: The wind blew Hurricane Club out of town. It closed in late 2013, having been previously re-branded Hurricane Steak and Sushi. General Assembly, a “market-driven grill” (yawn) from the same owners, is expected to follow in 2014.

*

Resistance is futile. That was my immediate reaction to The Hurricane Club, the new Polynesian-themed restaurant from the Quality Meats/Park Avenue Autumn team.

It is pointless to wish it were something else, to wonder why, or to belittle the concept. Just submit to its charms, or don’t go.

Apparently, these places were once popular in Manhattan. Sometimes called “tiki bars,” one of them even had three stars. By the 1990s, the genre once exemplified by Trader Vic’s at the Plaza, was practically dead.

This year, restaurateurs are banking on a revival, with three tiki joints set to open. Hurricane Club is probably the most elaborate of these.

To call it “Polynesian” isn’t quite accurate. It’s about as authentic as Fantasy Island, lacking only for Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villachaize screaming, “The plane! The plane!”

There is a protective gauze over all of the windows, and the doors are covered top-to-bottom, so that nobody outside can catch a glimpse of the space. Once inside, it’s an AvroKO playland, a South Pacific dreamscape that would make Club Med jealous.

The enormous 250-seat space has 20-foot ceilings, about six dining rooms and lounges, and a wrap-around bar with a life-size Buddha draped in pearls.

It’s hard to tell if you’re in a restaurant or on a cruise ship. Servers are dapper in their all-white, crisply pressed dinner jackets. Cocktail waitresses sport barely-there thin black dresses.

The cocktail list in ten categories is so long that you order by number. I practically never order frozen drinks, but here…why not? The #37 (left; $11) with cucumber and mint was pretty good. Most of the choices are $12 or less, which these days is pretty reasonable.

The liquor program goes well beyond cliché, with a list of about a hundred rums: they don’t come cheap, with prices ranging from $39 to $1,999. The five-page wine list emphasizes the Pacific Rim. It was hard to find bargains there, either.

In the lounge and at the tables, there’s a gimmicky “Pu Pu” menu, listing a dozen items—all finger food, $12 each, with 3 or 4 pieces. With the little pencils provided, you’re to write down how many of each thing you want; or, you can just order the Pu Pu Platter ($28/$58) and get a large sampler.

I didn’t bother to write anything down, and just asked the server for an order of the Peking Duck Tea Sandwiches ($3; below left), which tasted exactly as you would imagine.

The two-page dinner menu offers items in seven categories, none labeled “appetizer” or “entrée.” The starter-like substances are $9–17, the mains (or apparent mains) $17–44. Yes, that is a wide range. Portions seem to be very large, and there is a danger of over-ordering.

Rice Paper Shrimp Rolls ($14; above right) spent too little time in the deep fryer, and came out slightly mushy.

The server correctly advised that Crispy Peking Pig ($44; above), although listed as a single entrée, would be more than enough for two people. Basically, it’s a pig prepared in the style of Peking Duck, with the traditional accompaniments and pork buns to wrap it with. This was the best suckling pig preparation we have had in quite a while, but it came out not quite warm enough.

The pig is listed in its own box, a feat of menu engineering designed to make it Hurricane Club’s most often-ordered dish. Based on our observations, it seemed to have worked: we saw orders of the pig flying out of the kitchen. It is not a bad deal for two or three people, but if you order much else you’re liable to leave part of it unfinished—as we did.

Of course, to claim that this is the cuisine of any recognizable Polynesian nation is nonsense, but it is a very good dish, and who cares where it comes from? Chef Craig Koketsu (Quality Meats, Park Avenue [name your season]) is a proven talent, who will probably get more right than wrong.

The attentive service is excellent, bringing an air of seriousness to a place that could easily devolve into a tourist trap. Despite the hokey concept, there appears to be a legitimate attempt to do it right—whatever that might mean for a tiki bar (I am frankly not sure).

Hurricane Club won’t be for everybody. We suspect it will attract a lot of big groups, tour buses, families taking in a matinée, and so forth. There certainly are questions whether quality can be maintained in a 250-seat place: those soggy shrimp rolls are an early warning sign. Inevitably, some meals will seem mass-produced.

If you buy into the concept, just get on the boat, and enjoy the ride for what it is. There is some fun to be had.

Hurricane Club (360 Park Avenue South at 26th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)

Food: *½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: *½

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