I still remember my first office gig, and the deep fear that lunchtime’s approach brought to my soul. This was New York in the late ‘90s, an internship I’d scored in the heart of Midtown, and everyday I faced the same fear: A salad on the one hand, probably sourced from the local shop on the corner, or a burger from the nearest Irish pub. The former, of course, wouldn’t be enough to carry me through the day, and the latter would leave me sluggish, fighting a Sisyphean battle against the ever-encroaching lethargy of the wholly predictable food coma.
There were alternatives, of course, but man cannot live on turkey clubs alone … and as an intern, Japanese and Indian food, for example, were completely out of my price range.
So I can fully understand why Hai Street Kitchen & Co., the new fast-casual Japanese spot, has proven to be such a popular addition to the city: It offers, at very fair prices for what you get, an excellent option for a lunch on the go that’s healthy, satisfying and quick. The midday crush of people spilling onto the sidewalk outside its South 18th Street location are testament enough to that.
No wonder. Their Slammin’ Salmon roll is anchored by sear-edged tataki salmon brightened up with pickled mango, red onion, romaine, cucumber and a spicy gochujang sauce that, while there was perhaps a bit too much of it on a recent one, nonetheless worked well in tying it all together. Katsu chicken bowl consisted of generous hunks of bird tightly ensconced within their golden-fried shells, on top of a sticky mound of rice and next to a bright green papaya salad, red cabbage and onion. You can add “crunch” to any item on the menu, and in this case, hand-smashed yucca chips did the trick nicely.
The one aspect I’d work on here is the issue of balance. The Crunch roll, a spicy-mayonnaise-charged log with crispy shrimp tempura, could have used more shrimp, which got fairly lost in amid the rice and romaine. So did the asparagus. But the overall effect was still one of healthful, flavorful food despite this minor hiccup.
And if you really want to be an office hero, offer to bring back a few for your colleagues. The cost is fair, the staff is friendly, and the walk back will give you a chance to polish off a to-go container of salty, sweet and snappy tempura corn kernels. If only Hai Street had been around all those years ago…
Hai Street Kitchen
32 S. 18th St. 215.964.9465. haistreetkitchen.com
Hours: Daily, 11am-9pm.
Price range: Under $10.
Dinner with Luke Palladino